The First Tank Crews

The lives of the Tankmen who fought at the Battle of Flers Courcelette 15 September 1916

Stephen Pope

Date Published :
May 2016
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Illustration :
c 100 b/w photos, 16 color maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781910777770
Pages : 400
Dimensions : 9.75 X 6.75 inches
Stock Status : In stock


This remarkable new book reveals the hitherto unknown story of the soldiers who took the first tanks into action on the Somme battlefield in September 1916. Drawing on official records, contemporary newspaper reports and family memories, Stephen Pope provides a fascinating insight into the lives of the First Tank Crewmen, covering their recruitment, scant training, rapid deployment and their premature use in battle. He then traces their inter-connected lives over the next two years as tanks played a key role in the defeat of the Germany Army in 1918. He reveals the story of their return to civilian life and their often difficult struggle to build a family life. Sadly many of the First Tank Crews died young, some due to injuries or illnesses developed as a result of their wartime service.

Amongst the stories revealed are those of the grandson of the social reformer Joseph Rowntree, the champion rose grower Bill Harkness, the Scottish chemist Stuart Hastie who introduced science into the whisky distilling process and the Liverpool school teacher Graham Nixon who tried to teach John Lennon mathematics. None of those who fought in the tanks achieved great fame for their actions and few revealed their wartime secrets to their families. However, many became pillars of their local communities, giving a life of service to those around them.

This book tells the previously untold stories of bravery, determination and dedication by a group of unsung heroes. The author has used his contacts with more than fifty relatives of those who fought at the First Tank Action and used their input to provide a detailed description of their lives after the war. He has also gathered together many previously unpublished pictures including many of the tankmen in France, and has revealed the backstory to several well known photographs. Above all, he has linked individual lives together to create a fascinating story of ordinary men who took part in extraordinary events. The story of the First Tank Crews is one well worth reading.

About The Author

Stephen Pope has been an Army officer for almost 40 years. Born in Hampshire, he first served with the Wessex Regiment and then joined the Royal Corps of Transport, seeing service in England and Germany, with several operational tours. Whilst serving as


"Pope's books offer a fascinating perspective on the fight for Flers and the 'tankies' who fought it.”

- Stand to! WFA Journal, April 2017

"... A worthy tome to the memory of these brave men and an excellent insight into the early operational debut of the tank."

- Military Modelling

" … With a soldier's eye for ground, a clear grasp of tactics and a genuine feel for his subject Pope not only provides a very clear account of how these men and their tanks fared at Flers-Courcelette in 1916 but he then goes on to trace their entangled lives as tank crew until the War's end. There are many, many other accounts of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette and of the performance of tanks in the First World War but none which provide such detailed and sensitive insights into the lives of the crews and the huge impact their wartime experiences had on them and their families.”

- Bulletin of the Military Historical Society

" … for armour specialists, family history researchers, medal collectors and the like it is essential.”

- Newsletter of the Society of the Friends of the National Army Museum

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