Herbert Wallace’s was born in Blakesley, Northamptonshire in late 1891 and baptised there on 27 December 1891.
Earlier in 1891, the family in Blakesley comprised: his father, William, a ‘Stud Groom’; mother Elizabeth; older siblings: Joseph aged 8; sister, Ethel aged 7; and brothers John, Walter and Edward, aged 5, 3, and 1.
By 1901 the family had moved to 83 Sholebrook, Wittlebury Park, near Towcester. Herbert’s father was still a stud groom. Herbert was now aged 9 and there were more children and six siblings at home, Edward, Flora, Frank, Fred, Rose and Nelly. Then in 1903, his father died, the death being registered in Towcester. Herbert’s widowed mother remained with the younger children at 52 Whittlebury, Towcester. At some later date his widowed mother moved to Rugby, probably to join her children.
In 1911, Herbert was 19 and a grocer’s assistant, lodging with the Hussey family at 2 Devon Cottage, Watford Road, Radlett, Hertfordshire.
He may well have moved to the Rugby area before the war to join his two brothers who were already working in Rugby in 1911, as he enlisted in nearby Coventry into the Machine Gun Corps [MGC] as Gunner, No.38424. The MGC had been formed in October 1915.
It is not known when Herbert joined up, but he probably didn’t go to France until 1916, as he didn’t receive the 1914-1915 Star, and he would have to be trained.
He later transferred to the ‘Heavy Section’ as Private/Gunner, No.206183. The Heavy Section was formed in March 1916, becoming the ‘Heavy Branch’ in November 1916. Men of this branch crewed the first tanks in action at Flers, during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916.
He was still in the ‘Heavy Branch’ in June 1917, as it was not until July 1917, that the ‘Heavy Branch’ separated from the MGC to become the Tank Corps, later to be called the Royal Tank Regiment. The later ‘Soldiers that died in the Great War’ record states ‘Royal Tank Corps’ and his Medal Card stated ‘Tank Corps’.
The Tank Corps was formed from the Heavy Branch MGC on 27 July 1917 and the Battalions adopted numbering rather than letter designations (although tank names followed the same lettering: for example, 7th Battalion tanks were all named with a letter G, like Grouse, Grumble, etc.) Each Tank Battalion had a complement of 32 officers and 374 men. Originally formed as Companies of the Heavy Section MGC, designated A, B, C and D, each Company consisted of 4 Sections of 3 tanks of each type (male and female Mk.1s). Companies also had another machine in reserve. In November 1916 the Companies were expanded to Battalions, carrying the same letter designations. A Battalion consisted of 3 Companies. Three mobile workshops provided the engineering back-up to service the tanks. An expansion programme was ordered by GHQ, to build a force of 14 additional Battalions.
As Herbert was in “A” Battalion, this would have become the 1st Battalion – possibly after his death.
… some [tanks] played a part at the Battle of Arras in April and May 1917. … The next step saw an upgrade in the production of the Mark IV. It carried more armour and had an external fuel tank. Mechanically, it was similar to the Mark II. These tanks weighed 28 tons. The Mark IV first saw service at The Battle of Messines in June 1917.
The Battle of Messines took place from 7 to 14 June 1917, just south of Ypres. Seventy-two of the new Mark IV tanks had arrived in May and were hidden south-west of Ypres, and took part in various parts of the battle.
Sadly, the tanks deployment in the Third Battle of Ypres (July-November 1917) proved to be another slog through deep mud. The area became a tank graveyard as machine after machine ditched in deep trenches and shell holes, sank, stuck and was shelled. Morale in the Tank Corps was low and confidence of the rest of the army destroyed.
Herbert was recorded by the CWGC as a ‘Gunner, “A” Bn Machine Gun Corps (Heavy Branch)’, but there seem to be two possible dates of death. The grave registration form gave his earlier MGC number and 7 June 1917 as his date of death, rather than his later Heavy Branch number and the later 8 June 1917 date of death given in the later CWGC record and on his headstone. Herbert was Killed in Action on either 7 or 8 June 1917, it is assumed during one of the number of separate actions tank actions in the Battle of Messines.
His body was recovered and he was buried in Grave Reference: III. C. I5. in the Dickebusch New Military Cemetery Extension. The New Military Cemetery was begun in February 1915 and was used until May 1917 by fighting units and field ambulances, with a few further burials taking place in March and April 1918. The Extension was used from May 1917 to January 1918. The cemetery is a few miles south-west of Ypres, and a similar distance north-west of Messines.
At the date that the CWGC listed the memorial details, Herbert was described as ‘Son of Elizabeth Wallace, of 21, St. John St., Rugby and the late William Wallace’. At some date before 1911, Edward’s brothers, John, b.c.1886; and Frank, b.c.1896, had moved to Rugby to work as a ‘grocer’s assistant, and a ‘gas engineer apprentice’ respectively, and in 1911 were in lodgings at 74 Railway Terrace. It seems likely that their widowed mother, later also moved to Rugby to join them, and submitted Herbert’s name to be remembered on the Memorial Gate. Whether Herbert ever lived in Rugby is uncertain, but he joined up in nearby Coventry, and so he probably visited or even lived for a while, with his brothers, and later his mother. As he is also on the St. Philip’s memorial, perhaps he joined the family in Rugby for a time.
His mother was his sole legatee, and received £5-9-11d on 1 October 1917 and £3-10-0d on 16 October 1919.
Herbert Wallace was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
As well as being remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate, Herbert is commemorated at St. Philip’s Church, Wood Street, Rugby.
Herbert’s brother, Edward, also died in WWI, on 15 July 1916, whilst serving with the 1st Welsh Fusiliers during the Battle of the Somme. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial and his biography is here.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
– – – – – –
This article on Herbert Wallace was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, June 2016.
 In July 1917, the Heavy Branch separated from the MGC to become the Tank Corps, later the Royal Tank Regiment.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Messines_(1917); from: Edmonds, J. E., 1991, , Military Operations France and Belgium, 1917: 7 June – 10 November: Messines and Third Ypres (Passchendaele). History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence, p.33, London, HMSO, ISBN: 0-89839-166-0.