MT Sales to Anzacs
Lt Col WH Tunbridge was appointed Director of Mechanical Transport Services, Australian Imperial Force on 26 September 1917. This was a new position in addition to his role as Senior Mechanical Transport Officer, 1 ANZAC Corps. The post had been created after he had suggested to the Deputy Adjutant-General, AIF in London, that a single authority was increasingly necessary to oversee all the mechanical transport transfers within the AIF and beyond.
Transferring MT between British units on the Western Front was commonplace. From October 1914 there had been frequent transfers to homogenise marques used by units and equip them with the most suitable type for the workload. Transfers between British units were simple with all the vehicles War Office assets. Transfers became more complex for the ANZACs and Canadians as the War Office had previously sold them the vehicles.
Tunbridge first became uneasy about transfers when he realised that Peerless 3-ton lorries had been sent to the Second Army and Swiss Berna 3-ton lorries received in their place. The problem, Tunbridge considered, was that the Australian Government had paid the British £1,000 [£71,000 in 2020] for each Peerless and a Swiss Berna was only valued at £700 [£50,000]. £1,000 is a bit suspicious as the Ministry of Munitions contract valued Peerless at £800 [£57,000]. Even allowing that the price was ex-New York, £200 [£14,189] seems excessive for transport per chassis.
When he reported to DAG AIF that the British were dictating the marques to be exchanged and the condition of those received was worse than those sent, he was probably less than amused by the response. DAG informed him that the instructions from British GHQ had to be complied with. Furthermore, he was now expected to keep detailed records, in order that the Australian Government could apply for a credit when the relative value of MT on establishment had been calculated. DAG’s interest in the issue was to reward Tunbridge with additional responsibilities to his already heavy workload.
A menu of prices was included with a note that the formula for determining the value was that agreed previously with the Canadians. An obvious indication that values were non-negotiable. 3-ton lorries were valued at £800 [£57,000]; 2-ton £641 [£37,248]; 30-cwt £371 [£21,560]; motor-cars £360 [£20,919] and motor-ambulances £460 [£26,730], in effect the price of new vehicles.
It did not resolve the issue Tunbridge had with receiving worse vehicles than he sent, although nobody else seemed concerned. It was standard practice that units took the opportunity to divest themselves of the worst vehicles. Every unit complained bitterly of the condition of vehicles received, seemingly forgetting they had sent out the same.
In February 1918, AIF HQ in London sent a list of vehicles issued up to 30 June 1917. This confirmed that 637 lorries; eighteen workshop lorries; ninety-nine motor-ambulances; thirteen vans; 166 motor-cars and 245 motorcycles were issued. The problem for Tunbridge was only chassis numbers were used for identification, whereas vehicles overseas were identified by War Department numbers.
This was inevitable as vehicles supplied were only identified by their chassis numbers. War Department numbers were issued once the vehicles arrived overseas and were issued. War Office vehicles used at home were registered with local authorities the same as civilian vehicles.
Each vehicle was simply an asset and there is no reason whatsoever that AIF HQ in London, or the War Office, would have any interest in individual vehicles, marques or values. The value was determined by the Ministry of Munitions and Treasury when placing orders with suppliers. The military only used what they were given with no further consideration necessary, other than complain it was never enough.
On 26 February 1918, Tunbridge returned to England for the sole purpose of chasing the paper trail and identifying the whereabouts of each vehicle sold to the Australian Government.
After several weeks of checking the identity of each vehicle, Tunbridge deduced that there were 170 lorries, 120 motor-cars, twenty-five ambulances and 175 motorcycles that only existed on paper and not in reality. Examples he quoted included two vehicles charged as both lorries and cars; one car charged three times; sixteen motorcycles charged twice and fifty lorries, thirty cars and seventeen motorcycles issued to Australian companies but returned to the British Base Mechanical Transport Depot on arrival at Rouen.
Tunbridge’s diligence in compiling lists of chassis and WD numbers and tracing their whereabouts, shows admirable dedication. It must, however, be questioned whether it was a suitable use of his time. For the Australian Director of Transport in France to spend several weeks in England, away from his duties on the Western Front seems extraordinary. He managed to prove that the Australian Government could claim a refund of £211,000 [£12,261,326 in 2020], but whether it was really worth a Lieutenant-Colonel’s attention is debateable.
In comparison, the British Government was spending £1,100,000 [£63,912,608] every month on contracts for MT in the USA which could not be shipped, so were just accumulating at New York docks. The missing 170 lorries was only the average number of lorries in the workshops of 1 ANZAC Corps each day in 1917.