On 3 October 1914, newspapers ran a story describing how Sir Arthur du Cros MP had offered to the War Office to raise, equip and maintain a motor ambulance convoy. It was “probably to be commanded by Captain George du Cros and the drivers will be expert mechanics supplied by Mr. du Cros“. Sir Arthur offered to supply twenty of the vehicles himself, each at a cost of £300. Who were these people and what happened to their suggestion?
The convoy’s story begins with Dublin-born William Harvey du Cros (June 1846 – December 1918), a founder of the British and Irish pneumatic tyre industry and originator of the 1896 Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company. He married Annie Jane Roy with whom he had six sons between 1868 and 1875. The last child, George, is said to have made the American continent’s first pneumatic tyre in Chicago when aged just 16. He would go on to play a central part in the history of the convoy.
William was elected in the 1906 general election as Member of Parliament for Hastings, although he had to resign due to ill-health in 1908. The resulting by-election of 3 March 1908 was won for the Conservatives by his Arthur Philip (born 1871), later Sir Arthur du Cros, 1st Baronet du Cros.
An article in the”Army & Navy Gazette” on 10 October 1914 provides a reminder that Arthur du Cros MP played a part in raising a new army battalion of the Royal Fusiliers: “The battalion of Colonial Infantry that was being formed by committee consisting of Mr. Arthur du Cros, MP., the Hon. Gideon Murray, Major Norton Griffiths, MP. Col. Hamersley, MP, Major Madocks and Capt. George du Cros, and in which to the end last week 650 men had been enrolled, has by arrangement been amalgamated with a battalion of infantry that the Mayor of Kensington was raising. This composite battalion which is now up to full strength, will form special service unit of the Royal Fusiliers, and will, is hoped, be known as the Imperial Battalion of that regiment, or by some other distinctive designation.”
But it is also reported that the du Cros initiatives had already also suggested to the War Office the raising of a motor ambulance convoy, a new wholly concept. It gained support very quickly.
The raising of the convoy
The column, which will consist of 54 vehicles, comprising 39 ambulances, each of which will be of precisely the same type, capable of carrying four stretchers, two travelling workshops equipped with all spare parts and facilities for running repairs. Three officers’ cars and 10 motor-cycles will, for the first time in the history warfare, actually work at the front between the firing line and the field hospitals, its primary object being to secure the rapid transport of wounded men from the trenches, and equally speedy return the firing line. By this rapidity of action it is obvious that much suffering will be obviated and many valuable lives preserved.
The drivers of each vehicle of this mobile column have been recruited by Mr. Du Cros and enlisted into the Army Service Corps. Each man is an expert mechanic, capable, with the facilities provided, of maintaining his vehicle in running order under the worst conditions, while the type of ambulance body has been submitted to and approved by the War Office.
The personnel of the column – which will be ready leave for the front within three weeks – consists of 136 non-commissioned officers and men, and three officers. Captain George Du Cros, who has seen service in South Africa, Lieutenant W. du Cros, and Lieutenant Lyne-Stephens, each of whom has provided his own motor-car, and will serve without pay.Britush Newspaper Archive. “Birmingham Mail” of Tuesday 13 October 1914
George Herbert and William Edward du Cros were Arthur’s brothers and joint directors of the car sales firm of W. and G. du Cros of Acton. The former had served in the Second Boer War as a volunteer officer of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. They were both, along with Stephen Lyne-Stephens, made Temporary Honorary officers of the ASC: the two du Cros as Captains and Lyne-Stephens as Lieutenant.
The ambulance cars were of the French 10-12 Panhard-Levassor type (W. & G. du Cros had been selling this brand since 1903). In addition to those donated by the du Cros’ were another six donated by the Dunlop company; three by the Irish Automobile Club; three by the Anglo-American Oil Company; two by Lyne-Stephens; and each each by the State of Queensland, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the City and County of Cork, the Motor Traders of Manchester, the Cycle and Motor Trade of Ireland, members of the National Sporting Club, the Glasgow Conservative Club, the residents of Sunningdale, the Austin Motor Company, the Rover Company, the Swift Motor Company, the staff of the Dunlop Rubber Company, Sir Joseph Beecham, Mrs. & Mrs. Joynson-Hicks, Mr. A. Barclay-Walker, Mr. James White, Mr. Charles Sangster and Mr. Harry Smith. Private ambulances or chassis’ were also donated by the Wolseley Company of Norfolk and the City of Norwich, the proprietors of Palmers Garage, and Mary Lady Carbery.
Men for what was known at the time as “Number 1 Convoy” were enlisted in 9 October 1914 and headquarters were located at “Wildcroft” at Putney Heath, the home of William du Cros MP. The recruits were billeted in its gymnasium.
