William James CarnieGeorge Wood writes about William James Carnie.
Born 29th May 1896 at Broomhill, Kintore
Died 8th August 1918 in the region of Harbonnier
Service Nos. 79347, Private, Machine Gun Corps
201966, Gunner, Royal Tank Corps
VIS-EN ARTOIS MEMORIAL
The Memorial behind the gravestones bears the names of 9000
British and Commonwealth servicemen with no known grave
who died between the 8th August 1918 and the Armistice.
William Carnie is commemorated on Panel 11.
William James Carnie “Willum” was born on the 29th May 1896, the first child of William Alexander Carnie (1860-1943), farmer at Broomhill, Kintore and his wife, Mary Wilson (1867-1951), who had married at the Bon Accord Hotel, Aberdeen on the 13th July 1895.
William had been destined to become a farmer and follow his father and grandfather on Broomhill, but the Great War intervened and his father encouraged him to enlist. No record of his initial enlistment survives, many of these having been destroyed in the WWII Blitz. The Machine Gun Corps, in which he did serve, was created by Royal Warrant on the 14th October 1915, so his enlistment may have been after this. I can find no earlier Army No. and he was not awarded the 1914-15 Star, so he cannot have been in France in the first year of the War.
Whatever his early service with the Machine Gun Corps involved is not clear, but he was re-drafted into the new companies of the Machine Gun Corps which were designated as the Heavy Section MGC and were formed to operate a new weapon, the Mk.1 tank, which entered service in September 1916. In November 1916, as the potential of tanks was recognised, these companies were expanded into battalions, eventually separating from the Machine Gun Corps in July 1917 and becoming the Tank Corps.
In July 1917, William was at Bovington Camp, Dorset, today the headquarters of the armoured elements of the British Army and the home of the Tank Corps Museum. On the 21st July he sent a postcard to his Mother thanking her for “the tin box”, which will “suit A1”, but we don’t know what it was going to suit. Perhaps it was just for keeping his gear together. He goes on to tell her that, “I think I’ve passed for a driver all right, but we won’t know till we go on tank course”, and adding, “There is something in the wind right enough”. The postcard has five views of Wool, a village beside Bovington, and when I visited the area a few years ago I was able to identify four of the scenes. They had changed slightly, but William would still be able to recognise the places, even after a lapse of 90 years.
At this time, William would have been operating the large and slow tanks, the forerunners of today’s heavy armour, but this was to change when in March 1918 delivery of the “cavalry” tank, the Whippet, was started.
Luckily, others of William’s letters remain, although incomplete and damaged.
(Postcard dated 9th July 1917 from Lulworth Cove.)
“We arrived here after 2 hours sweating with full pack. Has my boots arrived”? (Is this the same situation as during the Falklands War, when soldiers had to buy their own boots to keep their feet dry?).
(Incomplete and undated) “getting leave right enough I think, but I don’t expect I’ll get it for a few months, maybe by March or thereabout, after all the rest have gone. Got father’s letter on Sunday and George’s on Monday and Peoples Journal as well, he is fairly getting up to writing”. (In 1917 his brother George would have been 8)
“Never mind sending cocoa. I bought a tin at the canteen and it will last for a while”.
(Sunday 6th Jan. 1918)
“… he says the drainer has not been altogether a success, but I think if this confounded war was finished I’ll beat the lot of them with a spade”.
“… but I am doubtful about good bits of ground on Broomhill. I wouldn’t be afraid of one working here, for the ground is as soft and there isn’t a stone to be found. I’ve been digging a lot of holes here”.
“… as a good few of the crew had to leave their busses as they got a knock from shells and I fear Fritz has got a few of them when he counter attacked.
I think the papers have made far more of that reverse than was true”.
“You were saying that the engine wasn’t working very well. Have you taken out the copper bars, they make the most difference for keeping up the heat”.
In a letter from France dated August 1918, to his brother John who was a Sergeant Armourer with 144 Squadron Royal Flying Corps in Egypt, he writes: -
“I just had a letter the other day saying that you had arrived at your destination (Aboukir). I expect that you are not sorry either, although no doubt you have seen a few sights on your way. We have been swinging it lately at the sea side well away from old Jerry, but we only have another day or two to go now. We’ve been training for new busses and guns. The same busses I told you of before”. (This was the 6 weeks training which crews got on the Whippet.)
“I was rather late on getting a start (on the course) as I had a week or two in the hospital with trench fever, or that flu’ I think it was (though the doctor called it trench fever). I hear you caught it as well”. (This would have been the precursor to the 1918 flu pandemic.)
“I expect you will be having it nice and warm with you, it is bad enough here”.
“by the time this reaches you we will have been instructing old Jerry a bit how to go back the way he came. He has been getting a pretty decent set back lately, the Yanks and French have been pretty hard on him”.
By the time John would have received this letter, William would already have died.
One of the things which would be incredible today was that, because the Tank Corps were Cavalry, the senior officers of which knew only horses, tanks had to carry fodder. So tanks went into battle carrying tins of petrol on their roof.
