Sergeant Allnatt in 1916 (from The Tank, November 1955)
Unlike many veterans who never spoke about the war, Joseph Allnatt felt compelled to record his experiences as he neared the end of his life. In the 1950s he wrote: “There is no time to lose, because all those men who fought in the First World War are getting old.”
His urge to relive the past resulted in a series of articles which give us a tank driver’s perspective on the great Battles of Passchendaele and Cambrai.
In them he describes:
The appalling conditions endured by tank crews on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele
The poignant story of a fellow sergeant who foresaw his own death at Cambrai
The chaos as tanks and infantry struggled to stem the subsequent German counter-attack
Joseph Charles Allnatt was born in 1890 and brought up in the Berkshire village of Sindlesham. He was one of eight children of a grocer and baker who also described himself as a military caterer.1
Allnatt joined up as one of the founder members of E Company of the Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps (the original name of the Tank Corps), and was soon promoted to sergeant. The selection process was fairly arbitrary, as he later recalled to men of the Royal Tank Regiment:2
He told us how the original N.C.O.s of the Regiment were selected: they were, he told us, formed into a circle and ordered to quick march: they marched and were then ordered to double march. After an appropriate period of time the then C.O. came back and those who were still on their feet were chosen.
At some point Sergeant 40150 Allnatt transferred to G Battalion and fought with this unit throughout the battles of Passchendaele and Cambrai.
He described his experiences in a series of articles, which can be read here:
Tanks at Ypres – July 31st, 1917 from The Tank, July-August 1958
The Battle of Cambrai, 20th November, 1917 from The Tank, November-December 1955
The Battle of Cambrai – The German Counter Attack from The Tank, April 1956
Allnatt remained in the Tank Corps for the rest of the war, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant a few weeks before the Armistice.3 For information on his later life, see here.
Birth, marriage and death records; Censuses for 1891, 1901 and 1911.
The Tank April 1956, page 329.
Medal index card. His service record is held by the Ministry of Defence.
“Whether I would see another sunset”
A tank driver recalls the Battles of Passchendaele and Cambrai