Guy Martin’s World War 1 tank set to be star attraction at Suffolk Show
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
A replica World War 1 tank, made in East Anglia, will be making its way to the Suffolk Show this month as part of its 100th anniversary tribute to the end of the deadly conflict.
Last year, Norfolk Tank Museum chairman Stephen MacHaye spent six months creating a precise copy of a battle-scarred war machine, discovered on a battlefield in France, as part of a Channel 4 documentary, which was presented by engineer Guy Martin.
It’s become known as Guy Martin’s World War I tank, and its home is at the museum in Forncett St Peter, south of Norwich.
Deborah II, made with the support of machine makers JCB, is based on Deborah, the name given by the crew of a tank which was found at Cambrai in northern France, the site of the first major battle involving what was then a new technology, invented in Britain.
The British Army amassed 475 tanks to attack the German Hindenburg Line in November 1917 in an attempt to end the deadlock caused by three years of bloody trench warfare.
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While the early technology had its flaws, with breakdowns and multiple incidents where the tanks were captured to be turned against the British lines, they were one key factor in breaking the military stalemate and bringing the war to an end the following year.
Suffolk Show director Bee Kemball said she was “absolutely thrilled” it was coming to the event.
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It will mean that the museum will be closed for two days, but Stephen said it will open specially on the Bank Holiday Monday, and on the Tuesday and Friday of the end of May half-term week to make up for it.
It will be only its second outing since the programme was aired last year - its first was during the early May Bank Holiday when it went to Lincolnshire, where many of the first tanks were built.
The Deborah, a ‘female’ tank, is armed only with machine guns and is effectively a mobile ‘pillbox’ or gun emplacement, with its ‘tracks’ providing the revolutionary technology which enabled it to overcome the difficulties involved in crossing muddy terrain, laced with trenches, while under sustained bombardment.
With those trenches stretching from the Belgian coast to Switzerland, it appeared that the two sides were locked in.
“Both sides had machine guns which were capable of mowing down masses of people in on go and something needed to be done to break that stalemate,” explained Stephen.
“The British developed the tank from early 1916. It took six months from the drawing board to the first tanks being produced. They were used a few times in late 1916 and early 1917 with very little success, partly because of breaking down and partly lack of knowledge of how to use them.”
But by the middle of 1917 they were starting to prevail, he explained. Their name came from a cover story, quickly blown, that they were water tanks to provide water to troops at the front. The name stuck, and the first machines were known simply as ‘tanks’
The experience of the eight-men tank crews was “horrific”, said Stephen, with the engine bringing the temperature inside to 150C. Their faces, the main parts of their bodies not protected by their uniforms, were splayed with spall, or small metal splinters, caused by the impact of shrapnel or large calibre bullets hitting the thick metal tank casing. As a result, they eventually wore face masks, made with chain mail, to protect their faces from its scarring effects.
Stephen tried to be precise in every aspect of his rebuild - although for practical reasons the rivets are cosmetic on the replica, with welding used to join the parts instead.
He and the tank museum volunteers - 12 of which helped to build the tank - will be joining Deborah at the Suffolk Show.
It was “fantastic” to be attending, and the volunteers were “very excited” about it, he said. The museum, which has an extensive collection of Cold War tanks, is on the lookout for more volunteers.
Adult tickets for the show, which takes place at Trinity Park, Ipswich, on May 30 and 31, cost £23 in advance, saving £5 per ticket if bought before May 24. Children under 15 go free.
Come and see us at the EADT when you’re at this year’s show and get a free cup of tea.