The first man ever to command a tank in battle only volunteered for the secret mission because learning to fly aeroplanes was so dangerous, his daughter has revealed.
Captain Harold ‘Morty’ Mortimore commanded tank ‘D1’ on September 15, 1916, at The Somme in World War One.
His place in history occurred because he had crashed an aeroplane while training with the Royal Naval Air Service and was looking to find a way of keeping his feet on the ground.
So when volunteers were asked to join a top secret and dangerous mission he put his hand up immediately with the quip: “Nothing can be as terrifying as this.”
Cpt Harold ‘Morty’ Mortimore highlighted
A few months later the moustachioed pioneer was rolling over no man’s land towards the German trenches in the first tank to ever engage an enemy.
His daughter, Dr Tilly Mortimore, spoke about her father when she visited The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, 100 years after that first action.
The museum contains the only Mark 1 tank in existence and is commemorating the centenary by taking a WWI tank to Trafalgar Square on September 15.
It also possesses the only surviving item from the tank D1 – its compass – and has a new display case about ‘Morty’.
Tilly described how her father saw German soldiers drop their guns and run away when they first clapped their eyes on the new British invention.
However, after Morty had cleared the trenches his tank was hit by artillery from his own side and was disabled.
He later told his daughter that he thought the tanks should have been deployed differently – as one huge unit rather than the piecemeal approach that was taken.
Tilly – who was born on September 15 1950 when her father was 59 – was christened Matilda after the nickname given to the Mark 1 ‘female’ tanks.
She said: “My father told me that being in the Royal Naval Air Service was the most terrifying thing you could possibly do.
“He said the planes were made out of string and balsa wood and he even crashed one on to a shed on the training field.
“So when volunteers were requested for a top secret dangerous mission his hand shot up – and that’s how he ended up in the tanks.
“Dad was selected as a tank commander and he started training in April 1916. By August the tanks were being shipped to France.
“In his tank D1 – called Daredevil – there was a 17-year-old boy along with men in their late 30s and early 40s; a total of eight crammed inside a dirty, smelly, noisy metal box.
“His tank was supposed to go into battle with two others, but they had broken down so my dad went in on his own.
“He became the very first man to command a tank in battle and although he cleared the trenches, the steering mechanism was hit by a flying barrage from his own artillery.
“The crew got out and some were injured, but not seriously. D1 was abandoned on the battlefield.
“Dad didn’t speak much about his experiences, but he did tell me that his job on the first day was to clear a trench of German machine-gunners near to a strategically important wood.
“He said that as he approached the enemy he peered through his view finder and saw the Germans take one look at the tank and run.
“Just imagine what that huge tank must have looked like rearing up at the German soldiers in the early morning. The development of the tank had been kept secret and the effect must have been incredibly powerful.
“Dad also said that the effect would have been much greater had all the Mark 1 tanks gone at the Germans together.
“I am very proud of my father and of all those men who volunteered. They did so because they thought it was the right thing to do.
“All the tanks that have ever been built and used can be traced back to that first engagement 100 years ago.”
Morty was gassed twice and eventually sent home.
He became a businessman and politician in local government in Hertfordshire, met and married Tilly’s mother Mary in the late 1930s and served in the Home Guard during World War II. He died in 1967 aged 76.
That first tank battle was known as Flers-Courcelette and began at 5.20am when Morty’s tank set off.
The tanks had been developed in great secrecy and the original name for them – landships – was replaced with ‘tank’ to aid their cloak and dagger development.
The cover story was that they were made as water tanks for the Russian army.
Tilly lives near Wells in Somerset.
The centenary event on September 15 is being supported by the World of Tanks publisher and developer Wargaming.
For more information contact Ed Baker at Deep South Media on 01202 534487
Nik Wyness | Head of Marketing | The Tank Museum | firstname.lastname@example.org | 01929 405 096 x234 | +44 7801099390
Roz Skellorn | Marketing@tankmuseum.org
NOTES TO EDITORS:
ABOUT THE TANK MUSEUM
The Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset holds the national collection of tanks and brings the story of tanks and tank crews to life.
With over 300 tanks from 26 nations, The Tank Museum holds the finest and most historically significant collection of fighting armour in the world. These range from the world’s first ever tank, Little Willie, through to the British Army’s current Main Battle Tank, Challenger 2.
Eight powerful exhibitions tell the story of armoured warfare spanning over 100 years of history. As you explore the Museum’s seven large halls, you come face with face to face with tanks and hear incredible true stories from the last century.
The Tank Museum is an independent Museum and registered Charity.
Wargaming is an award-winning online game developer and publisher, and one of the leaders in the free-to-play MMO market. Founded as a privately held company in 1998, Wargaming has shipped over 15 titles. Currently, Wargaming is focused on its team-based MMO war series dedicated to mid-20th century warfare that includes the armored World of Tanks, the airborne World of Warplanes, and the naval World of Warships. The three intertwined titles form a common gaming universe integrated within the portal www.wargaming.net.
As part of its multiplatform line-up, the company has introduced World of Tanks on Xbox and World of Tanks Blitz on mobile platforms, Windows 10 PCs and Mac OS X. Launched in 2014 and 2015, World of Tanks on Xbox introduced epic tank-on-tank battles to console gamers and offers the first cross-platform gaming experience between Xbox 360 and Xbox One. In 2016, Wargaming released World of Tanks for PlayStation®4, continuing its console campaign.
Official website: www.wargaming.com