September 2016 marks 100 years since tanks went into action for the very first time at the battle of Flers-Courcelette.
To mark this important anniversary, The Tank Museum is planning a new exhibition entitled Tank 100 and a series of upgrades to its existing Trench display.
Tank 100 plans from Imagemakers, Devon
Devon-based design company Imagemakers have been appointed to work in partnership with the Museum to create the exhibition with the main objective of putting personal stories centre-stage. Initial plans are already under development - the extract below sums up the overall interpretive approach:
‘Through the use of powerful, unexpected and truly remarkable real life events, the story of the first tank crews in the First World War will be told through a revitalised Trench Experience and a brand new First World War hall exhibition. Sensitively designed and beautifully produced using a wide range of media, the new experiences will engage, surprise and affect all who visit through the use of immersive experiences, striking graphics, imaginative object displays and interactivity. Most of all, visitors will leave with an unforgettable impression of the men of the first tank crews: their personalities; their interests and professions; their families; their achievements and their feelings and lives before, during and after the War.’
Lieutenant B.L.Q. Henriques
Selecting individual stories to feature in the exhibition has been a challenging task.
The museum archive has a large collection of First World War material and a huge array of supporting artefacts to choose from. However, after a series of meeting and debates, eight individuals were eventually selected.
The aim was to achieve a balance of officers and other ranks.
Sergeant Walter Ratcliffe, Lieutenant Clement Arnold and Major Frederick Hotblack
Those who know their Tank Corps history, these names could be familiar:
Lieutenant Basil Henriques
Sergeant Walter Ratcliffe
Lieutenant Clement Arnold
Major Frederick Hotblack
Gunner Cyril Coles
Second Lieutenant Sydney Hadley
Captain Arthur Baker
Gunner Archie Smith.
Also Basil Henriques close friend Lieutenant George Macpherson's close friend will feature.
Although the exhibition marks 100 years of the first use of the tank, the men whose stories we have chosen did not all take part in the first action at Flers-Courcelette on 15th September 1916. The exhibition will be in place over the course of the whole First World War centenary period and for that reason, crewman who saw action in 1917 and 1918 have also been chosen.
For the majority of these eight men, the Museum has been able to contact family members who have all shown keen support.
‘I'm delighted and thrilled that you have chosen my grandfather for this exhibition.’
Jenny Taylor, Grandaughter of Sergeant Walter Ratcliffe MM
‘For your centenary exhibition next year and your desire to feature my relation, Captain AG Baker - our family would be very interested in taking part.’
Jonathon Baker, Grandson of Captain A Baker, MC and Bar.
Family members are helping the museum exhibitions team to build a more rounded picture of their First World War tank relatives by providing photographs and details of their lives both before and after the war.
Naturally a lot of the information on display will relate to active service but the aim is very much to see beyond the rank and number to the men who had lives and aspirations before the war; some of whom were never to realise their future plans.
The research phase will continue until the end of the year after which time, the First World War Hall will be stripped of its current display material and the new exhibition installed between January and March 2016.
Of course it will not just be the Tank 100 exhibition that will mark the tank’s centenary.
There will also be special events, a new centenary website and this year a focus on the world’s very first tank ‘Little Willie.’
Mr Piers Wilson, the grandson of Walter Wilson
Mr Piers Wilson worked with William Tritton of Fosters of Lincoln to develop Little Willie will play a part in marking the anniversary in the autumn.
For The Western Front Association members or First World War tank enthusiasts generally, information relating to our eight crewman, or indeed any tank soldier 1916-18 that could be of use during the museum’s research to mark the centenary years, would be welcome.
Photographs and biographical information are of particular use and the museum
It only remains to say that The Tank Museum looks forward to welcoming visitors, including Western Front Association members to the new exhibition next year. It will be an extremely significant and special display that we hope does justice to the service and sacrifice of the very first generation of tank men.
BBC Bitesize and GCSE History on how Britain introduced the tank