Arthur Inglis – The First Tank Commander


Image © IWM (HU 116182)

On September 15th 1916 Arthur McCullock Inglis became the first person in history to lead tanks into battle. He is buried in Prestbury St Mary’s churchyard, where on 12th May 2019 they will be marking the centenary of his death. This is the story of how Arthur and his family are connected to the Cheltenham area…

Early Life

Arthur was born 14 July 1884 at the Caledonian Hotel, Inverness, Scotland. His father Lionel was born in Bengal, so Arthur was technically Anglo-Indian but born in Scotland. The Inglis family had strong connections with both India and Scotland. Lionel worked as an East India Merchant and was a man of some considerable means. He is mentioned in relation to a Scottish estate and we also know he kept a yacht in Scotland called the Albatross. (Which features later in a scandal)…

Lionel married Agnes Kate Murril in 1868 at Ashchurch near Tewkesbury, where her family resided. They had their first child 14 years into their marriage. Possibly this was due to the travelling required for Lionel’s work for the East India Company.

 Arthur had an older brother Lionel who was baptised at St Luke’s Cheltenham in 1882 so we know their connection with the Cheltenham area began around that time.  In 1891 we find the family living together for the first time in Charlton Kings when Arthur was about 7 years old. They had one servant and an older cousin was staying with them on the night of the census.

When the boys were older Arthur’s parents travelled extensively, including living some of the time in Assam India whilst the boys were sent away to boarding schools. In England we know the family resided in Broadway, Charlton Kings and Prestbury.

Map from Cheltenham Local & Family History Library

Their residence in Prestbury was in New Barn Lane at a house previously known as Elm Lodge. They renamed it after Inglisby after the family surname. I believe the house today is divided into two properties. (Map from Cheltenham Local & Family History Library)

So far the story is moderately unremarkable, one of the many affluent families living in the Cheltenham area who had empire connections. However there was a huge scandal and all the details of the case were printed not just in local newspapers but also in national newspapers. The impact of such an event in a small village like Prestbury must have effected the family.

A Prestbury Scandal

In 1899 Agnes petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of adultery and cruelty. She was awarded a divorce, financial relief and custody of the two boys.  Divorce was unusual for women at this time (note they couldn’t just divorce on the grounds of adultery as men could, there had to be additional reasons like abuse). 

The Western Daily Press tells us:

 “On their way out to India, they made the acquaintance, on board ship of a Miss Maud Hemmingway. Mr Inglis became rather attentive to her, and she was invited to stay with them in their bungalow. Mr Inglis wished to ‘adopt’ the young lady and when the wife objected he was violent. 

 On the way back to England the young lady travelled with them by the same steamer (Borneo). Mr Inglis was constantly in her company and one day his wife having got letters from their boys (who were at public schools in England). When to speak to him about them… He followed her into her cabin and struck her, saying “If you make Miss Hemmingway unwelcome I will make you and the boys repent it”.

A Steam Ship

After they got to England Miss Hemmingway came to stay at their house on a visit and Mr Inglis told his wife that if she did not make a friend of her he would strangle her. 

On the 3rd October 1899 he appeared before his wife (at Inglisby) when she returned from a walk. He pointed a revolver at her and told her he was going to shut up the house and go away with the girl. His manner was extremely violent and put Mrs Inglis in fear of her life. He went away and never returned.”

Following the divorce the 1901 census shows Agnes still living at Inglisby with Arthur now age 16, who had been recently enrolled as a dayboy at Cheltenham College. His older brother Lionel had already left home and Arthur followed suit the following year.  

We know that his father didn’t in fact disappear. Instead he ended up with Maud Hemmingway in London where he married her in 1901, almost immediately after the divorce. A daughter Barbara was born a few months later and other children (possibly a son Adrian) were born in India where the couple appear to have moved to by 1904. A passenger list dated 1925 show the couple were still together and it illustrates quite clearly there was a 26 year age gap. Lionel died in the 1934 in India.

Military Career

After those unsettled teenage years at age 17 Arthur obtained a commission in the 3rd (Militia) Battalion Wiltshire Regiment. He was granted a commission in the 2nd Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment in 1906, and promoted Lieutenant in 1908.

The 1911 census shows him as being posted to Malta age 26. Back in Prestbury his mother Agnes, brother Lionel and Lionel’s new wife Dorothy lived in Prestbury at Inglisby, New Barn Lane. Lionel has joined the East African Rifles and appears to have spent the rest of his career in the army.

Arthur took part in operations in the Cameroons (1914-1916), in The Gambia Company, which formed part of the West African Field Force, and was made Captain in 1914. He later became a Major attached to the Machine Gun Corps (MGC), and was mentioned twice in despatches. 

In September 1916 he became the first man to lead tanks in to battle on the Somme with his Mark 1 tank nicknamed Crème de Menthe (officially known as C5). Three tanks lead by Inglis’ C Company had the objective to take the sugar refinery at Fleurs-Courcellete. Heavily guarded by German machine guns. Rare footage of Crème de Menthe can be seen here.

Phillip Gibbs war correspondent at the Somme reported:

On that morning of September 15th, 1916, the front-line troops got out of their trenches laughing, and cheering, and shouting again because the tanks had gone ahead, and were searing the Germans dreadfully while they moved over the enemy’s trenches and poured out fire on every side. One of them called ‘Creme de Menthe’ had great adventures that day, capturing hundreds of prisoners, and treading down machine-gun posts, and striking terror into the enemy. A message came back: “Creme de Menthe is walking down the High Street of Flers with the British Army cheering behind.”

French Newspaper from 1917

For this heroic action Arthur received a DSO. You really can’t underestimate the significance of this success. Newspapers across the world (like this French one) were printing pictures of Crème de Menthe and you could even buy model china tanks. It would certainly been the talk of Prestbury!

Back at home in Prestbury his mother Agnes seems to have become known as ‘Kate’ Inglis and was a volunteer VAD as Head of the Linen Room at St John’s VAD hospital during WW1. 

This was a key part of the operation and without the huge volume of clean dressings; uniforms and bedding required hospitals couldn’t function. Kate volunteered full time throughout the war and was mentioned by the secretary of state and in the Red Cross roll of honours. 

Image from Cheltenham Local & Family History Library

Final Years

Arthur had a rather unfortunate preference for leading tanks into battle on foot.  In part this would have been due to the very cramped and hot conditions inside the temperamental machines. 

(c) IWM

One day near Amiens in 1918 a tank tread set off an unexploded shell injuring him severely. He never really recovered and was invalided home to the UK. He tried to return to France but was not allowed to and was given a position as Transport Officer in London. 

His condition went downhill and on May 12th 1919 Arthur died of his wounds at the Royal Nursing Home in Cheltenham, leaving his estate to his brother Lionel. He is buried in St Mary’s, Prestbury in a family grave.

In October 2004, the CWGC agreed to liaise with the Prestbury Parochial Church Council (PCC) and seek their permission to erect an official headstone on his grave in due course. Final approval was given on 3 May 2007, and the memorial was installed in July 2009. 

Arthur’s grave in Prestbury

Arthur was also one of the names added to the Prestbury war memorial in 2016. It’s not clear why he was omitted in the first instance as he appears on the memorial inside St Mary’s Church and is also listed on the Cheltenham and Cheltenham College war memorials. 

On May 12th 2019 a special service of remembrance will be held at Prestbury St Mary’s church, which everyone is welcome to attend.

Article by Rebecca Sillence –Prestbury Remembers WW1

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