Journey to War
Edward Glanville Smith – a sketch from January 1916
Like so many young men, Edward Glanville Smith was quick to respond when war broke out and joined the Poplar and Stepney Rifles, a popular name for the 1/17th Battalion of the London Regiment. This unit was formed on the day war broke out and had been in France since March 1915 as part of 47th (2nd London) Division.
Details of Glan’s army career are sketchy because his service record has not come to light, but he joined up as a corporal and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on February 27, 1915.1 He arrived in France on October 2, 1915, and on October 27 the War Diary noted: “2/Lieut. E. G. Smith joined Battalion this day for duty”.
Glan arrived in the wake of the Battle of Loos, and found the battalion holding the line in what he called “that den of misery, the Hohenzollern Redoubt!” He gave a brief account of his early army career in The Wanderings of “D” in France,4 culminating in the Battle of the Somme:
We took High Wood and we took Eaucourt L’Abbaye, but my brother was badly wounded in the first and my best chum killed in the second.”
Both these attacks received largely ineffective support from tanks, but even so the army’s newest weapon seemed to offer a better prospect than more misery in the trenches:4
... We had spent a winter in the Salient and it was little wonder that sixteen hopeful subalterns put their names down when the following came round in November, 1916:–
“O.C. Companies will submit by 12 noon to-day names of officers and O.R. willing to volunteer for service with the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps.”
Few were chosen – but then my qualification was that I once had a motor-bike and C─ had a Ford!
[“O.C.” stands for “officers commanding” and “O.R.” for “other ranks”. “C─” may have been Lieutenant Sydney Ching, as his medal index card shows he was also in 17th Bn London Regiment before joining the Tank Corps.]
Glan joined the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps – which later became the Tank Corps – in January 1917, and was posted to No. 12 Company under Major R.O.C. Ward. In The Wanderings of “D” in France he described the months of training as the newly expanded battalions prepared for their first action.
Battle of Bullecourt
For Glan this came on May 3, 1917, when he commanded D46 in the ill-fated second Battle of Bullecourt. The tank had the manufacturer’s number 795, and although its name is not recorded, later versions of D46 were called Dragon.
The tank’s Battle History Sheet says it left the starting point (or S.P.) at 4.30 a.m. heading for Hendecourt:5
He reached the point U.21.d.3.8. when he received a direct hit which set him on fire & wounded three of his crew. He sent back three men & returning to his tank succeeded in putting the fire out & driving the tank back to the S.P. [i.e. starting point] which was reached at 8. am. LT Smith was also wounded.
This account was written by the section commander, Captain Harold Head, and the map reference shows that Glan’s tank only went around 250 metres beyond Bullecourt before it was hit. Fortunately his wound was slight and he was able to remain at duty.6
The Military Cross citation reveals more about his narrow escape:7
His tank received a direct hit by shell, being set on fire, and under heavy fire of all kinds he got his crew out to shell-holes, went back to his tank and put out the fire, collected his crew, and returned to his rallying point after being in action six hours.
Glan gave a brief account in The Wanderings of “D” in France, as always behind a veil of anonymity:8
Meanwhile the remaining two Tanks under Lieuts. Lambert and Smith had moved up with a view to exploitation, but found this impossible. On reaching the outskirts of the village they were subjected to concentrated M.G. fire, and Lieut. Lambert and most of his crew were wounded, while in Lieut. Smith’s Tank an A.P. bullet exploded the cordite of a 6-pounder shell, setting the Tank on fire internally. Evacuation was found necessary and although the fire was eventually got in hand, casualties made it impossible to carry on. Both these Tanks were obliged to withdraw.
[“M.G.” stands for “machine gun” and “A.P.” for “armour piercing”. Lieutenant Frederick Lambert later transferred to 18th Tank Battalion.]
Battle of Passchendaele
Despite the failure of the attack, Glan had acquitted himself well, and his maturity and quiet courage made him an obvious candidate for promotion.
When No. 12 Company took part in the Battle of Passchendaele, Glan – now a captain – was a section commander in charge of four fighting tanks, inside one of which he would have gone into action on August 22 and September 20, 1917.9 Both these operations failed, but Glan fortunately emerged unscathed.
Battle of Cambrai
He again commanded a section at the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917,9 and described the scene as they attacked to the west of Flesquières:10
Then up the slope ... the attack advanced with tanks in a perfect line from Havrincourt Village to Ribecourt, and the infantry following in high spirits. The crest of the ridge was reached after some of the best possible shooting practice with M.G.’s – and then the fun really began.
As 12 Company topped the ridge the first thing to be seen was a number of derelict tanks (survivors of 10 and 11 Companies) apparently knocked out by direct hits and most of them burning, and it was only a matter of a few seconds to discover the German battery on the western outskirts of Flesquieres which was doing the damage. The two tank sections on this flank of the village endeavoured to push round it, but within five minutes four out of the five had been knocked out, Lieut. [sic] R. A. Jones unfortunately being killed; and the fifth car had no option but to withdraw behind the crest, after the accompanying infantry had been seen safely into their objective, which was found to be unoccupied.
Again the attack had broken down with heavy losses, but at least Glan had survived – unlike Second Lieutenant Richard Alun Jones, who died alongside his driver at the age of just 20. For Glan and his men, the battle was over for the time being:10
Late on the night of the 20th, the weary crews of “D” were withdrawn to Havrincourt Wood for a short rest.
1 London Gazette, February 26, 1915
2 Medal index card
3 War Diary of 1/17th Bn London Regiment in National Archives (WO 95/2737/1)
4 The Wanderings of “D” in France in Tank Corps Journal, March 1921
5 War Diary of Tank Corps HQ in National Archives (WO 95/91)
6 Note on back of photograph showing officers of No. 10 Section, D Bn, in Tank Museum (ref. 5985/AG)
7 Tank Corps Book of Honour pages 89-90
8 The Wanderings of “D” in France in Tank Corps Journal, June 1921
9 War Diary of 4th Bn Tank Corps in National Archives (WO 95/110)
10 The Wanderings of “D” in France in Tank Corps Journal, November 1921