‘Sad news has been received through the Geneva Red Cross’
My family, like so many others at the time of the Great War, lost loved ones who died far from home and in terrible conditions.
My great-uncle Angus, one of a family of nine comprising eight brothers and one sister, enlisted in November 1914 in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
After much fighting, his talents as a machine gunner were recognised by officers who were setting up the newly formed Machine Gun Corps Heavy Branch, Tank Corps, and he was transferred to this unit in December 1916.
Twelve tanks were sent into combat in Bullecourt in the French department of the Somme on the morning of April 11, 1917. They led Australian infantry and were supposed to open up the German lines, but the German forces were equipped with heavy artillery and shelled the tanks incessantly, causing great damage.
We have never found out which tank was Angus’s. Only two tanks survived the battle and were able to retreat behind Australian lines. Communication difficulties in the battlefield and last-minute changes in strategy did not help the valiant tank crews who did their utmost to follow orders and do as much damage as possible to the German front lines.
Many members of the tank crews died in Bullecourt and do not have a known grave; their names are engraved on the Arras Monument.
Angus was among those killed at the Battle of Bullecourt. He was 21. The circumstances of his death only became known to his family a year after it took place, and they were related in an article in The Oban Times of March 16, 1918: ‘On the morning of 11th April, 1917, his company advanced at Bullecourt (Somme). The tank crew, of which Gunner Drummond was a member, was seen by an airman to have been captured, and accordingly his parents had hopes that he might have been a prisoner. Unfortunately, the sad news has been received through the Geneva Red Cross that two of the tank crew who are interned in Germany saw the soldier taken out of the tank among the wounded but a large piece of shell struck him on the head killing him instantaneously.’
A postcard from Angus. These embroidered pieces of fine silk were made by French and Belgian women, often refugees from the area where battle was raging. It provided them with a source of income and the soldiers a special memento to send home.
One of the tanks used at Bullecourt.