Another inspirational figure represented in the Tank Men exhibition is Elliot Hotblack – a trailblazer in tank reconnaissance and intelligence, who rose to the rank of Major-General.
Hotblack was born in Norfolk in 1887 and, as well as being trained in the family business of brewing, he was also highly educated and a fluent European linguist.
Hotblack volunteered for service in 1914 and was commissioned into the Royal Norfolk Regiment. His expertise and education meant that he was considered to be an ideal candidate to become one of the first members of the Intelligence Corps, at the Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force. In 1916, he transferred from the Norfolk Regiment to the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps (which later became the Tank Corps) and became a Tank Corps Intelligence Officer.
In this role, he pioneered the art of tank reconnaissance and intelligence. By examining early aerial photographs, captured documents and the interrogation of prisoners, Hotblack gained intelligence on enemy positions, tactics, morale and weapons. Not one to shy away from front line duties, he personally taped the routes for tanks going in to battle as a visual aid for drivers to follow in the dark; map reading inside tanks being too difficult.
Tank Men: The Story of the First Crews recreates the moment Hotblack won the Distinguished Service Order medal for gallantry, when he walked out in front of a tank in the heat of battle to guide it to its objective.
For this action, his citation read: ‘He has shown throughout persistent gallantry and contempt of danger in the pursuance of his duty as a reconnaissance and battle liaison officer which has been an inspiration to all ranks.’
Hotblack’s heroism and active participation in battle meant that he was much-loved by his soldiers. A grieving wife whose husband served under Hotblack wrote:
‘My Dear Captain Hotblack
I can never never tell you of all my gratitude to you. I know that you risked your life again and again in going down to the stretcher bearers and getting Tommy carried to the field dressing station – and then while you were so shaken and suffering, you collected his little things, which will be my dearest treasures all my life.’
Hotblack’s courage would earn him a bar to his DSO, a Military Cross with bar, the Legion of Honour, the Russian Order of St Anne, and he was mentioned in despatches five times.
After the war Hotblack stayed in the Tank Corps and eventually reached the rank of Major-General. He went to Berlin as the British Military Attaché in the 1930’s and was ready to take command during the Second World War when he suffered an accident and was invalided out of the Army.