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Mystery of First World War tank crew

By Matthew McCreary

Relatives of a Co Down man who died in action in World War I are being asked to solve a riddle about one of the conflict’s most historic battles.

Private William Galway, from Church View in Holywood, was a gunner in the Tank Corps. He was killed aged 25 during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917.

Private Galway was a crew member in one of the terrifying new weapons which breached the German Hindenburg Line at a village called Flesquieres, where he is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.

Military historians are trying to track down further details about Private Galway, and hope he might still have relatives living in Northern Ireland who may be able to help.

“Ten years ago, one of the 378 fighting tanks which took part in the British attack was recovered from the battlefield, where she had been buried,” said Rob Kirk, a journalist researching the history of the battle.

“D51 — known as ‘Deborah’ — was in remarkably good condition for a machine which had been disabled by shellfire and buried for 80 years.

“She was traced by a local historian, Philippe Gorczynski, who has now installed Deborah as the centrepiece of what he hopes will be a permanent museum to mark the battle.”

But an enduring puzzle about the tank remains over who crewed her on that fateful day. Researchers know it reached the centre of the village before being hit by shells from a German field gun. They know her commander, Second-Lieutenant Frank Gustave Heap, won a Military Cross for leading half the eight-man crew to safety.

Four crew died, and there are four headstones, including one for William Galway, side-by-side in Flesquieres Hill military cemetery. All of them are for Tank Corps men from Deborah’s D Battalion, who were killed on the day Deborah was shelled, November 20.

There are headstones elsewhere in the cemetery for three other tank men from the same battalion killed that day.

“Which four of these men in the cemetery crewed Deborah?” Anyone with information can contact Mr Kirk by emailing rhjkirk@hotmail.com .

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