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Robert John Gemmell

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Perth (China Wall) Cemetery. Ypres Salient. Battlefields Belgium. Flanders
Authors image. Perth (China Wall) Cemetery

95111 Gunner

‘A’ Battalion, 2nd Tank Brigade, Royal Tank Corps

Age: 27

Date of Death: Killed in Action 31.7.17

Buried: Perth Cemetery (China Wall) I.K.36

Family history: Son of Robert and Matilda Gemmell, 182 Orchard Street, Camelon. He was employed as a fitter by Lane and Girvan of Bonnybridge before he enlisted in August 1916 joining the Highland Cyclist Battalion before transferring to the Machine Gun Corps.

Tank organisation

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 1’s). 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. The Tank Corps was formed from the Heavy Branch MGC (HBMGC) 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. From the earliest days, men of the HBMGC were often drawn from the Motor Machine Gun units, with drivers from the Army Service Corps. In many cases the men never actually officially transferred and fought in the tanks under their original regiments. Finally, an ‘E’ Company was formed for service in Palestine.

The action leading to his death

Second Tank Brigade, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Battalions, were with II Corps, comprising 8th Division and 30th Division between the Ypres - Roulers Railway and astride the Menin Road and south as far as Kleine Zillibeke. The tanks faced an impossible situation. The woods precluded any movement by the tanks and the Menin road was dominated by a massive fortification at Clapham Junction. There were only three viable approach routes. Of the machines coming through the Hooge Gap, four were knocked out by German guns. Some of the tanks of ‘A’ Battalion got through and, where the Menin Road bears right, moved forward in the direction of the low ridge concealing Glencourse Wood from their sight.

 Hooge. Hooge Crater Cemetery. Tank Brigade. Ypres Salient. Battlefields Belgium. Flanders

Further movement was impossible due to the conditions and enemy fire. Of the fifty-two fighting and supply tanks of 2nd Tank Brigade, nineteen were put out of action by German guns and twenty-two ditched, some due to mechanical failure.

Medals Awarded: The British War Medal, Victory Medal.

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