From Records Held at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO)
The use of tanks in warfare began during the First World War. These mammoth metal machines captured the public’s imagination. The National War Savings Committee seized on this fascination in a publicity campaign to promote the sale of War Bonds and War Savings Certificates. Tank Weeks were held all over the country with the incentive that the town raising the most money per capita would get to keep battle scarred Egbert, one of the tanks which had been brought over from France.
Six tanks toured the country; Julian, Old Bill, Nelson, Drake, Egbert and Iron Ration. Unsurprisingly and most appropriately Nelson came to Norfolk. Tanks would visit towns staying for up to a week during which time rallying speeches by local dignitaries would encourage the crowds who thronged to see the tank to buy War Bonds and War Savings Certificates. Often, as was the case with Nelson, the tank itself would be used as a “Tank Bank” from which Bonds and Certificates could be bought. Norwich Tank Week, held during the first week of April 1918, offered a further inducement with a lottery of £500 of War Savings Certificates to give away.
This blog uses records held or accessible online at the NRO. See also the blog based on records held at the Norfolk Heritage Centre, A New Secret Weapon.
Diss Express reported on 5th April 1918 that the aim of Norwich Tank Week was to raise £250,000. However the photo below shows a Norwich City Engineer’s plan for a fundraising barometer to be displayed at the Guildhall that had a target of one million pounds.
Nelson arrived in Norwich on 31st March 1918 and made its way to the Guildhall. Tank week at Norwich was officially opened on Monday. The ‘task’ was that of raising a quarter of a million, but this was easily accomplished within fifteen minutes of the opening. (Diss Express 5th April 1918). The formal opening by the Lord Mayor was followed by an address by George Roberts, MP and Minister of Labour. He spoke of the crisis faced by the country and of the great bravery of the men fighting at the Front which no doubt did much to rally the crowds to make their contributions.
Over £380,000 was invested in the first fifteen minutes. Norwich Corporation invested £55,000, Norwich Union Fire Insurance £100,000, Norwich Union Life Insurance £150,000, Pearl Insurance £10,000 and Jewsons £20,000. Just over £40,000 came from private investors and the Special Constables of Norwich who were in attendance at the opening event.
Prior to Tank Week Sir Eustace Gurney had written to the National Council of Women, Norfolk & Norwich Branch to ask whether the women of Norwich could be involved. At their meeting it was agreed that it would be a great pity to refuse help on the first occasion when it was asked. It was decided to hold a Women’s Afternoon (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7).
Wednesday was the designated day for women and children. A demonstration in support of the campaign was organized by the newly formed local branch of the National Union of Women Workers.
In the morning school children handed over their contributions which included £400 from the Blyth Jex School and £210 from the City of Norwich School. The presence of the women in the afternoon was formidable and came from a wide range of trades including munition girls, railway workers, Carrow Works, the Women’s Land Army and the Women’s Cooperative Guild.
The Lady Mayoress spoke of the opportunity to support the campaign. Those who, like herself, had always been in favour of the enfranchisement of women, had known all along that they only needed an opportunity to serve the State (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7). Other female dignitaries also addressed the crowds including Miss Bignold who, despite her 83 years, climbed onto the Tank to speak. Two military bands played throughout the day and there was a military concert that evening at St Andrew’s Hall. By the end of Wednesday the Guildhall Barometer showed £691,000.
The newspaper clippings from the minute book of the National Council of Women give a flavour of that day.
The third day of the Norwich tank campaign was marked in the forenoon by a great gathering of children from the schools. They marched in procession to the Market Place.
A women’s demonstration in support of the tank campaign was celebrated in the afternoon with a weight and momentum incomparably greater than anything the week has witnessed so far.
The tank was flying the small and smoke-and-grease stained flag that it had carried at Ypres and in the Cambrai Push.
The women marched up by thousands; and for hours in the afternoon there was a most exhilarating pressure of business in the Sessions Court, and in the tank stamping office.
Not everyone was happy about the event. The National Council of Women recorded that one member was so unhappy about the Council’s involvement that she had resigned. Her reasons, unfortunately, were not given (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7). Equally disgruntled was Frank Palmer who lived on St Gregory’s Plain. In a letter to his father he wrote:
A Tank comes here on Easter Monday & the usual humbug will be (?) in procession composed of Spec Cons, Volunteers, Boy Scouts & causing a hell of a lot of work which to my mind is unnecessary.
(NRO, MC 2440/1/7 973×4)
Tank Weeks were held in other parts of the county. Thetford had a model tank and raised £6000 (Diss Express 31st May 1918). Yarmouth raised £217,000 and the Mayor, Arthur Harbord, was commended for his enthusiasm and effort in the fundraising campaign. In May 1918 the Yarmouth Independent reported on a presentation made to Harbord and his wife. Mrs Harbord was presented with a pair of scissors while he was presented with a pair of white gloves and an album with the Yarmouth arms in gold on its cover inside which was one War Savings prize draw.
While the prize of Egbert for the most money raised per capita finally went to West Hartlepool, the various communities of Norfolk raised a considerable sum for the war effort and Norwich surpassed its one million pound target.
Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.