|British tank before the Battle of Flers, 1916|
Something a little different today. In a recent exchange of emails with a former school colleague, some photos of the teaching staff appeared, and there was discussion of what we remembered about the individuals. One of them, Graeme Nixon, has always been a shadowy figure from my past. He taught me Mathematics for one term in around 1959, but he was clearly in poor mental health and was completely unable to manage a classroom, so he left in mid term, never to be seen again.
At the time, there was a tale that he had been a hero in WW1, commanding a tank unit. There was even a legend that he had been decorated for leading his unit into action on foot after his tank was disabled, but I always regarded that as unlikely.
This week I was directed to the marvellous website The First Tank Crews, which is dedicated to the men who fought at Flers in 1916, and I found out rather more about Mr Nixon. I reproduce a little of the website’s text below, with all due humility and with no permission to do so, but I would urge anyone interested to examine the website from the link above.
It seems that GN was, in fact, a hero – he commanded a tank section in support of the NZ Division attack at Flers, in September 1916. The tale of leading the section on foot is a myth, apparently derived from an infantry messenger directing them into position, a very early example of a spotter acting in this way.
All I have is this tiny photo fragment, taken when he was approaching retiral age, and (without wishing to do any Internet stalking of the dead, which is a creepy pastime) I know that he was a witness at the marriage of a teaching colleague of his, Walter Simmonds, in Allerton, Liverpool in 1931. The text reproduced here suggests that he was still alive in 1967, though elsewhere I read that he died in 1966.
Given that I may well be one of the kids who finally put paid to his teaching career, I have no deep personal interest in this, apart from a vague feeling that we should have shown the poor old guy more respect at the time. I understand that Nixon appears in a contemporary photograph in a very respected 2-volume work, The Tanks at Flers, by Trevor Pidgeon. I don’t suppose anyone has access to a copy?
This is the excerpt from The First Tank Crews:
D12 (Tank No 719 - Male).
Sect Comds tank supporting the New Zealand Div assault. D12 with D10 (2Lt Darby) and D11 (Die Hard - 2Lt Pearsall) were to work together on the NZ Div right flank, close to the village of Flers. Midway across the NZ frontage, Nixon’s tank worked its way north until he received a request for help at 09.15 hrs. The message, carried through heavy fire by Rfn JW Dobson, was follows: “From Lieut Butcher to O.C. Tanks. Enemy machine guns appear to be holding infantry in the valley on your right. Can you assist in pushing forward? Dobson was the target of heavy enemy rifle, as he tried to reach D12, but eventually got inside and accomplished the first example of infantry – tank target indication. He guided the tank crew to the east and identified a farm building where the machine guns were located. Nixon used the tank to collapse the building and its occupants scattered in all directions. He then pressed on, heading for the northwest corner of Flers until his tank was hit by artillery fire. The tank’s steering was damaged so Nixon headed south, eventually becoming ditched in a shell hole. The tank was once again hit by enemy artillery fire, which killed one of the crew (Gnr W Debenham), and caused a fire. Although this was subsequently put out, by other tanks crews; D12 had become totally unusable and was therefore abandoned.
Capt Graeme Nixon was born in Sep ‘95 West Derby, Lancs, the third child (second son) of Robert Nixon a schoolmaster and Annie G Nixon. Graeme studied Engineering at Liverpool University 1913. He was commissioned into the Royal Scots Fusiliers and served at Gallipoli from 3 Nov 15, then transferred to MGC in Apr ‘16. He was promoted T/Capt 12 Aug ‘16 (Sect comd) and led 4 tanks in support of NZ Div attack at Flers-Courcellette. On 14 Nov 16, he lead a section of six tanks from Auchonvillers to Beaucourt Station, crossing own lines and German lines to relieve Capt Mortimore and his six tanks. He continued to serve as a section commander in D Bn . At Ypres, on 22 August, he commanded 12 Sect of 12 Coy during their attack near St Julien. He then lead 1 Sect, 12 Coy of D Bn during the battle of Cambrai – he was wounded and replaced on the opening day of the battle; two of his three tanks being destroyed by direct fire as they attempted to push into the village of Flesquieres on the eastern side (by the Chateau wall). He commanded a coy (probably A Coy) from 5 to 20 Dec 17, being promoted A/Major . In early 1918, he lead his company to Merlimont where they undertook gunnery practice. He commanded A Coy throughout the Kaiserlacht withdrawal, when the tanks were either destroyed or abandoned and Battle Of Lys, when his coy was used in the MG role. Awarded MC Jun ’18. At the Battle of Amiens his Mark V tanks were in support of 2nd Cdn Bde for the initial action. He relinquished command on 6 Sep ‘18 and returned to the UK and served with 22nd Bn Tank Corps as a company commander until 11 Jul 19 when he lived at Overmoigne near Dorchester. On resigning his commission, he moved to Radstock Rd, Fairfield Liverpool and later became a school teacher. In 1967 still living in 16 Pinfold Road, Hunts Cross Liverpool. Note – his elder brother Robert Nixon (who studied Medicine at Liverpool University) volunteered for the Kings Lancashire Regt in August 1914 but was discharged due to ill health in early 1915).
