[Major General Lindsay Inglis describes his experiences at the Somme]
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Major General Lindsay Inglis speaks to an unidentified male interviewer. Inglis was Commander of A Company, First Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade at the battle of the Somme. He describes his experiences at the Somme, including the first use of tanks.
Inglis: "The most outstanding day was 15 September 1916. That was the day that tanks were first used in action. Ah, the conditions were that the Germans were very thoroughly snugged down in organised trench systems and the process of being minced in the battle of the Somme was typical of the idea that somebody, some silly ass invented, of a war of attrition. The idea being that the side that killed most in the shortest time would be the winner, which of course was a fallacy, and stupid."
Interviewer: "That was the end of manoeuvre for a while, wasn't it General?"
Inglis: "Well, not entirely. On that day the longest advance that was made during the battle of the Somme was made. And I think that the only part of the British Army, the whole British Army that attacked that day, that reached the final objective, was my company and about a couple of platoons that came up afterwards from B Company of the First Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. I was commanding A Company of the Battalion at that time."
Interviewer: "What would the numerical strength of your company be?"
Inglis: "We were supposed to take in 200 men into the battle. I couldn't muster them because I'd lost about 35 in preliminary actions, straightening the line and sorting out the line ready for jumping off. And I took in 194, all told. And out of that, after that particular bad day's battle, a couple of days, we came out 47 strong. That would give you an idea of the sort of casualties we had to incur at times.
The tanks - a lot of stories have been told about tanks on the first day. They're not all credible by any means. There's one persistent story that a British tank went through the village of Flers with the New Zealanders cheering behind it. Never saw it, and my company was the company that took the front end of Flers. It wasn't there. And as a matter of fact, the tanks were far too slow, those old Marks, original Mark of tank. They didn't steer with the tracks, they steered with a pair of traction engine wheels like a rudder on the back, and we out-distanced them.
For the last part of the attack we were supposed to be supported by four tanks because we had out-distanced the artillery barrage, but we had to just go in by ourselves across about half a mile to 1000 yards of open, flat plateau. In stubble by that time, it was, and no tanks were there. We'd passed them long ago, we couldn't wait for them. Only one tank did I see do anything useful during the day. It let one of the Rifle Brigade Battalions into Flers Trench, which was barred to them by uncut wire. As a matter of fact, it passed within about 25 yards of me, when I was waiting to leapfrog through these people, and shooting at the same time to help them. And it was sent down, and crashed the wire down and let them into the trench. A chap named Rifleman Chambers went across to the tank and after some trouble banging on the door got them to open it and was able to tell them what to do. They couldn't see much themselves.
That's the only tank I saw do anything useful.
I did gather up one at the end of the afternoon, late afternoon, after we'd defeated a German counter-attack out in front of Flers, with the idea of taking it through to form a strong point. But as soon as it poked its nose out of Flers on the Ligny-Tilleul [?] Road, a German shell landed under it and blew a track off it. Fortunately I was walking on the other side of the tank, didn't hurt anybody, but there the tank stayed. We got the crew out, got the machine guns out. But the crew went off, asked leave to clear out very soon, but we kept the guns and used them. The day was so full of incident, it would take a day to tell you about it.
I told you what the casualties were, out of 194 we had 47 left. We'd had to go charge across this plateau, with no support whatever and I think that period was the, er, strongest, er, most impressive small arm fire I've ever been under. It seemed to be swishing around your knees all the time. Matter of fact, it was heading for us higher up. I was very thankful that I never had to lead anybody. I only had to hold my breath to keep up with the troops. We never stopped for fire and movement or any of that fancy stuff. If we had we'd all have been shot dead."
Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero.
Reference number 253857
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Ngā Taonga Korero Collection
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Inglis, Lindsay Merritt, 1894-1966, Interviewee
New Zealand. Army. New Zealand Regiment. 1st Battalion
Tanks (Military science)/Topical
Soldiers -- New Zealand/Topical
World War, 1914-1918
Somme, 1st Battle of the, France, 1916