On 31 October 1914 the convoy left from Avonmouth on board the ship “Artist” and landed at Boulogne in the morning of Wednesday, 4 November 1914. At the time, it was three officers, 1 Warrant Officer and 146 other ranks strong, equipped with 41 ambulances, 8 cars and 10 motorcycles. It was also “armed to the teeth” and believed itself to be a unit of the Army Service Corps: this was altered on later arrival at Saint-Omer when it was recognised as a medical unit and dis-armed.
The convoy: service in France and Flanders
On 27 October 1914, Royal Army Medical Corps officer Captain Archibald Craig Amy MB had received orders to join 5 Motor Ambulance Convoy as its officer commanding, after first visiting the Deputy Director of Medical Services (DDMS) of Lines of Communication at Abbeville. He reported at Abbeville at noon on 29 October and was instructed to proceed to Boulogne. On getting there next day he found three officers, three RAMC Corporals and three lorries, three ambulances and a car had assembled. Things got off to a bad start: working locally, two of the vehicles had accidents. Twelve more ambulances and 24 men of the Army Service Corps arrived. On 1 November another seven drivers and four amulances arrived from England. On 3 November, one of the officers, 30 drivers and 15 ambulances left, having been transferred to number 3 Motor Ambulance Convoy. Next afternoon, was ordered to take over the du Corps convoy which was now to be known as number 5 Motor Ambulance Convoy. There was a certain amount of confusion, as George du Cros had been given the impression by the War Office that he was to command it, but it was resolved on further reference to London. On 5 November 1914 the convoy set out for Saint-Omer.
Certain modifications for easier carrying of stretchers were identified when at Saint-Omer, and the mechanics set to. The convoy was also modified to the new standard establishment of a Motor Ambulance Convoy. Six other ambulance vehicles joined, of the Rolls-Royce, Sunbeam and Wolseley types.
On 11 November 1914 a detachment under Lieutenant William du Cros set off for Poperinghe. The remainder joined it next day, and all began work in the area rear of the Ypres front. As things turned out, the convoy continued to work in the saem area (mostly under command of Second Army) throughout the war, being based at times at Hazebrouck (in the Ecole Maternelle), Abele and Bailleul (from April 1916). It came under fire for the first time at Dickebusch on 4 February 1915 and came to special attention for work in the Vlamertinghe area during the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. On 24 April 1916, several of its vehicles were destroyed in an air raid on Bailleul. A detachment of 20 vehicles was hurriedly sent to Marchelepot to support 10 MAC in late March 1918.
It was only in April-May 1918 that the general withdrawal forced by the German operation “Georgette” caused the convoy to relocate to Watten near Saint-Omer. It was said that other than those destroyed at Bailleul, the original vehicles continued to work throughout until some were exchanged in February 1918.
On 16 March 1915 it was announced that the unit would now be known as 323 (Mechanical) Transport Company of the Army Service Corps.
Ten days later, Amy finally relinquished command and the convoy was taken over by Captain Richard James Campbell Thompson RAMC.
On 18 December 1917, Captain Charles W. Bennett RAMC arrived to take command.
On 3 April 1918 both George and William du Cros relinquished their honorary commissions on ceasing to be employed; they had left the convoy on 31 January 1918.
By 11 November 1918, it was calculated that the convoy had carried a total of 202,489 casualties.
The convoy suffered remarkably few casualties of its own. A man was wounded by shrapnel near Ypres on 26 April 1915; on 26 March 1918, one man was wounded and one killed near Doullens: he was Pte M2/022021 Harry Frederick Fletcher, aged 22 and from Hadliegh in Suffolk. He lies in Doullens Communal cemeter yExtension No. 1. Three other men died of illnesses between 1915 and 1918.
Captain C. A. Amy, who had already been recognised for a mention in despatches before his posting to the convoy, was promoted to Major on 30 July 1918 and awarded the Distinguished Service Order later that year. His citation reads, “Maj. Archibald Craig Amy, M.D., R.A.M.C., attd. 2/1st (High.) Fld. Amb.T.F. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on 24th October, 1918, at Douchy, when in charge of the advanced dressing station there. The town was shelled with H.V. guns for four hours, many shells bursting in the vicinity of the advanced dressing station, one shell causing twenty-one casualties. A large number of wounded were brought in, and by his coolness and energy he prevented any confusion resulting, and cleared his advanced dressing station successfully“.
The war diary of 5 MAC, including the personal diary of Captain C. A. Amy, is held at the National Archives under reference WO95/340.