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Wolverhampton Tank Week in 1918 raised £1.4m

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 21, 2014

  • Children queue to buy War Savings Certificates during Wolverhampton Tank Week in February, 1918

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FOLLOWING on from the previous Great War Tank Bank article in The Bugle (June 12 edition) Lee Dent, Ben Cunliffe and Richard Pursehouse of The Chase Project military research group report on when a different tank came to Wolverhampton in February 1918.

In late 1917 Robert Kindersley, the head of the National War Savings Committee, capitalised on the reaction to the Tanks Banks touring the country, recognising an opportunity to re-invigorate the lacklustre response to the recent issue of War Bonds.

The nation, hurting from the casualty figures of the bloody fighting for Passchendaele, which had finally ground to a muddy halt in November 1917, recognised that these "land ships" could win the war by smashing through the German barbed wire and defences.

Tank Weeks had taken place across the Midlands since Christmas; it was now the turn of the citizens of Wolverhampton to do their bit in early February 1918, and lend their money to the British Government to build tanks, which cost £5,000 to manufacture.

Tank 119 "Ole Bill" arrived at Wolverhampton from Derby, where £1,284,574 had been raised. "Ole Bill" was the Bruce Bairnsfather cartoon character, made famous by numerous postcards and immortalised in the musical production The Better Ole.

At Birmingham in the first week of 1918, Ole Bill had raised £6,585,439, enough to "pay for a day" of the war (the daily cost estimated by the British Government was £6,500,000); Ole Bill had also visited Nottingham (£2,635,000), Leicester (£2,061,228) and The Potteries (£1,123,000) since Birmingham, and the challenge was on for Wolverhampton to do well.

Arriving on Sunday, February 3, 1918, the tank was met at Wolverhampton Railway Station by a contingent of policemen, local Volunteers, and members of the Women's Volunteer Reserve.

The convoy proceeded towards the Market Square to the accompaniment of music from the local Police Band. Progress was slow as the enthusiastic crowd strained for a glimpse of a weapon they had read about - but few had seen. The procession halted at the Town Hall and a hush fell upon the crowd as the visitor and its commander Lieutenant Brocklehurst were officially received by the Mayor, Councillor John Francis Wyatt, who was accompanied by the Town Clerk, Sir Horatio Brevitt, members of the Council, and representatives of the neighbouring local authorities. The convoy continued on its way to the open wholesale market, where a guard was positioned around the enclosure. All was ready for the start of Wolverhampton's Tank Week the next day.

On Monday morning the first speech from on top of the tank was made by Mayor Wyatt, who expressed his belief that Wolverhampton would raise more than £1 million. He invested £25,000 on behalf of his company, West End Brewery, which would become part of the Ansell's brewing empire. The next speech was by Brigadier-General Hickman MP who appealed for all to "steel their hearts and tighten their belts" and whose exhortation "Men, Munitions and Money!" was chanted by the crowd. Mr Alfred Bird MP was unable to attend, although £30,000 was invested on his behalf.

The ladies from the town Post Office were busy stamping 'Tank Bank' on the Certificates and Bonds being issued and within 15 minutes the first £100,000 had been reached. Investments from Pearl Assurance and Eagle Star Assurance (£10,000 each), and Wolverhampton and District Permanent Building Society (£5,000) were augmented by payments from individuals such as Alderman Dickson (£2,000). By 6pm the total raised was £350,000.

Other local firms came to the Tank Bank on Tuesday; Bayliss, Jones and Bayliss (£25,000) which eventually became part of GKN, and Old Wolverhampton Breweries Ltd (£25,000) were the highest investors. The Police Band and Volunteers' Band had alternated in entertaining the crowd, but expectant heads turned and ears strained to hear music as a contingent of New Zealand Rifle Brigade troops arrived with their band as vanguard, having completed a route march from Cannock Chase Reserve Centre. The band took up residence and played a variety of music from the wooden platform next to the tank, while the New Zealand riflemen stood guard with 'swords drawn' (bayonets fixed).

Wednesday was market day, and despite the poor weather, two large payments were made: one from Sunbeam Motor Car Company Ltd (£50,000) which built motorcycles, ambulances, trucks and airplane engines for the war effort, and another from Bradley Bar and Sheet Iron Company Ltd (£30,000).

The Wolverhampton Board of Guardians invested £1,000, although the Wolverhampton branch of the Independent Labour Party passed a resolution against this payment, and even questioned the legality.

By the morning of Saturday, February 9, the £1 million target had been smashed and the Mayor received a congratulatory telegram from Mr Bonar Law, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, offering "Best wishes on behalf of the Government." The crowd cheered after the telegram was read out, and the band of the Leicestershire Regiment (again from Cannock Chase Reserve Centre) paraded the streets before ending up on the tank platform. Mayor Fryatt shook hands with the tank commander, Lieutenant Brocklehurst, and further cheering metamorphosed into the singing of the National Anthem.

An hour later saw the return of the riflemen and band of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, accompanied by their commanding officer, British born Lieutenant-Colonel Roache, and Freda, the harlequin Great Dane mascot of the N.Z.R.B who 'inspected' the parading riflemen as they took up position around the tank, much to the amusement of the crowd.

The Mayor, councillors and other dignitaries gave their final speeches congratulating everyone for their efforts and at the close of business that evening it was announced that Wolverhampton had raised £1,410,872 - enough to build 282 tanks.

Overnight, Ole Bill departed for Coventry, adorned on the front with "a red floral decoration in a horseshoe of artificial flowers presented to the Tank by a little Wolverhampton girl".

If anyone has any additional information or photographs of Wolverhampton's Tank Week, please contact The Chase Project via The Black Country Bugle, or email editor@blackcountrybugle. co.uk or thechasepro ject@gmail.com

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