When a tank rolled into Preston town centre

Mike Hill recounts the dramatic scenes when a tank rolled into the streets of Preston and the town’s residents lined the roadside in their thousands to welcome it

Friday, 25th January 2019, 4:26 pm
Updated Friday, 25th January 2019, 5:30 pm
Egbert makes its way along Fishergate in January 1918, heralding the start of Tank Week

It is 100 years since Preston was presented with a much coveted prize to honour the town’s sterling fund-raising efforts during the First World War.

During the last 12 months of the conflict, a battlefield tank dubbed Egbert toured the nation’s towns and cities to help raise much needed money from the public for the war effort.

The so-called tank weeks became competitive events, with each community seeking the national pride of being the one which generated the most funds.By the end of the war it was determined the town which raised the most money would get to keep Egbert by way of recognition. Originally Preston was to welcome a tank nicknamed Eawy Maggie, but on its way from Manchester it broke down.

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Mayor of Preston, Alderman Harry Cartmell, addresses a crowd of more than 20,000 on top of Egbert on the Flag Market on January 21, 1918

So Preston became the first place outside of the big cities to welcome Egbert and on January 21, 1918 thousands of awestruck spectators lined Fishergate to see the battle-scarred tank rumble towards the flag-bedecked Market Square.

The tank was dented by shrapnel and had a gaping hole in the front caused by a German shell which had earlier killed the four British soldiers inside during fighting in France on the Western Front.

The tank had been nicknamed Egbert after an early English King and was on loan by the Army in a bid to raise cash in a National Savings Week drive to finance the colossal costs of the war. Crowds of wildly excited youngsters and adults followed the tank to the Market Square and had never seen such a weapon of war before.

When tanks were first invented by the British in 1916 they were shrouded in secrecy for a long time. Egbert was greeted in front of the Harris Museum with a fanfare from 32 trumpeters and the Mayor, Alderman Harry Cartmell, climbed on top of the vehicle to appeal to the crowd to help raise £1m in that single week.

Egbert in Prestons Flag Market for Tank Week in January 1918

Events were held all week as the town went war crazy, and by January 26 the mammoth target set on a barometer in the square had been reached.

Mayor Cartmell would later recall, “There never was a week like this before. The grim, uncouth, monster, the central object of curiosity, was not the only source of attraction. There was a constant stream of investors making their way to the pavilion, thence to the tank.

“There were frequent patriotic addresses, short but stirring; there was the almost continuous music of a splendid military band, and another object that gained in interest as time went by - the great indicator that marked the progress toward the coveted million.”

Preston passed its £1m target by several thousand pounds and in April 1919 the National War Savings Committee announced Egbert was to be given to the town.

However, Preston was not the winner of the honour of being the place to raise the most money per head through Tank Week.That title went to West Hartlepool, where an average of £31 0s 1d was raised per person. In fact, the Egbert which headed to Preston was one of 285 tanks presented to towns and cities across the land.

During 1919 the tanks were brought back from the battlefields of France and Flanders and distributed by the War Office with Fleetwood, Blackpool, Blackburn, Clitheroe, Lancaster and Colne among the other recipients in Lancashire.

Preston’s Egbert – officially Royal Army Tank (retired) No 145 – was placed on Haslam Park as a war memento and remained there in the children’s playground until 1933, when the corporation sold him as scrap. Legend has it the pieces where taken away to be recycled as razor blades for men.