A New Secret Weapon

Here’s a picture to stop you in your tracks:

Image from the  BBC NEws Website

Image from the BBC News Website

This replica of a World War One tank was placed in Trafalgar Square for a day this autumn to mark the 100th anniversary of the introduction of this war machine.

The Mark IV tank, on which the replica was modelled, was first used in warfare during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916. The replica pictured here was used in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film Warhorse.

Tanks were developed to reduce the number of soldiers killed and wounded in battle. They were designed to travel at walking pace and were given caterpillar tracks to enable them to cross the sort of rough and muddy ground that covered the battlefields.

You can find out more about the early days of the first tanks before and during their first use in battle in a book available to borrow from Norfolk Libraries ‘The most secret place on earth: the story of the East Anglian village of Elveden and the birth of the world’s first tanks’ by Roger Pugh. This book reveals how a secret site on 25 square miles of Lord Iveagh’s estate at Elveden, just over the border into Suffolk, was transformed into an imitation ‘battlefield’ and played a key role in the tank crews’ training and preparation for combat using these new armoured vehicles.tank-2

Trafalgar Square was one of the venues for ‘Tank Banks’ during World War 1. After two tanks appeared in London’s Lord Mayor’s Show in November 1917, the National War Savings Committee decided to capitalize on people’s interest in these new fighting machines. The battle-scarred Tank 141 “Egbert” was brought over from France and put on display in Trafalgar Square on 26th November 1917 and a fundraising campaign began. More tanks were brought into use and taken around towns and cities, where they were the centre of attention for a couple of days or perhaps a week. Local politicians and celebrities would deliver speeches from the top of the tank, and money to be invested in War Bonds and War Saving Certificates was collected, often from inside the tank.

Norwich had a very busy Tank Week in April 1918. Local publicity in advance of the week was effective in drawing in the crowds. This is an image of a poster in the collection in the Norfolk Heritage Centre:

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And a Norwich Tank Week local lottery was advertised, with the aim of encouraging people to buy more War Bonds and War Savings certificates:

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We’re also lucky to have some wonderful pictures taken by George Swain of the proceedings during Tank Week, some of which are reproduced here. These and many other local images of the time are available to view online on Picture Norfolk.

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Norwich Tank Week April 1-6, 1918. Standing on the tank are the Lord Mayor, the Sheriff and the Town Clerk.

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Norwich Tank Week, Women’s Day

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Tank Week (April 1- 6 1918) on Labour Day. The notice on the tank reads: Labour Rally today 3pm-6pm Capt. Tupper (of the Seamen’s Union) and Mr W. Toynbee (London Territorial Army) will speak from the tank. People are filing into the investors entrance of the Guildhall.

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The Week’s events were recorded in The Norwich Mercury. A report in the issue of April 6th 1918 begins:

Tank Nelson, like Julius Caesar, on whose military tortoise he is so vast and wonderful an improvement, came, saw and conquered. His conquest is evidenced by the fact that already a sum very much larger than the £250,000 expected of Norwich during War Bond Week has been realised.

The article goes on to record daily events, including details of the dignitaries who spoke from the tank, the companies that made contributions and the successes of the various designated days, such as Women’s and Children’s. The report of the first day starts:

The Tank Week opened brilliantly on Easter Monday, when the city was thronged by great holiday crowds who were patriotically obeying the injunction to stay at home and economise railway travel.

The following issue of the Mercury, on April 10th reports that £1million had been raised, with contributions from companies, their employees, local councils, schools and individuals, and congratulated the people on Norwich and Norfolk on their great generosity. Not surprisingly the local contributions were far outstripped by those from larger and more industrialised towns and cities, but Norfolk people did their bit for the war effort and certainly seemed to have found the tank’s visit to be a highlight of the final year of the war.

Clare, Community Librarian – Local Studies.

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