15 September 1916 saw the first battle tanks in action at Flers-Courcelette. Contemporary accounts describe them as ‘huge mechanical monsters’ that caused fright and consternation in the British lines as well as the German trenches.
But within quite a short time, the tank was being used for propaganda in many different ways. If you have seen the Toby jugs representing allied military and political leaders currently on display at the entrance to Café Bowes in the museum, you might have noticed that the jug representing General Haig is sitting on a tank.
A volunteer has kindly let us copy ‘Tanks In Action’, an illustrated storybook for children ‘passed for publication by the Press Bureau, Dec 6th 1916’. The book is cut to the shape of the front cover which shows a tank advancing on the German lines. This particular book was given to a boy called Kenneth by his Auntie Betty in 1918.
The storyline describes how the tanks overpowered a gun position, straddled a German trench and then machine-gunned the men in it, tore through woods and houses in the town of Fler and concluded: ‘Nothing could stop that Tank. The enemy surrounded it, and rained bombs on it. The machine gun bullets rattled on its think hide like peas. And it breathed death and destruction upon all who dared to attack it.’
We haven’t yet identified any Teesdale men serving in the Tank Corps but perhaps we will find some as more and more information comes into us from checking through official sources and through the generosity of members of the public.