A nostalgic return to Bovington in 1956. The caption says “Mr. Allnatt and his friends with Sgts. Rice and Lane being shown a Centurion.” Joseph Allnatt is presumably the man in glasses third from right. His fellow veterans are not named.1
Following the battles of 1917, Sergeant Joseph Allnatt remained with G Battalion, now renamed 7th Battalion, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on October 8, 1918, a few weeks before the Armistice.
He married at the end of 1918 and worked as a farmer in Kent, but unlike many veterans who suppressed their wartime memories, as he grew older he seems to found comfort in reliving his experiences and reviving old friendships.
In April 1956, Joseph Allnatt returned to Bovington as a guest of 7th Royal Tank Regiment: “He and Mrs. Allnatt and several other old members visited us and presented a large picture of ‘E’ Company and several valuable souvenirs of the first Tank battlefields.”
After this, Mr Allnatt launched an appeal through The Tank magazine in November 1956:5
About this time last year there took place in London a reunion of the original members of “E” Company, H.S.M.G.C. (later Tank Corps), who had been at Bisley, Bullhouse or Elveden. Some 30 members attended. It was a most gratifying and delightful experience.
The experiment was repeated again this year on October 11, with equal success. It was decided at this reunion, which was attended by three or four members of the original “C” and “D” Companies, to extend it to include the original members of Companies “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” “E” and “F,” who were at the three previously named places. The date is fixed for Wednesday, October 2, in London, next year, 1957.
May I please appeal through the medium of The Tank to anyone who reads this letter to try and inform any men of whatever rank who come under the above category, of this reunion. I am sure most of your readers, even those now serving, must know of someone who is eligible to attend. There is no time to lose, because all those men who fought in the First World War are getting old, and many are unable to go, through infirmities, which will not improve as time goes on. Very few can be under 60 years of age, so will readers do what they can to enable these old warriors to meet one another once again? The proceedings are as informal as it is possible to make them.
There is a scheme for assisting those who cannot afford to pay, and it is conducted in secret. No Headquarters’ expenses are charged.
I am ready to receive names and addresses now, to the above address, so do please help.
When John Foley wrote about the early tank battles in The Boilerplate War, published in 1963, he quoted from Allnatt’s articles and included this pen-portrait:
A big, powerful man yet essentially a kindly one, he was a town councillor and proprietor of a flourishing holiday camp and his interests were wide and varied. He was a tank enthusiast long after the end of the 1914-18 war and dedicated himself with vigour to the self-imposed task of creating and administering an old comrades’ association made up of tank survivors of the first World War. Through his work many long-lost contacts were re-established and many wartime friendships, first formed within the steel walls of a tank, were renewed.
Sadly, this was written in the past tense because Joseph Allnatt had died on May 31, 1962.3 The old warriors of whom he spoke are now gone, but they live on in the memories which he set down, and which are reproduced here as a memorial to Joseph Allnatt and his comrades.
The Tank April 1956, pages 329-30.
Medal index card. His service record is held by the Ministry of Defence and has not been consulted.
Birth, marriage, death and probate records.
The Boilerplate War by John Foley (Frederick Muller, London 1963) pages 66-7.
Letter dated October 23, 1956, in The Tank November 1956, page 36.