WWI Tank Returns to Hinckley


The Hinkley Times ran a report on January 12, 2014 about a WWI tank that arrived to commemorate the beginning of the war.

February 3, 1920 – the town was excited when a survivor from the First World War arrived in Hinckley. The survivor was not a veteran, but it was a tank.

The tank was a gift to the residents of Hinckley from the National War Savings Committee for recognition of the generous efforts the people in the town to support the war savings campaign. They were able to accumulate £750,000 in war bonds and savings certificates.

Hinckley was fortunate because there were only 263 tanks that were given to other towns and cities across the country. Now, only one of these tanks have survived today—in Ashford in Kent.

The origins of the tank lie in the need for the government during the First World War to reduce borrowing and raise money for the war effort. The National Savings movement was established in 1916 to encourage the people of Britain to “save and prosper”. It became a familiar part of life on the home front.

The movement was organized into local committees that were headed by local worthies. The Hinckley War Savings Committee was headed by George Kinton JP as chairman and George Coxhead, the headmaster of the Grammar School, as Secretary.

Savings products were sold to the public and the funds were directed to the Treasury. These products included bonds, certificates, and savings stamps.

These products could be purchased in any of the local post offices or building societies. The savings groups were quickly established in local factories, shops, clubs, and an appointed collector did the rounds each week to collect the certificates. The students at the grammar school quickly took to the scheme, which was probably fired on by the Headmaster.

The grammar school Magazine for the spring semester 1917 recorded: “Our Savings Association contains at present 78 members who have contributed over £200, while 253 certificates have been purchased.”

The contribution from the school was approximately £6 per head each week. This last statistic was extremely important for in the Spring Term 1919 issue of the school magazine it was announced that because the average savings per head had remained at £5 and over, the school was to be presented with a captured German rifle.

There were 242 members of the association.

One of the nationally inspired fundraising efforts had been to send tanks out as “tank banks” to towns and cities to help bolster the national savings campaign.

The tanks held enormous curiosity value for the general public and were one of the innovations of the war. The appearance of the tank in the Battle of Cambrai had fired the imagination and those that flocked to see the tanks were enthralled with this new “wonder weapon”.

The connection with the national war savings campaign led to the idea, after the war that tanks could be presented to towns, like Hinckley, that had “done their bit”. So that is how the town became the recipient of a piece of “army surplus”.

The tank came from France, via Ramsgate and travelled to Hinckley on the back of a railway wagon, in the custody of members of the Tank Corps.

It arrived at the railway station and trundled its way through the town to the gas works on Brick Kiln Street, to await the official presentation to the town. Along with the tank a field gun was also presented to the town.

This unique way of disposing of army surplus was also to involve Earl Shilton. George Foster, the first historian of the village in his History of Earl Shilton, wrote: “A captured field gun stood for a time near to the Wesleyan chapel and was later moved to a field off Station Road near to the “Lodge”.

“Its final resting place was in the Wood Street recreation ground, which was once a large sand pit and where it now lies buried and forgotten”.

Presumably a high powered metal detector could still locate what would now be a priceless relic of the First World War.

Whilst the Hinckley Tank was waiting its final resting place, a plaque was attached to the shell of the vehicle. It was thought for many years that this plaque had been lost.

However, part of it has survived and was donated to Hinckley and District Museum in 1998 by the council. On February 3 1920 the official presentation of the tank to the town took place on Granville Gardens, where the tank was to permanently reside. On its short journey to the park the tank was put through its paces by making its way over a pile of logs.

The presentation party consisted of a Lieutenant A L Roberts of Loughborough who had served with the 1/5th Battalion Leicestershire in which many local men had a served and which for a time Colonel Griffiths, of Sketchley Dyeworks, was the commanding officer. Mr Kinton accepted the tank on behalf of the local war savings committee and Mr Cholerton spoke on behalf of the Urban District Council representing the local people.

There was a large crowd of people whose ranks were augmented by boys from the Grammar School and St Mary’s School who had been given the day off especially for the occasion.

A concrete plinth and platform had had to be laid in order to accept the heavy tank and in the days after the presentation the tank was immobilized and the working parts removed. The twist in the tale of course is that during the Second World War, when metal was scarce, items like the presentation tanks were taken and scrapped for recycling.

The plaque that had adorned the tank survived the first cut of the guillotine as it seems to have been saved and remounted on a special wooden plinth. The exact story is not known but presumably it was in the council’s care until permanent transfer to the museum. It is the only part of the venerable veteran of the battlefields that once had pride of place in the town, to survive.

It will have a new lease of life as it forms an integral part of a major new exhibition entitled Somewhere in No-Man’s Land which runs from Easter Monday 2014 until the end of October 2014 at Hinckley and District Museum.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE