Hero of The Line: 76645 Lance Corporal John Rimmer M.M., Tank Corps

John Rimmer was born in Blackburn in 1895, and as a child attended both the Norfolk Street Day School and St Francis’ Church Sunday school. There is little detail available of his early life, but what is clear is that after leaving school John took an apprenticeship as a weaver at the Gordon Street mill in Darwen.

After the outbreak of hostilities in the summer of 1914 Rimmer was quick to head to recruitment office to offer up his services to King and Country, and on 3rd September 1914 he found himself heading to Berwick-upon-Tweed to sign on the dotted line to enlist. He was now 14345 Private John Rimmer of the 7th Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) Regiment. The Regiment quickly moved out to Bordon Camp for training, and then onto Salisbury Plain to complete their rudimentary military education. Once they were deemed ready for war they made for France, landing on the continent on 10th July 1915.

Within a matter of weeks, Private Rimmer and the rest of the 7th KOSB were thrown into the Battle of Loos. John fought at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 where his unit, badly affected by British poison gas and hard hit by German machine guns, suffered approximately sixty per cent casualties in their efforts to capture the French town of Loos.

Rimmer was awarded the Military Medal on 12th July 1916, it is likely that he won this gallantry award during the Battle of Loos. A report from Major Connell, commanding the 7th KSOB described how a costly case of mistaken identity cost the Battalion significant casualties during the first part of the offensive:

“Bombers were with the leading two coys and bombed support and communicating trenches catching many Germans in dug outs. A reliable Sergt. states he counted 14 dead in one dug out. Casualties were very slight during bombardment, but immediately the advance started casualties were very heavy (especially among officers) from shrapnel and machine gun fire.

After crossing the German 2nd line very few casualties ocurred until after crossing the crest of Hill 70, and the retirement back over it again where they became very heavy. The small redoubt on Hill 70 though heavily wired, and untouched by our artillery appears to have been hardly held by the Germans at all, and caused very little bother.

The cause of the losses after advancing over Hill 70 was undoubtedly caused largely by flanking fire as it appears that a message was passed along that a battalion on the 7th Bn. KSOB right had taken a village. The 7th Bn KSOB thought this meant Cite St Auguste whereas it was Loos. The men cheered loudly and charged forward mistaking Germans who were removing guns from near Cite St Auguste for the Black Watch.”

At some point either in late 1916 or early 1917 John Rimmer transferred to the newly formed Tank Corps, as well as being transferred he was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal and given a new service number: 76645. As the Tank Corps expanded he found himself in C Battalion (later to be renamed the 3rd Battalion), training on the newly introduced Mark IV tanks. His chariot would be C47 ‘Conquerer II’.  After a brief return to England on leave in July 1917, where he visited his old school, he returned to the front line to take part in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), where his Battalion were to take part in the Battle for Pilkem Ridge, the fighting around Fortuin and help back up British infantry along the Menin Road.

Despite small isolated victories in the tanks, the battlefield was quickly turned into a quagmire of deep mud due to persistent heavy rain and the smashing of the delicate drainage systems in the area through constant artillery bombardments from both sides. Such swamp-like terrain rendered the tanks all but useless as they struggled to haul their considerable bulk through the mud.

The mud was more than just a pain for the tanks, it turned the battlefield into a living nightmare for the infantry too, making it almost impossible to live, move and fight without a terrible struggle and enormous loss of life. No surprise then that the battle was an absolute disaster for Britain and the Allies. However, the British High Command were desperate to end 1917 on a high and turned to the newly formed Tank Corps to deliver the crushing victory they so badly needed. They were asked to launch an attack on the much fabled defence area known as the ‘Hindenburg Line’, with the important German held town of Cambrai located smack in the middle of the planned attack zone.

The Battle of Cambrai opened up on the 20th November 1917 with more than 300 tanks leading the offensive at zero hour. It was the first time in history that so many tanks were used to lead a formal attack on enemy lines. It is very likely that John Rimmer lined up his C-47 tank among those 300 machines; his unit, the 3rd (C) Battalion supported British troops attacking Lateaux Wood.

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C47 ‘Conqueror II’ in Fontaine-Notre-Dame, where it was knocked out on 23/11/1917

By the end of the day the Hindenburg Line had been breached and an advance of three to four miles had been achieved across a six mile front. This was an impressive advance by Western Front standards, however with 179 tanks destroyed that day, the advance was a costly one. The Germans duly counter-attacked a couple of days later, capturing Bourlon Wood and the key village of Fontain-Notre-Dame. Twenty-four hours later, what was left of the British tanks (including Lance Corporal John Rimmer and the rest of the crew of C-47) were thrown at the village in an attempt to wrench it out of German hands.

By the end of the day the Hindenburg Line had been breached and an advance of three to four miles had been achieved across a six mile front. This was an impressive advance by Western Front standards, however with 179 tanks destroyed that day, the advance was a costly one. The Germans duly counter-attacked a couple of days later, capturing Bourlon Wood and the key village of Fontain-Notre-Dame. Twenty-four hours later, what was left of the British tanks (including Lance Corporal John Rimmer and the rest of the crew of C-47) were thrown at the village in an attempt to wrench it out of German hands.

After a bitter struggle C-47 reached the centre of the village, but the tank was in a bad way; its engine was overheating and as it neared the local village church it caught fire. John Rimmer and the rest of the crew were now in a bit of a situation; they had a choice, either they stay in the tank and be burnt to death or blown up by exploding ammunition, or they try and escape from the tank and risk being shot by the scores of enemy infantry that were pummeling their tank mercilessly with small arms fire.

As luck would have it for the crew of C-47, another tank — C-48 ‘Caesar’ was nearby and as it drew alongside, John and his colleagues kicked open the escape hatches, and under intense enemy fire, bailed into C-48.

The commander of C-47, Lieutenant Moore, fell severely wounded in front of his tank and narrowly escaped being run over by his own vehicle which had been left in gear as they fled. With all the crew of C-47 crammed inside C-48 it was time to try and find a way out of the village and back to safety. Whilst doing so they were under intense attack from all sides and bullets were now penetrating the hull of the tank, they were in all sorts of trouble but somehow the tank managed to find a path back to the safety of the British lines. Sadly, during this retreat, John Rimmer was hit in the throat by a bullet, killing him instantly.

The next day, Lt Archibald, the commander of C-48, along with two other officers buried John Rimmer close to the place where they had come under attack.

Today, Lance Corporal Rimmer has no known grave and is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval.

 

This biography has been taken from the book ‘Heroes of The Line’ available on Amazon Kindle for £2.48. £1 of every sales is donated to the Royal British Legion 

by scottaddington

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