from an issue of 'The War Illustrated' - December 30th 1915
'My Adventures in a Tank'
told by a Sapper, Royal Engineers

In a Steel Monster

an illustration from a 1918 issue of 'The War Illustrated'


I don’t think there was a soldier in the whole of the Expeditionary Force who laughed louder or longer at the "tanks" than I did when they first made their appearance, and many were the jokes cracked at their expense. And so, of course, I was rather surprised when I found myself volunteering to form the crew of one of these strange cars.

You see, I had been a traction-engine driver in the old days, and a ‘Terrier’ as well, so I thought it would be a new experience steering one of these strange, things. It had always been my proud boast that I could run anything that had wheels or drive anything on legs ; but here I was to have a thing which was half machine and half beast, with both legs and wheels.

Now, I knew nothing at all about the interior mechanism of the "tanks" and so, when I found myself selected, I ran over the working parts just to see what was what. I can't tell you about them, as they're still confidential, but one of these days, when the secret comes out, you'll be surprised at the ingenious machinery there is inside one of these armoured cars.

Well, I took her for a trial trip, and l managed to get the hang of things. Then we got orders to stand-by to take her out with the advance first thing next morning., So, long before daylight, while our guns were still doing their best to strafe and awake the Huns thoroughly, I was walking round my new pet, oiling and greasing her bearings and joints so that she should walk easily.

And then we set out. It was fairly good going at first till we got to No Man's Land, where the shells had torn the ground to pieces. Then "Jumping Jane" - that was what we had christened the "tank", started to roll and pitch like a penny steamer in a seaway, and we had the time of our lives. I clung to the driving and steering wheel with one hand, and grabbed anything handy with the other to steady myself. I had a frightful feeling of seasickness, but that was soon over, and by and by wee all got used to the motion of the old hooker.

The Huns ahead of us - having seen and become acquainted with 'Jane’ some days before - were waiting for us with machine-guns, and gave us a proper good-morning welcome. The bullets pattering on our side sounded like peas or hailstones on the roof of a galvanised tin shed, and then, as we got nearer, like the blows of an erratic and jumpy pneumatic hammer.

Then they suddenly stopped, as “Jane" slid down the side of a big shellcrater and into three feet of water at the bottom. The caterpillar chains refused to grip on the greasy ground, and she sideslipped and jerked herself all over the place. We managed to get her out of the water at the bottom of the shell-hole and started to clamber up the opposite side. You have heard about the snail that climbed up the side of a wall three feet in the day and slipped back two during the night ? Well, that was "Jane." We'd go at the side with a rush, and so long as the stroke lasted she'd breast through the grease like, a good 'un ; then, as it reached the end, she'd stop dead, and, in spite of shoving the throttle right open, she'd start to slip back, and nothing would hold her. The brakes, of course, locked the wheels, but she still slid on.

At least a dozen times she tried, and the soldiers who were acting as our supports were convulsed with laughter. "Get out and push !" "Try her backwards !" and several other bits of advice were offered us free, gratis and for nothing, until at last we - especially me - lost our tempers, and said things to that "tank" which would make a respectable lady blush.

The profanity seemed to put her back up, too, for the next time she stuck to her job, coughing and groaning as if in pain. Then, with a final gasp, she shoved herself over the edge, and just to get a bit of our own back, we went for the nearest Hurt trench.

Suddenly we, gave a terrible jerk, and “Jane" rolled over, first on one side and then on the other. I thought we’d done something, for the wheels chattered again.

"Astride the trench !” shouted the look-out.

"Right !” remarked our lieutenant. “Give 'em socks !"

The machine-guns to the light and left started their clacking, the gunners nearly falling over with their amusement, As I wasn't wanted for a minute or two, I took a peep through a hole and watched Fritz sprinting for his life. They were like a lot of scared rabbits, and tried to bolt down dug-outs, but the bullets strafed them before they could get away.

Some Huns brought forward a nest of machine-guns and started hammering at us again, and somebody must have signalled our range to the German artillery, for their shell suddenly started to burst all round us. It was getting unhealthy, so we started forward again, going for the machine-guns. As soon as the Huns there saw what we were after they picked all their "sewing-machines" and bolted. We in chase.

We next came across a company of Boches massed to receive us. Their captain was a little fat man, and lie led the charge they made at us. We received them quietly, with all guns going like mad, and they too, turned and bolted. It wasn't at all difficult to round them up and hand them over to our infantry when they at last came up.

Next day another crowd tried to rush “Jane" as if she were a fort. They clambered all over her when she stopped, and tried to poke their rifles into the loopholes in our side. Some of our Tommies astern got a chance of having target practice, and soon Fritz gave up this attempt. We shook them clear as we went on, and suddenly "Jane" jumped fully three feet into the air, stopped, and came down with a jerk.

