This week has seen the 90th anniversary of the beginning of one of the most important battles in military history: the Battle of Cambrai. It is regarded by many as the first ‘modern’ battle in which large numbers of tanks, artillery, infantry and aircraft worked in close co-operation with each other for the first time.
We have written previously about how decommissioned tanks were often used as war memorials after the First World War, but did not prove very popular with the public.
Read more about memorial tanks
We’ve recorded several memorials that refer to the battle Cambrai in their inscriptions. These include a wooden cross that was originally erected in the village of Cambai to commemorate men from the 4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, who fought at that Battle of Cambrai. The cross was brought back to Dingwall in Scotland in 1924 and erected there as war memorial.
Click to see the memorial record
Following up on the piece we did about war memorial tanks earlier in the month, one of our volunteers has discovered the following interesting stories in the archives of The Times and The Illustrated London News.
At Guildford (Surrey) in 1919, a tank was to have been presented at a site selected in one of the main streets. Unfortunately it failed to arrive as it would not move after it had been taken off the train due to a magneto failure. In the end the Mayor and other dignitaries had to go to the railway station where the ceremony eventually took place.
Hitchin in Hertfordshire received its tank in the same year, but it slid from its pedestal and while it was being restored to its place a live shell was discovered.
Even more alarmingly, while being dismantled in 1929 to make way for a new bus station, the memorial tank (that had stood in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire since 1920) exploded!
Meanwhile in 1920, a small syndicate of ex-Tank Corps officers acquired two tanks, with which to give joyrides with realistic obstacles in the grounds of the Kursaal at Southend on Sea.
One of the more unusual types of memorial were decommissioned tanks, given to towns by the National War Savings Committee after the First World War as recognition for the community’s efforts in fundraising.
This article from the Tank Museum in Bovington has some fascinating photos of a tank being delivered to Bridlington in July 1919.
The tanks were not universally popular and many were dismantled even before the Second World War. Today only one of the memorial tanks, this one from Ashford in Kent, still exists as a memorial.
Another example from Warrington is more typical. The tank was installed in the local park in 1920 and dismantled in 1940 to provide scrap metal during the Second World War. The report in the Warrington Guardian of 14 January 1920 describes how “the tank slid round like a turtle and, with much grunting and couging, waddled in the direction of Bank Quay Station.” At one point flames a yard long spat from the engines and the passengers (local dignitaries) were advised to get off! Eventually it was installed in the park, “leaving behind it ploughed up soil and turf.”