Lancelot de Mole

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Lancelot Eldin de Mole
Lancelot Eldin de Mole (1880–1950).jpg
Lance de Mole (1917)
Born(1880-03-13)13 March 1880
Died6 May 1950(1950-05-06) (aged 70)
OccupationMechanical engineer and inventor
Known forPremature design of the tank
Lancelot Eldin de Mole (signature).jpeg

Lancelot Eldin "Lance" de Mole[1] CBE, (13 March 1880 – 6 May 1950) was an Australian engineer and inventor.[2]

He made several approaches to the British authorities, in 1912, 1914, and 1916, with plans for a vehicle driven by a type of caterpillar track, believing that it could have a military application. It was ahead of its time because in 1912 the need for such a military device had not yet arisen. To further complicate matters his correspondence was set aside due to various bureaucratic blunders, and was not given to the appropriate officers.

In 1919, three years after the first military tanks had been built and used in warfare during World War I, a Royal Commission acknowledged the potential of de Mole's innovative vehicle. The commission noted the unfortunate consequences of his submissions being overlooked, and that while his designs had no influence on the actual development of the tank, tanks might have been developed much earlier if his idea had been properly investigated.

Early Life[edit]

The eldest of the five children- three girls and two boys: Lance, Florence Louise de Mole (1881–1966) (later Mrs. Feldtmann),[3] Winifred Emily de Mole (1886–1903),[4] Clive Moulden de Mole (1886–1934),[5] and Gladys Rose de Mole (1887–1979) — of William Frederick de Mole (1852–1939), an architect and surveyor, and Emily de Mole (1858–1941), née Moulden, Lance de Mole was born in Willunga, South Australia, on 13 March 1880.

His family moved to Victoria when he was 7 years old, and he was educated at the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School until 1891, and then at the Berwick Grammar School. After leaving school he trained as an engineering draftsman.

He married Harriet Josephine Walter (1890–1957) on 21 July 1915.

His younger brother Clive Moulden de Mole (1886–1934) enlisted in the First Australian Imperial Force on 9 September 1914, and Private Clive de Mole was given service number 2518. He was wounded in action, receiving a gunshot wound and a fracture to his left arm, in the Dardanelles on 28 June 1915. He was invalided back to Australia in March 1916. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant (no longer requiring a service number) on 1 January 1919, and to Lieutenant on 1 April 1919. He was discharged from the AIF in the U.K. in September 1919.[6]

The de Mole family at tea, c.1896s: left to right: Florence, Mrs. de Mole, Clive, Gladys, Lance, Winifred, and Mr. de Mole, foreground.


He was a prolific inventor; and a number of his inventions were patented.

The tank[edit]

Inspired by the uncomfortable experience of travelling over rough terrain in the Western Australian countryside in 1911,[7] de Mole developed, and then submitted an idea of a tracked armoured vehicle ("chain-rail vehicle which could be easily steered and carry heavy loads over rough ground and trenches") to the British War Office in 1912; in June 1913 he received a reply that his idea had been rejected. A model of his tank is displayed at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

He wrote to the British Munitions Inventions Department on 19 June 1919 seeking remuneration for the expenses he had incurred in submitting his invention to the Department for use during the war.[8]

de Mole's formal claim[edit]

Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors[edit]

The U.K. Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors (1919), conducted by Mr Justice Sargant (1856–1942), investigated the claims of twelve persons (10 individuals, including de Mole, and one pair) relating to the invention of tanks, delivered its findings and recommendations on 27 November 1919.[9]

The Commission's Report announced that "in estimating the value of the invention of the Tanks for the purpose of [our] recommendations, we have taken into account not merely the precise class of Tanks which went into action at the Battle of the Somme, but also any modified or improved classes of Tanks which may fairly be considered to result from the normal development of the inherent potentialities of the original invention". Notwithstanding this, however, the Report continued, "we have not taken into account any special or exceptional inventions which may subsequently have been applied and have resulted in substantial extra utility".[9]

Winston Churchill[edit]

Before anything else, the Commissioner registered his view that, "the general idea of the use of such an instrument of warfare as the "Tank" was converted into a practical shape ... was primarily due to the receptivity, courage, and driving force of Mr. Winston Churchill"; and, as well, that it should be placed on record that Churchill had made no claim, because "Mr. Churchill has very properly taken the view that all his thought and time belonged to the State, and that he was not entitled to make any claim for an award, even had he wished to do so".[9]

    The Times, 28 November 1919, p.12.

Commission's awards[edit]

Sir William Tritton and Major W.G. Wilson were jointly awarded £15,000, and were recognized for "designing and producing a concrete practical shape the novel and efficient engine of warfare known as the "Tank""; the Commissioner emphasized that the considerable design difficulties that were experienced when the tanks took the field of action, which were rapidly remedied, were a consequence of inadequate specifications by the government, and were not due to any design faults on the part of Tritton or Wilson.[9]

Sir Eustace Tennyson d'Eyncourt, the Director of Naval Construction, and Chairman of the Landships Committee, and Major-General E.D. Swinton were each awarded £1,000, for their work in advocating the overall concept, setting design specifications, and overseeing the project.[9]

Mr. Albert Collinson Nesfield[10] and Lieutenant Robert Francis Macfie[11] were each awarded £500 for the separate and independent "conception, embodiment, and communication of the same set of ideas".[9]

Commission's rejection[edit]