"That's the kybosh I" said I. But it wasn't. It was a German shell exploding just under our forepart. But it hadn't smashed anything in the works, only shoved the clutch out so that the engine was running free.

The rain of bullets resumed as we started forward, and once more we were brought up all standing, but it was only a heap of dead Germans this time. We couldn't very well have clambered over them without damaging them - though they were a long way past feeling - so we cruised round them and bore up for the village.

A second shell gave us fits for a second , but again we had luck and sustained nothing but bruises as "Jane" threw us from one armoured side to the other. Our lieutenant was enjoying the fun.

"It's a rocky road to Dublin,” he said. “Stick it, and we'll trundle the jade down Unter den Linden in time !"

A few minutes later another company of Huns tried to capture us by rushing, but we caught them as they came, and soon they crumpled up in the face of our fire. Some of them were plucky devils, too. They came on single-handed and tried to scale our sides, Our officer pushed up the hood and picked five off with his automatic pistol. That fed the other up, and they dropped off. They scooted like rabbits as soon as their feet touched the ground and our lads coming up, we decided to rest on the ground we had captured.

That night we carried out a few repairs, refilled our "tanks" and cleaned down ready for the morning, when we were going for a walk through a village just opposite. We reached there just after ten in the morning, having slid in and out of a few trenches and shell-holes on the way as we turned into the main street. Our artillery had made a terrible mess of things here, and the houses on both sides of the narrow street were battered nearly to bits. At the top of the road they had fallen across it, blocking the way.

We swung on up this street with half a battalion of soldiers behind us, and the Germans occupying the wrecked houses, stared in dismay. They sniped at "Jane" from the ripper windows, they rattled off machine-guns at close range, but she still waddled onwards. One great big idiot of a Hun must have thought she had feelings, for he rushed at her with his rifle clubbed, yelling and swinging the butt. We heard the crash of the wood against our armoured side, and when I next saw Mr. Fritz he was staring open-mouthed at the splintered rifle in his hands. He couldn't make it out, and as "Jane" half turned as if to chew him up he flung his arms in the air and yelled, "Kamerad ! Kamerad !" Some of the infantry took him in charge, and all that day he watched us in astonishment.

We reached the end of the street arid tried to got out. Ahead and on our right were heaps of bricks and stone; on our left was a house with its outer walls, though riddled with holes, still standing. We couldn't turn in the street.

" What are you going to do about it, driver ?” asked the lieutenant. "We can't stay here all night."

“I'll take her through that house Sir," I said, "If you'll give the order."

"Right,” he said. "Charge Chester, charge !"

We charged. I put her to the still standing wall and she ate it as if it were her regular food. The bricks came clattering down and thudded on our roof, but we went on, and at last emerged into the open, having cleared a way clean through and frightened the souls out of the Germans in the upper part of that house. And we had left it standing, though two minutes later a German "Jack Johnson" dropped it in a heap of ruins. The shell was intended for us, but had tarried too long on the way.

Our next big thing was the advance on High Wood, where the Londoners covered themselves with glory. I shall never forget the look of that bit of the world so long as I'm alive. Trees were torn up and flung on all sides, men and rifles lay all round, some of the bodies weeks old. The Germans had never been able to hold funeral parties because of our artillery fire, and we'd had terrible difficulty in getting our dead under ground. For two months they'd held that wood in spite of our gunners daily hate, and it was to be cleared out.

There was a strong machine-gun position just in front of it, and this we went to clear up. And we found that the Germans had prepared an ambush for our chaps. But that gave its a chance, and we wiped it clean out, leaving the few machine-guns that weren't smashed to be picked tip by the infantry as they came along. The wood itself, however, proved too much for us, and at the edge of it we became stationary, pelting away with our guns whenever we saw a body of the enemy, and helping our lads considerably.

We'd gone on too long without accident for it to bode any good to us, and that same evening we met our temporary Waterloo. The German Sausage balloons must have been keeping a fatherly watch on us, for when we started off back their guns started talking to us. They made some fairly decent shots, and two or three times bespattered our sides with mud and splinters which we turned off like rainwater. Then one shell exploded astern of us, and nearly pushed "Jane" over on her nose. A second followed hard on its heel and just as we were settling down on an even keel again we felt the second shock.

This time, the floor of the "tank'' was burst in, and I got a swipe across the forehead with a splinter. “Jane" had finished jumping for a while and when I last saw her - as I passed in the hospital train en route for Blighty once more - she was surrounded by a crowd of mechanics, who were patching her up for further Hun-strafing cruises.


illustrations from 1918 issues of 'The War Illustrated'

*see also Description of a Tank Battle / With the Tanks / Tanks in Action : a Series of Illustrations

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