Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Fray Bentos: WW I. Horror & Humour on the Western front.

“A tin with meat in it…”

I have just been incredibly moved by this BBC4 Documentary and can’t recommend it highly enough: The First World War From Above

The footage and human elements shown are deeply affecting, the ponds remain in the contemporary landscape are calm yet speak of unimaginable horror. It is truly affecting.

I had to dig deeper into one particular aspect, The Tank stranded deep inside no mans land and how the incredible soldiers held of the German enemy for some time: Brilliantly nick named “Fray Bentos”

Clearly this small story would be perfect for a screenplay and story, I am looking for the book on this and have found various mentions of it (further reading below) and pushing for a feature production.

A very brief introduction here, the group of men were very highly decorated for their valour and efforts. The actual story is incredible and encapsulates the awful futility of the situation and the individual stories involved.


F41 was a mark IV tank belonging to 'F' battalion Tank Corps. It was involved in the 3rd battle of Ypres, on 22/08/17 after crossing no-mans-land it got bogged, unfortunately the infantry hadn't kept up and the 9 man crew spent the next 72 hours fighting off determined German counter attacks including arty, trench mortars, MG's, infantry and assault engineers with demo charges.

"At 9.00pm on the evening of the 24th, the crew having manned their posts for 62hrs…and having been 72hrs in the tank decided to evacuate."

Report by commander of F41, Fray Bentos…The actual report is in the War Diary in the PRO. (WO/95/107 for teh Battalion)…Tank didn't survive. The name was re-used at Cambrai, and may have got onto a Whippet, but the last trace I've of it was on a Crusader I/II in North Africa!…F41 was Male 2329. 785, the Bovington Mk II was also in 18 Company at this time. (source)



(Above image source, a terrific resource posting of 2 pages – well worth a look)

Secondary note:

“…I don't know if you're aware of another contribution to Britain's war effort by Fray Bentos products.
I can't remember now where I read this, but the story, told by a British soldier, goes something like:
"Knowing that the Germans were short of food, we would begin firing tins of bully beef into their trenches with a catapult. We'd send over quite a few, then, when we calculated that a crowd would have gathered, we'd send over a couple of grenades. Then we'd hear the bugles blowing for stretcher bearers."
Not very sporting, I'm afraid. Especially when you consider that the company was founded by two Germans.”

Further reading:

“The Boiler Plate War” by John Foley
"Cameos of the Western Front - Salient Points Two" by Spagnoly and Smith
There's an account in Mitchells book "Tank Warfare".  There must be official accounts too in Battalion records at The National Archives.
'Band of Brigands'
A comprehensive forum posting comprising a photo survey related to maps. A production designers/Scriptwriters gift. I will get the ball rolling and start developing this as a screenplay/pitch. Such a strong dramatic story, full of life and death.