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A New Donation...

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Curatorial Officer Laura Sweetenham examines a fascinating set of objects recently donated to The Tank Museum…



bovtm_ratcliffe_tunic_1.jpgWe have recently received an interesting collection of items relating to Sergeant Walter Ratcliffe who served with the 9th Battalion Tank Corps in World War 1.


Accompanying a medal group is a Service Dress jacket and supporting documents – the whole giving a fascinating insight into the life of this Tank Corps soldier (Pictured above right).


It is particularly interesting that Walter served with the 9th Battalion and as a result his jacket has the unusual addition of a thin brass badge featuring a bursting grenade, positioned on the upper left sleeve. It is the badge of the 3rd French Infantry Division and the honour of wearing it was conferred on the 9th Battalion Tank Corps for their support at the Battle of Moreuil in July 1918. This can be seen on the tunic (right) and in close up in the image below it.


The Battle of Moreuil

At this time Paris was very seriously threatened by German troops just south of Amiens. It became clear that the enemy needed to be driven from their position on the bank of the River Avre from where they could launch fresh attacks.


This task was assigned to three French Divisions: 152nd Infantry Division, 3rd Infantry Division and 15 Infantry Division. During the planning of this action and impressed by the success of the tanks at the Battle of Hamel earlier that month, the French asked the British for the loan of the tanks - their own being engaged on the Marne. The 9th Battalion Tank Corps were entrusted to support the 3rd Infantry Division, ‘La Grenadiere’, at the centre of the attack.


The first wave of tanks set out at 5.30am on the morning of the 23rd July and by that evening, all objectives had been achieved.

bovtm_ratcliffe_badge.jpgFar fewer casualties were incurred by the tank supported 3rd French Infantry Division compared to the unsupported infantry.


This collaboration by the French and British units was lauded as a phenomenal success and in Special Order No. 248, General Bourgon, Commander of the 3rd French Infantry Division, praised:


“The 9th Battalion of British Tanks…gave the Division the finest example of bravery, energy, of comradeship in action and of War Training carried to the highest degree of perfection. Their assistance enabled the Infantry to gain a brilliant victory, in which they themselves largely shared. La Grenadiere hereby addresses to its British comrades the touching expression of its gratitude and admiration.”


The 9th Battalion was rewarded with the Croix de Guerre avec Palmes as a regimental decoration, worn by all ranks as a red and green lanyard and additionally, General Bourgon, bestowed the honour of wearing the badge of his Division. La Grenadiere badge bears the motto, ‘Qui s'y frotte, s'y brule" (touch me, and you burn), proudly worn by all serving in the 9th Battalion and again by 9th Royal Tank Regiment when reformed during World War 2.


bovtm_ratcliffe_medals.jpgUnfortunately we do not know the company or precise tank in which Walter served but he would have been amongst this first unit of Tank Corps men to cooperate with the French Army in the field.


‘Distinctive Whistle Cord’

Interestingly, although all 9th Battalion men would wear the Croix de Guerre lanyard in honour of this battle, this tunic has a lanyard in the Tank Corps colours of red, green and brown. This is actually a Tank Corps ‘distinctive whistle cord’ issued to men who have received an Honour Card in recognition for distinguished and gallant conduct (without a Mention in Despatches).


Military Medal

Along with two campaign medals (seen left), Walter was awarded the Military Medal for his act of bravery during an action at Bellenglise on the 29th September 1918. It was here that Walter, and his fellow 9th Battalion comrades, were involved in an operation to break strong enemy defences in a southern section of the Hindenburg Line on the St Quentin Canal. The attack was launched by American, British and French forces on a section of the canal that ran through a tunnel at Bellicourt and under a bridge at Bellenglise. The first stage attack to clear the stronghold at Bellicourt by American and Australian troops did not succeed. The British IX Corps, which included the 9th Battalion Tank Corps, however did achieve their objective in crossing the bridge at Bellenglise before it could be destroyed by German forces. Reinforcements soon followed to secure this position which would threaten the whole of the Hindenburg defences, north and south.


There was great resistance from the enemy at this critical point in the Hindenburg Line and the impact from the German barrage would have been felt considerably by the 9th Battalion. The citation for Walter’s Military Medal illustrates this quite pointedly:


“This NCO, being in charge of a tank during the action at Bellenglise on September 29, 1918, noticed that a tank had been put out of action by a gun concealed in a copse. He manoeuvred his tank in order to outflank the gun, but it was hit almost immediately afterwards, one of his crew being killed and others wounded. He removed four wounded men from the tank under heavy machine-gun and shell fire, and remained with the fourth, who was very badly hit, all night, getting him away to the dressing station the following morning. He behaved very coolly with the upmost bravery in very difficult circumstance.”


These items are a noteworthy addition to the Tank Museum collection and have added to our knowledge and resources relating to the 9th Battalion Tank Corps.


Thanks to this generous donation, the service and brave actions of Sgt W. Ratcliffe, MM may now be remembered and researched alongside those of his comrades.

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All very interesting but who was he ? A few years active srvice is not a lifetime on the planet so where is he from? Where did he live ? What family ? When did he die ? Just a few sentences would do.

Half a story..........


Look at the top foto, his name is there. Walter Ratcliffe

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