“Now, as the little train meandered up towards the front lines, a petrol caterpillar tractor was moving around drawing a big gun, the mission of which was to add to the distractions of the area miles behind enemy lines.
“The men aboard the fussy little rail tractor heard the rumblings of its creeping kinsman on the road, but, alack, they were signalled forward and carried on to where road and rail crossed; the innocent heedless caterpillar crew did the same, and the two outfits met.
“The petrol tractor rolled off the lines and the engine commenced to race; the gun swung round and ‘tapped’ a little of the ammunition which grumpily went off and splashed a great deal.
“The enemy thought a ‘strafe’ was on and banged back again to our lines. Presently, when he got his nerve once more, a crowd of 75s let fly, and over went a mob of poilus [French infantry soldiers]; they found only a few prisoners in the front trenches, but the number increased later, and a long stream of prisoners passed the aftermath of the collision.”
Incredibly, in a testament to the precision of the British Army, “the next day, both caterpillar and rail tractor were repaired and on their way again, whilst way back the road was being repaired and the prisoners captured”.
Getting it from the premium pump
Another of Cartwright’s tales was entitled “British and German petrol”.
“The petrol we get here is not by any means of No.1 grade,” he introduced grimly. “This is not intended to be a whisper of content, but it does annoy a driver to have to change down on a hill up which the petrol of the week before would have taken his car with ease on top gear.
“The 1914 carburettors are not easily adjusted for low-grade fuel, and somehow or other the paraffin, or other heavy constituents, in the present-day so-called ‘spirit’ chokes up the jets, gets onto the valves, and makes an internal clean more frequently necessary.
However, our man managed to source some nicer fuel in a rather incredible manner: “The other night a night-flying German ‘plane came down with a couple of large tanks full of refined petrol, and, as the captors of the machine feared that the place would be lit by the blazing fuel, I obliged them by removing the noxious fluid into my own tank; and very nice too!
“It was especially appreciated at the time, as I was booked for a long run the next day up to the base, where I hoped to see what my sister looked like as a WAAC. The car purred like her old self, and we made a distinctively bon trip. There is no doubt that the enemy gets plenty of good petrol nowadays – more’s the pity!”