Councillor Winston Michael, Mayor of Ashford, lays his wreath at the town's tank memorial on November 17 (Photo: Centenary News)

Battle of Cambrai Centenary events get under way

Posted on on 18 November 2017
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A surviving First World War tank was the focus for a remembrance service in the UK town of Ashford on November 17, as Battle of Cambrai Centenary commemorations started on both sides of the Channel.

The ceremony honoured not only the soldiers who took part in the first mass tank attack in history, but also the people of the home front who underpinned Britain's war effort.

Ashford's preserved Mark IV tank has stood guard in St George's Square for almost 100 years, a striking symbol of national gratitude to this town, then as now an important railway hub on the mainline between London and the Kent coast.  

It was presented in recognition for the generous contributions of townsfolk towards the British Government's appeal to invest in savings plans to fund the ballooning costs of industrialised warfare.

Six tanks toured the country during the final year of the Great War to drum up support at so-called 'tank banks', capitalising on their impact on public imagination, particularly after the Battle of Cambrai.

In 1919, Ashford received one of the 265 'presentation tanks' distributed to the communities who'd raised the most money per head. Today, it's the only surviving example on public display.

Its story, and the pivotal role played by more than 400 tanks sent into battle at Cambrai on 20 November 1917, are commemorated on a new plaque unveiled at the St George's Square memorial.

The remembrance service, organised by Ashford Borough Council, was attended by serving soldiers of the Britain's Royal Tank Regiment, as well as veterans, and local schoolchildren.

Many of the WW1 tanks presented to British towns were removed for their metal during the Second World War.

Ashford's Mark IV is considered a lucky survivor, having been converted for use as an electricity sub-station to serve the town in 1929.

After major refurbishment, it was officially rededicated as a protected war memorial on Armistice Day 2006. Another ceremony is planned for the 2019 centenary of its arrival.

The story of the Battle of Cambrai is told in a documentary released by the Tank Museum for the November 2017 Centenary.

Cambrai events - France

The Royal Tank Regiment will be taking part in a week of Centenary commemorations In Cambrai.  Events include the opening of a sound & light show at the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) on Monday November 20;  the inauguration of the Cambrai Tank Museum 1917, with the surviving Mark IV tank Deborah as its centrepiece, and a closing military parade on November 26. For details see Cambresis 14-18

Reporting from Ashford by CN Editor

All images: Centenary News