One of the most moving stories of the First World War soldiers in The Tank Museum is that of Lieutenant Cecil Sewell, who gave his life to save those of another tank crew.
Heavy machine gun and rifle fire raked the ground as Lieutenant Sewell leapt from the safety of his Whippet tank armed with a shovel.
It was 29th August 1918; the Great War was entering its final phase on the Western Front, and Cecil Harold Sewell was just 23 years old.
In attempting to avoid accurate shell fire, another Whippet in the young Officer’s section had slid into a shell hole, overturned and burst into flames. Unable to open the hatches the crew were trapped, but Sewell was simply not able to stand by and watch as his comrades burned alive.
In full view of the German rifle pits that lay just yards away he sprinted to the nearby shell hole as bullets hissed all around him. He dug furiously away at the heavy soil until the hatches were freed sufficiently to allow the crew to crawl to safety. Later that day and undercover of darkness, this crew made it to safety.
But all was not well. Glancing back at his tank, he could see that his driver, Gunner Knox, had been wounded. Without hesitation Sewell sprang from the shell hole to assist, making one last dash through a hail of bullets.
This time he was hit again and again, but he continued to make for his stricken driver.
Sewell did what he could to dress Knox’s wounds. He too was badly wounded, but his concern was clearly not for himself. Still under fire, he sought to find cover for himself and his crewman. But as he rose he was struck by a bullet through the stomach that knocked him to the ground. This wound was fatal, and Sewell was not seen to rise again.
The Victoria Cross
When the bodies were recovered, Sewell lay side by side with Knox, his arms wrapped protectively around him. They lie together still in Vaulx Hill Cemetery, France.
His grave bares the mark of a soldier decorated for bravery, as engraved into the white stone face of it is the symbol of Britain’s highest military decoration. For endangering his own life in order to save the lives of others, Lieutenant Sewell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Sewell’s Whippet tank is currently on display at The Tank Museum, Bovington.
For more on the first tank crews, have a look at our products below.