Clement Arnold was one of four brothers from a Llandudno family who volunteered to fight on the outbreak of war; three of whom served in the Tank Corps. All were commissioned, decorated and survived the First World War. Arnold’s life was saved by a German soldier, with whom he formed an unlikely friendship.
Arnold’s most notable action of the First World War came during the Battle of Amiens, a battle which marked a major turning point for the Allies on the road to victory.
On the first day of the battle, 18th August 1918, Arnold was in command of his Whippet tank ‘Musical Box’. As the other tanks in their troop were knocked out, Musical Box became the lead tank.
Arnold ordered his crew to drive across the German lines of fire whilst engaging the German battery with machine gun fire. They were able to cause considerable damage to the German artillery.
Inevitably the tank attracted machine-gun fire which punctured the spare fuel cans on the roof and caused petrol to run down inside the cab. Two shells then hit the tank, causing the petrol to ignite inside the tank.
After the war Arnold recalled;
‘Petrol was running down the inside of the back door. Fumes and heat combined were very bad. I was shouting to driver Carney to turn about when the cab burst into flames. I managed to get the door open and drag out the other two men.
The fresh air revived us and we all got up and made a short rush to get away from the burning petrol. We were all on fire. We rolled over and over to try and extinguish the flames.’
On escaping from the burning tank, Arnold and his crew were met by a group of German soldiers, seeking revenge for the death of their comrades. Arnold’s driver was shot and killed and he and his gunner were savagely attacked.
‘I saw numbers of the enemy approaching from all round. The first arrival came for me with a rifle and bayonet. I got hold of this and the point of the bayonet entered my right fore-arm.
The second man struck at my head with the butt end of his rifle, hit my shoulder and neck, and knocked me down. When I came to, there were dozens all round me, and anyone who could reach me did so and I was well kicked.’
A German officer, Ritter Ernst von Maravic, intervened to stop the attack and saved the life of Arnold and his gunner, who were taken prisoner. Arnold showed his gratitude by gifting von Maravic his watch, given to him by his father for his 21st birthday.
The two made contact again in 1931, and formed a close, unlikely friendship. During one of their visits von Maravic returned the watch to Arnold.
Arnold was awarded the Distinguished Service Order medal for his actions in Musical Box.
The Museum holds a number of Arnold’s personal possessions including his medals, the rear door key to Musical Box, his wrist watch, and cigarette box bearing his initials. All of these personal items are now on display in the new exhibition.