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Britain's Last Remaining World War One Memorial Tank

After the end of the First World War, many British towns received gifts from the National War Savings Committee as recognition for the community’s efforts in fundraising. These gifts were unusual—decommissioned tanks.

Tanks were first rolled out in 1916, during the First World War. Almost immediately they caught the public’s imagination. People were fascinated by this new piece of military hardware. Its robust construction and seemingly impenetrable armor gave them a feeling of invincibility. The National War Savings Committee took advantage of this new sense of pride and put six tanks in a country-wide tour selling war bonds. Each tank would spend a week in a town or city, a girl would sit inside the tank and sell war bonds through the opened hatch—which was located on the side of the hull, unlike modern tanks where the entrance hatch is located on the top.

ashford tank

Mark VI Female tank in Ashford, Kent. Photo credit: Peter Trimming/Wikimedia

The war was economically devastating to all parties involved. It cost Britain $47 billion equivalent to $1.2 trillion in 2019’s value. All this money came from taxes, international loans, through the sale of war bonds and donations. Raising money was an essential part of the war effort.

After the war ended, the National War Savings Committee selected 264 towns across the United Kingdom for their exceptional financial efforts and gifted them each a war-battered tank. Each community received their tank enthusiastically, and put them up for display in town squares and and in municipal parks. But when the Second World War broke out and materials became scarce, the tanks were scrapped to make more tanks and weapons. Only the tank in Ashford was spared. Ashford's tank was unique in another sense. Unlike the other war-ravaged tanks, this one was never used in combat.

British tanks used during World War One were classified into male and female tanks. Male tanks were those armed with six-pounder guns, having calibers ranging from 40 mm to 58 mm. Female tanks were those equipped only with machine guns. Male and female tanks operated in pairs, with the male tank acting as the “destroyer” and the female tank acting as the “consort” providing protection from infantry.

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Mark VI Female tank in Ashford, Kent. Photo credit: Ad Meskens/Wikimedia

Ashford's tank was a Mark IV female training tank. It arrived at Ashford, in Kent, on 1 August 1919, and was driven directly to St Georges square where a plinth had been prepared for it on a traffic island outside the ‘Old Prince of Wales’ pub.

In 1929, the tank was converted into an electric substation. The tanks engine and other internal fittings were removed so that a transformer could be installed and two doors were fitted at the back to give access to it. Because the tank was playing an important, civic role, it was spared when the British war ministry came looking for scrap metal.

The tank stopped being an electric substation in 1968. By then, the town had come to appreciate the historic significance of this war relic, and took steps to have it painted and restored. It is one of only seven surviving Mark VI tanks in the world, and the only remaining one out of more than two hundreds gifted to various British towns after the end of World War One.

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The tank arriving at its destination.

ashford tank

ashford tank

ashford tank

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