The Royal Commission rejected the claims of Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Lewis Maitland Boothby,[12] Commodore M.F. Sueter, Major Thomas Gerard Hetherington — the separate claims of Boothby, Sueter, and Hetherington were rejected on the grounds that the important services that they had rendered came within the scope of their military employment[9] — and that of Colonel R.E.B. Crompton and his assistant Mr. Lucien Alphonse Legros,[13] on the basis that they had "worked loyally and very hard" at their allotted tasks, they had been well-paid as consulting engineers, and had neither invented nor discovered any of the special features that were ultimately incorporated in the tanks.[9]

In de Mole's case, however, the Commission's Report was far more sympathetic:

The case of this claimant was heard a few days after the conclusion of the other cases. We consider that he is entitled to the greatest credit for having made and reduced to practical shape as far back as the year 1912 a very brilliant invention which anticipated and in some respects surpassed that actually put into use in the year 1916. It was this claimant's misfortune and not his fault that his invention was in advance of his time, and failed to be appreciated and was put aside because the occasion for its use had not then arisen. We regret exceedingly that we are unable to recommend any award to him. But we are bound to adhere to the general rule in such cases as these that a claimant must show a causal connexion between the making of his invention and the user of any similar invention by the Government.[9]


de Mole's scale model at AWM

The commission recognised the brilliance of de Mole's design, even declaring that it was superior to the machines actually developed, but because of its narrow remit the commission could only award de Mole a payment of £987 (about £50,000 2019 value) to cover his expenses.[14]

He was made an honorary corporal in 1919; and, early in 1920, it was announced from London that he had been appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).[15]

At the formal investiture of the award, on 28 July 1921, in the ballroom of the New South Wales' State Government House, Lord Forster, the seventh Governor-General of Australia, was so nervous that he dropped the decoration before it could be pinned on de Mole's chest.[16]


After the war, de Mole made his case to the Australian government. Inquiries from that government to the British one yielded little but polite responses that Mr de Mole’s ideas had unfortunately been too advanced for their time and thus were not recognized as they should have been.


After the war de Mole became an engineer in the design branch of the Sydney Water Board.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Although in some records, and in some newspaper accounts, his family name, de Mole, might appear in the form of De Mole, deMole, Demole, or DeMole, both Lance and his brother Clive always signed their family name as "de Mole": see the signatures throughout their respective Service Records.
  2. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  3. ^ Perth Prattle: Matrimonial, The (Perth) Sunday Times, (Sunday, 20 August 1911), p.26.
  4. ^ Special Notice: Deaths: De Mole, The (Adelaide) Register, (Saturday 21 March 1903), p.4.
  5. ^ Family Notices: Deaths: de Mole, The West Australian, (Thursday, 22 March 1934), p.1.
  6. ^ National Archives of Australia: World War I Service Record: Clive Moulden de Mole (7478).
  7. ^ Buckboard Jolt: Inspiration for Tank, Townsville Daily Bulletin, (Monday, 19 May 1941), p.3.
  8. ^ de Mole's carbon copy of the letter, appended, in his own writing, to the effect that his request was denied, is held by the South Australian State Library in its "SA Memory" collection. ([1])
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i The Times, (28 November 1919), p.14.
  10. ^ U.S. Patent No.2369245: Internal-Combustion Engine (Filed 18 February 1944; issued 13 February 1945.
  11. ^ U.S. Patent No.129836: Self-Propelled Vehicle (Filed 4 September 1917; issued 25 March 1919.
  12. ^ US Patent No.1549570: Airship (filed on 8 April 1924; issued on 11 Aug 1925).
  13. ^ US Patent No.1030399: Machine for Cutting Punches and Like Master Metal Surfaces (John Cameron Grant and ucien Alphonse Legros), (Filed on 27 October 1910; issued on 25 June 1912).
  14. ^ Williams, 1933.
  15. ^ British Empire Order: Honours for War Service: Commanders (C.B.E.), The Argus, (Saturday 3 April 1920), p.11. Note: the newspaper's embarrassing confusion in military rank between "Honorary Corporal" Lancelot Eldin de Mole, and his brother, "Lieutenant Clive Moulden de Mole".
  16. ^ Concerning People, The (Adelaide) Register, (Tuesday, 9 August 1921), p.8.


Williams' letter, containing important, significant, and hitherto unknown facts was written in direct response to a small article that had been published on the previous day: War Tank: An Australian Invention: Rejected in 1911, The Sydney Morning Herald, (Monday, 12 June 1933), p.9.
  • Family Notices: Deaths: De Mole, The Sydney Morning Herald, (Monday, 8 May 1950), p.16.
  • Day, Lance; McNeil, Ian (2003). Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology. Taylor & Francis. p. 494. ISBN 978-0-203-02829-2.

U.S. patents[edit]

  • US patent no.1,408,569, (held by Lancelot Eldin de Mole), dated 7 March 1922 (filed 4 March 1920), for a "Road Vehicle".[3]
  • US patent no.1,448,056, (held by Lancelot Eldin de Mole), dated 13 March 1923 (filed 17 July 1920), for a "Differential or Balance Gear".[4]
  • US patent no.1,737,573, (held by Lancelot Eldin de Mole), dated 3 December 1929 (filed 14 March 1925), for a "Changing Sign and Display Apparatus".[5]

Applications for Australian patents[edit]

External links[edit]