First day on the Somme for Kiwis and tanks
On the 15th of September 1916, the New Zealand Division saw their first major action on the Western Front. In the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, they joined British forces as part of the continued effort to attack German-held territory around the river Somme in northern France.
A new element was also introduced on September 15 with the arrival of tanks in battle for the first time. British military leaders hoped that these new armoured machines, initially known as land-ships, would be able to straddle enemy trenches, break through barbed wire entanglements and end the stalemate of trench warfare.
But Lindsay Inglis, a New Zealand officer involved in action that day, recalls the tanks he saw were less-than-impressive.
”The Tanks that Broke the Ranks”
Written and composed by English music hall writers Harry Castling and Harry Carlton,The Tanks that Broke the Ranks, was a popular music hall song celebrating the first use of tanks on the battlefield. The sheet music was released in December 1916, just three months after the first use of tanks in war by the British, during the Battle of the Somme.
Although both sides regarded the tanks with interest and awe when first deployed, their success was mixed. Of the 49 tanks shipped to the Somme, only nine made it across ‘no man's land’ to the German lines.
The song references many prominent German military leaders of the day, including Kaiser Wilhelm, Alfred von Tirpitz, Paul von Hindenburg and Prince Wilhelm. It was very popular in music halls in 1917. This recording was sung by internationally acclaimed Australian performer and recording artist Peter Dawson under the pseudonym ‘Will Strong,’ which he used for music hall recordings.
“What about a drop of water, Digger?”
Water shortages were a constant problem for the thousands of men based at Gallipoli in 1915. Natural water was scarce on the peninsula and attempts to solve the problem by using water condenser units to convert sea water for drinking proved inadequate. Water supplies, often from as far away as Egypt, had to be brought in by boat and landed on the beach, sometimes under fire. Then the various containers had to be dragged over the rugged landscape to the thirsty men in their trenches.
The unidentified New Zealand veteran in this interview recalls how the mateship between Kiwis and Australians meant they sometimes gave each other preferential treatment with water rations.