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October 14, 2016

It can’t be easy recruiting for a new branch of the Army, especially if you’re not supposed to say in the first place exactly what it does. This seems to have been the main problem in the early days facing Lieutenant-Colonel Ernest Swinton, Royal Engineers, when he tried to recruit men for the new war machines, the ‘tanks’.

Machine Gun Corps

Initially, 100 fighting tanks had been ordered and training needed to begin for the men who would crew them. In early March, 1916, the Armoured Car Section, an element of The Machine Gun Corps had been established at Bisley in Surrey. Bisley, better known as the home of the National Rifle Association, functioned as a military camp in both World Wars. The Armoured Car Section were based in Siberia Camp so-called, it is said, due to the fact that the camp was far away, on the edge of the Bisley site and not because it was especially cold.


Siberia Camp had been the Depot and Training School of The Motor Machine Gun Service which was formed in November 1914 to operate Motorcycle Machine-Gun combinations and, as these combinations had proved more or less redundant in the conditions of trench warfare, was being run down. This meant that some 700 other ranks of good quality, with mechanical skills and described by Swinton as ‘good men of a suitable type’ were readily available for the new force. A number of officers including their commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel W. R. Bradley D. S. O. also transferred.

This is why Bisley had been selected in the first place as the home for the Armoured Car Section. It is also why Swinton’s job was so easy in the first place because the partly-trained 700 men provided an excellent nucleus for the new force. They were supplemented by some officers from France and Naval Officers from the Royal Naval Air Service. From these Swinton was able to select men to command the six sections, as they had now become in April, the order having been increased to 150 tanks and the name of the force having been changed again to The Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps.

The six officers chosen were:

Major C. M. Tippets, South Wales Borderers, to command A Company
Major T. R. McLellan, The Cameronians, to command B Company
Major A. Holford-Walker, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, to command C Company
Major F. Summers D. S. C., Armoured Car Division R. N. A. S. to command D Company
Major N. H. Nutt, Armoured Car Division R. N. A. S., to command E Company
Major W. F. R. Kyngdon, Royal Artillery, to command F Company.

See Part 3 for more detail regarding exactly how Swinton managed to swell the numbers of the Heavy Section up to 184 officers and 1610 men of other ranks. Read Part 1 on Swinton here. 

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