On 3rd May 1917, one of the bloodiest days for British soldiers during the First World War, 2nd Lt. Chick commanded tank number 785 into battle.
Herbert Cicognani was born on the 31st May 1893 in Hackney, London. War was declared on the 4th August 1914, and the next day he left his home in Walthamstow and civilian job as a clerk for Thomas Cook to join the Royal Naval Division. He enlisted under the surname ‘Chick’.
On the 21st September 1916 Chick was commissioned as an officer in the 8th Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He transferred to the Tank Corps, known then as the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps, that December and joined D Battalion as it formed.
It’s very likely that Chick saw action on the first day of the Battle of Arras, the 9th April 1917. On the 3rd May he commanded Tank Number 785 at Bullecourt – this is the Mark II tank now preserved in the Tank Museum.
Herbert recorded his experiences that day on a Battle History Sheet, held in the Museum Archives. Starting at 3:45am he advanced and attacked a German machine gun position in support of the infantry. By 7:30 five of his crew of 8 had been wounded, so he was forced to withdraw.
During the summer of 1917 Chick commanded the tank named Dragonfly III. He returned to the UK on the 8th November, joining B Company of the new 16th Battalion at Bovington. He moved to France with them on the 6th September 1918, commanding a Section of 3 tanks.
On the 1st October 1918 Chick’s section supported 54th Australian Infantry Battalion clearing Estrees. Two weeks later on the 17th they took part in the 1st Division’s attack near Vaux Andigny.
In thick fog and under heavy fire Chick led his tanks into action on foot. “At great personal risk and regardless of danger, he kept them on their proper course and indicated to each one what points to attack. He also took charge of the infantry, showing them where to go and generally assisting them in a marked degree.” He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery.
This was the 16th Battalion’s final action. Chick remained in command of his section until March 1919 and relinquished his commission on the 18th December that year.
A civilian again, Chick returned to work in London. In early 1921 he lived at 51 Tonbridge Road in Maidstone, Kent. He changed his surname by deed poll from Cicognani to Chick just before his marriage to Hilda Grove on the 7th January 1921.
Herbert and Hilda’s time together was short. He died from a cerebral abscess on the 14th December 1922, aged just 29.