First World War tank crewmen's relatives at the Honourable Artillery Company in London with historian John Taylor (centre, in white shirt) and Philippe Gorczynski (first right), who discovered the remains of a buried British tank near Cambrai (Photo: Centenary News)

Families of tank pioneers mark WW1 Tank Centenary

Posted on on 14 September 2016
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Descendants of soldiers who took Britain's early tanks into battle gathered in London ahead of this week's centenary of the first ever-tank action during the Great War.

Tanks were first used by the British Army at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916, an assault launched as part of the Allied offensive on the Somme.

Although limited in number and plagued by mechanical breakdowns, their potential encouraged further development.

In November 1917, several hundred tanks were used in mass formation for the first time to pierce the fortified German lines at Cambrai in Northern France.

The story of one of those armoured vehicles, the men who fought in it, and a feat of battlefield archaeology is told in Deborah and the War of the Tanks - a new book by military historian John A. Taylor.

Deborah was the name given to tank D51, knocked out during the Battle of Cambrai. It lay buried in a field for decades after the Great War.  

Philippe Gorczynski talking about his search for the lost tank on the Cambrai battlefields (Photo: Centenary News)

The tank's battered remains were discovered in 1998 following six years of research by a French local historian, Philippe Gorczynski, and preserved as a memorial after excavation by archaeologists. 

There are now plans for Deborah to form the centrepiece of a new museum display telling the story of the Battle of Cambrai.

John Taylor is among a team of researchers who identified Deborah’s crew and traced their descendants, many of whom attended the book launch at the historic home of the British Army's Honourable Artillery Company in London on 12 September 2016.

Deborah and the War of the Tanks is published by Pen & Sword Books

Images: Centenary News

Reporting: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News