Tank Fever grips Halifax. March 1918

The degree of excitement and the size of the crowds that attended the ‘Tank Weeks’ can sometimes be difficult to imagine today. In an age before Internet, TV ,Radio or a fully developed Film Industry the live spectacle (whether open-air, Theatre or Circus) was one of the few ways of experiencing the wonders of the outside world. Tanks were no exception. They were highly topical because they had recently been used with such spectacular success at the battle of Cambrai (20 November 1917). The tanks had initially blown a hole through the German lines in a way that had seemed impossible for the previous three long years of trench stalemate.

Some of the tanks had been put on display in Trafalgar Square and created such a degree of interest it was decided to commission seven of them to tour the towns and cities of Britain as travelling pageants to encourage investment for War Bonds and War Saving Certificates. Its originators were not disappointed. The seven Tanks attracted £250 million investment which is £22 Billion in today’s values
(using http://www.measuringworth.com/and relative incomes as the comparative index). Halifax alone raised over a million pounds.

Image Above : JJ Mulroy Illustration : Halifax Weekly Courier, 16 March 1918.
One oddity is the gun turret depicted on top of this tank – odd because British Tanks did not mount the guns in this way. Presumably JJ Mulroy was not aware of current Tank designs?

Egbert comes to Halifax

The Tank that came to Halifax in the week of 16 March 1918 was named ‘Egbert’.This practice of naming tanks might seem curious now, but at the time they were seen as some sort of small armoured dreadnought that was capable of travelling over land – hence the name of the first official body set up to develop them – the Landship Committee.

“Egbert” was E26, tank no. 2348 of 6 Section 14 Coy E Battalion commanded by 2/Lt Staniforth. In common with all the presentation tanks used they were real tanks with real operational histories.

Image above, Copyright Ann Knowles, who submitted this to the Courier in the 1980s.
She is the little girl standing in the queue beneath the banner.

Egbert’s career, however, was not as illustrious as perhaps it might have been. It was dispatched to active service as part of Third Ypes (which ended in the infamous Passchendaele). Assembling at its starting point on 26 September 1917, it received a direct hit and played no further part in the battle. After salvage repairs it was shipped back to Britain to begin its new role as a presentation tank.

The froth of the excitement can be sensed by looking at these British Pathe videos.
I find the last one particularly instructive because the vast crowds are gathered in what seems to be a snow storm.

Tank Julian : Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/julian-the-record-breaking-tank
Tanks visit Liverpool : Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/tanks-visit-liverpool
Tank Nelson: Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/war-bonds-sold-from-tank
Julian Fund raising Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/tank-bank-war-fund-raising
Julian in Aberdeen NLS http://ssa.nls.uk/film.cfm?fid=1238B&search_term=Julian+tank&search_join_&search_fuzzy=yes
Selling war Bonds in the snow http://www.britishpathe.com/video/war-bond-rally-in-the-snow

According to the Halifax Courier the pageant was supposed to begin on Sunday 17 March when huge Sunday crowds were expected. It seems that the Sabbath was an issue and its arrival was put back a day to Monday. It arrived at Shaw Syke railway station and began with a demonstration on the Shay before trundling up Hunger Hill to George Square where the serious business of raising investment began. Despite the misgivings of the organisers it would seem that huge crowds still came to see.

Egbert at Shaw Syke Goods Depot can be seen at this link on Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion shows (second Image). I believe the first image was taken somewhere in South Wales .
http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~calderdalecompanion/ph408.html

Post Script
After the war many towns and cities around Britain, including Halifax, were to have their own display tank proudly mounted for all to see. Tank no.208 was donated to Halifax and displayed at Rock Hollow Park, Ogden. Sadly, virtually all of them disappeared under the scrap merchant’s hammer, particularly with the advent of the Second World War.

Tank (No.208. (not Egbert)) is shown in a dilapidated condition at its display location on Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion at this link
http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~calderdalecompanion/ph1642.html

Some of them may simply have become a liability. See this link to the tank at Haslingden in Lancashire.
http://haslingdens.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/what-became-of-our-ww1-mkiii-tank.html

An article in the Hartlepool Daily Mail edition of July 2013 tells the sad fate of Egbert himself. It seems he was donated to Hartlepool at the end of the war to commemorate Hartlepool’s outstanding fund raising achievement. In 1937 it seems he was no longer wanted. One councillor described him as ‘a relic of barbarism’. By a vote of 20 to 12 the decision was taken to scrap him. Ironically, three years later the forces that this ‘relic of barbarism’ had helped to resist back in 1917/18 returned and for a second time swept through Belgium and France. This time France was crushed and the BEF was pushed into the sea.

Egbert’s final story at
http://www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk/news/nostalgia/last-days-of-egbert-the-tank-1-5878109