The WHIPPET Tank
Tank No. A344 “Musical Box”
“B” Company, 6th Battalion Tank Corps.
Crew: - Commander – Lt. C.B. Arnold
Driver – W.J. Carnie
Gunner – C. Ribbans.
Medium Mark A “Whippet” manufactured by William Foster & Co.. Ltd., Lincoln. Length 20’-0”, width 8’-6”, height 9’-0” and weight 15.7 tons. Solid suspension,
Armour 1/5” to 1/2” thick bolted to an angle iron frame.
2 x 4 cylinder Taylor petrol bus engines of 45h.p. one to each track. Speed 9 m.p.h.
2 Hotchkiss .303 air-cooled machine guns, sustained fire at 200 rounds/min, but in bursts up to 600 r/m. Each tank carried 5,400 rounds of ammunition.
At 04.20 a.m. on the 8th August 1918, the Battle of Amiens started. Whippet tanks of the 6th Battalion deployed in support of Australian and Canadian troops and advanced east, over the railway line and through the village of Villiers-Bretonneux. When I passed through there I noticed a café called “Le Kangourou”, presumably a tribute to the Australians who had re-captured the village from the Germans earlier in 1918 and who fought to the north of the town in this battle. The attack was an immediate success and the allied forces broke through the German line and pushed on.
Musical Box, due to its speed, became detached from other tanks and infantry early in the engagement and Lt. Arnold decided to act independently and harass any enemy he happened to find.
Broadcast by Colonel C.B. Arnold, 8th August 1940.
(The summary below is an edited version of the broadcast script)
I found our troops under fire from a 4 gun field battery, so I attacked across the front of the battery and then on its flank, killing about 30 Germans who had been manning the guns. About 10 a.m. some cavalry were being harassed by Germans in a field of corn, so “I dealt with them”. One of our patrols came under fire, so I ran “Musical Box” up and killed 4 or 5 of the enemy with one long burst, the others ran away.
I was young and it was very exciting, so we just kept following our targets. Really, we just went off to have a row with the Germans and none of us knew what the other was doing. There was no communication between the tanks, although we had a couple of carrier pigeons in a cage on top of the tank, but when I looked about midday, they were completely flattened by machine-gun fire. We were now well in among the Boche and came into a valley containing German hutments with the enemy packing up. I opened fire and others appeared from the huts, “we settled these”.
It was terribly hot inside Musical Box and German machine-gun fire had perforated the 9 tins of petrol, which was now running all over the cab and the fumes inside the tank obliged us to wear the breathing apparatus of our box respirators. Even so, we were all sick inside our masks.
At about 2 p.m., I decided that it wouldn’t be much good to go back among the people I’d knocked about so badly, so I again proceeded east. I’d already concluded that the only thing that could happen would be most unpleasant, but couldn’t even guess just how it would finish. Every time we were hit by a bullet or shell fragment, it fetched a bullet splash off the inside of the armour plate, small red-hot fragments which people got blinded by on occasions and after this expedition I was weeks picking the bits out of my skin, a most interesting pastime.
Now about 4 miles inside enemy territory, we were finally hit and set on fire. I tried to open the door, but failed on the first attempt due to the heat and the petrol running over my hands, but at the second attempt I fell out of the tank. I can’t say I was in a state of agony, but rather like taking ether and I’d just begun to float when the door gave.
We tried to get away, but the Germans closed in on us in a circle, firing all the time and Driver Carnie was killed. Finally, someone hit me over the head with the butt-end of a rifle, knocking me out and so put the closure on a rather exciting day.
Both Lt. Arnold and Gunner Ribbans survived, but spent the final months of the war in German Prison Camps.
William’s parents heard the broadcast by Colonel Arnold and corresponded with him after that.
William Carnie’s body was never identified and he has no grave, only a mention on the memorial plaque in France and on the War Memorial Arch at Kintore Kirk.
He was awarded the Victory and British War Medals, but the whereabouts of these medals and the Next-of-Kin Memorial Plaque are not known.
After WWI, William’s place on the farm was taken by his younger brother George who continued to farm there until the farm was sold in the early 1960s.
John Carnie, after being demobbed from the Royal Flying Corps at the end of the war, returned to McKinnon in Spring Garden where he had served an engineering apprenticeship. Later, he was sent out to Africa to install machinery on a plantation in Kenya. The owner, a retired Colonel, invited John up to the “bungalow” for dinner and during the meal found out that John was William’s brother. It transpired that the Colonel had been Willaim’s commanding officer and for the rest of his time there John lived in style in the Bungalow.
The W.J. Carnie Memorial Medal
After the War, William’s family instituted the W.J. Carnie Memorial Medal, a silver and enamel medal presented annually to the Dux of Kintore Higher Grade Public School.
The 1953 medal which was still hall-marked silver.
Sometime later, the medal was changed to a book prize and finally lapsed when the fund became depleted.