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Trowbridge Tank

Here are the only photos we have of our Presentation Tank

Since the awarding of their tank by the National War Savings Committee, it seems to have been a whole series of mishaps before their Tank was finally sited. Originally set to arrive in Trowbridge on 28th October 1919, delays in administration meant that the delivery of the Tank was re-scheduled for Thursday 18th December 1919. Trowbridge‘s Tank actually arrived by rail to the GWR railway station goods yard some six days earlier on 12th December. It had come directly from Wool, Bovington Camp, in Dorset. Unusually, Trowbridges tank was accompanied by a Mr. Cornellius Godsell, a GWR representative from Swindon, there to oversee the loading and unloading of the Tank

He was responsible for all Tank handling, loading and unloading on the Great Western Railways. Mr. Godsell was remarkable in that he was the only working man in Britain to be personally awarded an MBE by the king for his services. It was his opinion that only the Rolling Stock of the GWR were able to handle the weight of the Army‘s Tanks. In this he was proved to be correct. Unfortunately, whilst on board ship in the North Sea, accompanying a No. 19 GWR Ambulance Train, the ship was torpedoed. No further mention of Mr. Godsell can be found and it is feared that he probably went down with the ship. In addition to Mr. Godsell, the Tanks crew contained Lieutenant L.B. Meek and a four man driving team. As was often the case, Captain Farrar Tank Corps was also present to oversee events and to represent the National War Savings Committee.

The Tank itself was a typical Mark IV female (disarmed before delivery) numbered 222 and carrying the works number of 2593. The Tank was claimed to be a Battle Worn Vet, having been in several famous battles including Messines in the spring of 1917, then Arras, then the Ypres Salient in July the same year and finally at Cambrai in November 1917, amongst the other 390 plus Tanks. She certainly had had a hard service life with many a bullet scar on either flank as proof as well as the unditching rails as further evidence of being in France, although it is unlikely that any one tank made it through so many battles and lived to fight another day. On Wednesday 17th December the Tank was driven off its railway carriage and over the high platform of the loading bay down into the Goods Yard area, it circled around before being parked up, with the proceedings being watched by many interested spectators.

Thursday 18th December was the day of the ceremony and a bitterly cold winter’s day it was too. The Tank was expected to leave the Railway Goods Yard at around midday and drive its way to its appointment with the Civil Dignitaries and public awaiting its arrival at the town hall. Then everyone would form a procession to the People’s Park and the Tanks final resting place, a prepared concrete base facing the park's entrance. The Tank was planned to travel to the town hall via Stallard Street, over the town bridge, to Fore Street then down Castle Street and onto the entrance of Peoples Park by way of St. Stephens Place. After arriving at the People’s Park, the tank was to give a demonstration of its manoeuvring capabilities firstly by crashing through the park wall and hedges suggested by the Rev. Harry Sanders and the Chairman of Trowbridge Urban Council. Once inside the Park the Tank was to negotiate a couple of obstacles constructed to demonstrate its power and manoeuvring capabilities before it was finally driven on to its plinth of honour facing the entrance to the Park. The damage to the wall was deemed of little importance as plans were already a foot to redesign, enlarge and re-landscape the Park.

 Unfortunately none of this went to plan. The Tank under command of Lt. L. B. Meek set off on time from the Railway Station Goods Yard at noon, but disaster struck when one of the drive chains suddenly snapped, bringing the Tank to a sudden stop, it hadn‘t even made it out of the goods yard! When it was realised that it was going to take long time to repair, everyone assembled and waited at the town hall for the Tank to arrive. It was decided to hold the ceremony where the Tank was, in the goods yard, before they ran out of daylight. There must have been many disappointed towns people who only had their dinner hour to see the Iron Fighting Machine rumble past in the street.

 The ceremony now took place in the Railway Goods Yard mid-afternoon. Amongst those present were Major General Sir Robert Whigham KCB, DSO, Lt. Colonel G.R. Blake of the Wiltshire Regiment, Captain Farrar, the Reverend Harry Sanders, Chairman of the Urban Council, Reverend R.A. Nash Chairman local War Savings Committee and many other councillors. Also present was an honorary guard detachment from the Royal Artillery and a military band from 1st Gloucester Regiment. The speeches were made, as was the style, from on top of Tank 222, with Major General Whigham presenting the Tank to the Rev. Harry Sanders who accepted it on behalf of the people of Trowbridge. The ceremonies finished with all present singing God Save the King, before being invited guests and Councillors took a late luncheon at the town hall.

Whilst all the speeches were being made Lt Meek and his men were working hard on trying to get the Tank repaired and running before the end of the day. By 4pm that afternoon Captain Farrar, now wearing very oily overalls, reported that the Tank was ready to run. Someone had the idea to sound the towns siren to let everyone know the Tank was ready to go however no-one had bothered to tell the local Fire Brigade and when the siren was sounded one Fire Officer and several men ran out of the crowd running madly to the Fire Station thinking they had a Shout‘ to deal with. Finally, Captain Farrar lead the tank out on its route to the park, by now the light was fading fast as the Tank went over the town bridge over the River Biss. Worries were expressed as to whether or not the bridge could take the weight of the Iron Giant, some were positively hoping the Tank would actually cause damage to the bridge as they had been actively petitioning the council for a new bridge and hoped the tank would help their cause. The bridge held the weight with consummate ease and no damage done. By the time No. 222 arrived at the People’s Park it was 5pm, almost dark and the Park was about to close for the night. However, the tank was driven through the hedge and wall into the park.

A local photographer had managed to set himself a top a set of step ladders with the hope of getting a Scoop Shot, then having taken the shot of the tank crashing through, promptly fell off the ladder. The photograph has never been seen and the condition of the unfortunate photographer is unknown. The crash of his fall and the flash from his camera flash-pan did however make some people think the tank had blown up or that a bomb had gone off. By now it was too dark to do any more and so the tanks crew returned at 9am on Friday 19th morning and drove the tank the little distance onto its plinth, facing the entrance to the Park. The men then immobilised the tank by removing the drive chains they had spent so long repairing the day before and adjusting the engine so it could never run again. Here the tank remained until around June 1921 when the park underwent a programme of enlargement, landscaping, re-planting and the construction of a new War Memorial.

 This new memorial was to be placed on the site where tank 222 was standing. The Tank was not scrapped, but towed to its new site, still in the park, but to Market Yard side. By the end of June 1921 the tanks old base had been broken up in readiness for the building of the new memorial. It is of Portland Stone, in an area of 60 x 60ft with a 6ft bronze soldier on top. It was officially unveiled on Saturday 13th August 1921 by Field Marshall Lord Methuen GCB, GCMG, and GCVO. In July 1921 the council were already arguing as to who was to pay for the tank to be re-painted, some not wanting it painted until it was fenced in with railings. Some people were already writing letters to the press expressing opinions that it should be got rid of all together. The tank remained in the park, slowly decaying under the trees in the park. It lasted until July1940 when, like so many others, it was sacrificed to the Second World War scrap metal drive. Sadly it was cut up on site by work men with oxyacetylene gas cutters and taken for scrap.

Unfortunately, the only images found by the authors are taken from the local newspaper and show the Trowbridge tank being disposed of the unfortunate Trowbridge tank cannot have much time left before the scrap man finishes his work and it is gone forever