Sergeant Charles McNamee, 21 and from Portsmouth, was a member of one of the very first tank units in the British Army.
Although it is often thought that Tanks were first used at Cambrai, a limited number of the vehicles were used at the Somme in 1916. The Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps was formed to operate the Tanks, originally with four Companies, lettered from A to D. In November 1916 these were expanded to Battalion size.
Serving with D Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps Heavy Branch, Sergeant McNamee was killed on 9 April 1917. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Cambrai Memorial. There is some confusion as to the circumstances of McNamee’s death, as the Battle of Cambrai took place in November 1917. It seems that McNamee was in fact killed at Arras, as D Battalion were engaged in this battle on 9 April 1917 – apparently they were moving up to launch an attack the next day.
Christy Campbell’s Band of Brigands tells us much about the early tank men. D Battalion’s tanks all had names beginning with D – such as ‘Die Hard’, ‘Dracula’, ‘Delphine’, ‘Daphne’ and ‘Dolly’. With a sense of humour, 2nd Lieutenant Sampson christened his tank ‘Delilah’. D Company first fought at the Battle of Ginchy on the Somme in September 1916, however only three out of 18 tanks managed to reach their objectives.
The Machine Gun Corps Heavy Branch later became the Tank Corps, and eventually the Royal Tank Regiment.