First Tank Corps VC
In a response to the stalemate of the Western Front new weaponry had to be created. The British developed the first tanks in 1915 and these soon became common equipment in the army. However, the first tanks were very unreliable and difficult to manoeuvre – making them a target for enemy shelling. This is a story of how one soldier faced up to this danger.
Clement Robertson (Acting Captain) The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
Born 15 December 1890 Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa. Died 4 October 1917, Flanders Fields“For most conspicuous bravery in leading his Tanks in attack under heavy shelling, machine-gun and rifle fire. Capt. Robertson, knowing the risk of the Tanks missing the way, continued to lead them on foot, guiding them carefully and patiently towards their objective although he must have known that his action would almost inevitably cost him his life. This gallant officer was killed after his objective had been reached, but his skilful leading had already ensured successful action. His utter disregard of danger and devotion to duty afford an example of outstanding valour.”
Although born in South Africa where his father was serving with the Royal Horse Artillery, his family soon returned to Southern Ireland. Before the First World War he was an engineer in Nile irrigation projects.
When war broke out he enlisted as a private soldier in the 19th (2nd Public Schools) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers. On 30 December 1914, he was commissioned as second lieutenant. By the end of 1916 he transferred to the 1st Battalion, Heavy Branch, Machine-Gun Corps, embryo unit of the Tank Corps, as one of the original officers. In June 1917 he was a Tank Commander, during the Battle of Messines, where his tank, A56, was hit by a 5.9 shell, which severely damaged it. Despite the damage, he managed to take the tank and wounded crewmen back to base. Soon afterwards he became Acting Captain with responsibility for No 12 Section’s four tanks.
On 4th October 1917 he was involved in the British attack by 21st Division between Polygon Wood and the Menin Road. Four tanks were allotted to the 21st Division. Fire from German pillboxes caused heavy casualties to the British infantrymen as they advanced through the terrible, muddy conditions of what had been the stream of the Polygonbeek. With the support of one of the tanks the German pillboxes were captured and the higher ground overlooking the Reutel valley was reached by the supporting British infantry battalions.
Captain Clement Robertson was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first one to be awarded to the Tank Corps, for his valour in leading his tanks into the attack whilst under heavy fire from the enemy. The citation for his Victoria Cross reads:
He is believed to be buried in Oxford Road Cemetery in grave reference Plot III, Row F, Grave 7.