2993 Sgt Reginald John Vandenbergh (spellings change) was born 8 Dec 1889 in Islington, the second son of commercial clerk Reginald was also a clerk when he enlisted (aged 26 years) at Whitehall. Posted to Bisley on 13 Mar, he was promoted three times in five months. Deployed to France on 28 August, he was posted to D Bn on formation. Attached to Reinforcement Bn on 13 Jul, he returned to the UK on 19 July 1917 as an instructor. On 1 Dec 1917, he was posted to J Bn on 1 Dec 1917, deployed overseas on 20 Dec 1917 and served with C Coy 10 Bn as Tech MS from 23 Jan (OC was Maj Kemp-Robinson. Returned to Tank Trg centre, as an instructor, on authority of GHQ on 14 August 1918. Married Amelia Whitehead on 5 October 1918 at Christchurch Kensington Liverpool, he was posted to the Central Schools. Discharged 27 September 1919, he settled in Brighton, the couple had three daughters – Betty born in 1920; Norma in 1921 and Audrey in 1923; all registered at Steyning. Reginald died in Brighton in the Spring of 1977.
32206 Gnr Horace Allebone was born 29 Aug 89 the elder son of Augustus Allebone and the director of a boot manufacting company at Rushden. He intially attended to avoid conscription but volunteered and enlisted on 10 Mar 16. Later 200864 of D Bn Tank Corps, he served as a driver and was awarded 2 parchment certificates: one for gallant and meritorious service in the field; one for soldierly conduct under heavy fire 4th Oct ‘17, during the 3rd battle of Ypres. Promoted LCpl he was KIA aged 28 on 20 Nov ‘17; whilst serving with No 2 Sect of 10 Coy, when his tank was hit by direct artillery fire to the west of Flesquieres. Commemorated in the Louveral Memorial and Rushden War Memorial Northants.
32105 Gnr William Bertram Debenham born Canterbury ‘90. Moved to Coventry by 1901 and was living with mother Annie and stepfather James W Appleton. Enlisted Coventry. MIA age 26 on 15 Sep 1916 (CWGC states 24) son of Mrs Annie Laureen Appleton of 33 Northumberland Rd, Coventry. Commemorated on the Thiepval memorial later allocated no 206155.
2963 Gnr Cecil Frederick Gloyn was born in Plymouth Devon ‘97 the son of Frederick Albert Gloyn and Jesse A Gloyn. Living in Plymouth 1901. Attested on 22 Feb ’16; aged 18 years 11 months. Employment shown as Grocer , weight 7 st 13 lbs. height 5 ft 63/4 inches; chest when expanded 34 inches. Father shown as NOK, living at 2 Sussex St, Plymouth. Mobilised in MMGS at Bisley on 3 Mar ‘16; Transferred to HS MGC 4 May ‘16, Posted to D Coy 24 May ‘16 and proceeded to France 28 Aug ‘16. Casualty Form Active Service signed by Capt AG Woods (D Coy) - majority of service details indistinct. Continued to serve with D Bn. Later 200824 Tank Corps, Granted UK leave by OC 4th Bn, 16 to 30 Dec ‘17; he rejoined his unit on 4th Jan ‘18. . His contact sheet was lost during action on 23 March ’18 (Kaiserslacht); the replacement shows him serving as a Cpl with B Coy of 4th Tank Bn. No Hosp admissions recorded. Discharged, with clear conduct sheet and no claim for injury, as Cpl from 25th Bn Tank Corps, as part of early release scheme on 29 Jan 19. Home address shown as 2 Sussex St in Plymouth. Medals issued 28 Jun ‘21. Married Elizabeth E.B Pain April to Jun ‘22 in Plymouth.
205666 Gnr Harry Zimmerman (later Tank Corps) possibly earlier service as 9881 Pte Ox and Bucks LI.
M2/191040 Cpl Robert R Murray ASC re-badged as a Private in the MGC (75064) then transferred back to the ASC with original number.
Further info; the remains of the tank were still on the edge of the village in the early ‘20s where they were played on by local children