This February sees the 100th anniversary of the first official tank trials that took place in the park at Hatfield House. To mark this anniversary Hatfield House will be putting on an exhibition about the history of the Tank at Hatfield with a full sized replica Mark IV Tank as its centrepiece. The exhibition will run from 26 March to 30 September 2016 to coincide with the 2016 visitor season.
A very significant part of Hatfield House’s history during the First World War was its role in the tank trials. On 26th January 1916 the first tank, known as ‘Mother’ was sent by train to Hatfield. It was unloaded in the middle of the night and driven across Hatfield Park to a specially dedicated trial area. Members of the 3rd (Mid Herts) Battalion Herts Volunteer Regiment and a company of Engineers set about digging trenches and creating obstacles for the tank to traverse. On 29th January, military personal gathered for the first unofficial trial of the tank. Now confident of the capabilities of the tank the first official tank trial took place on 2nd February, those in attendance included Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, First Lord of the Admiralty, Arthur Balfour, Minister of Munitions Lloyd George and Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith. On the 8th February His Majesty King George V visited Hatfield for a demonstration of the tank. During his visit he took a ride in the tank and said that he thought ‘such a weapon would be a great asset to the Army possessing a large number’. After the tank trial, the first tanks went into production.
The impact of the tank was clear, at the battle of Cambria the advancing tanks caused the Germans to run or surrender, it was reported that 12,000 Germans were taken prisoner after the initial push of the tanks. However, it wasn’t long before a tank was captured by the Germans and they started to develop armoured vehicles.
After the war, Winston Churchill in his office as Secretary of State for War wrote to the 4th Marquess to thank him for his assistance in the tank trials and to ask whether he would like one of the original tanks. The Mark I tank, now the only remaining of its model, was presented to the 4th Marquess and remained in Hatfield Park until 1969 when it was gifted to the Bovington Tank Museum.
The Marquess of Salisbury, owner of Hatfield House, says “Many large houses played a distinguished part in the War effort between 1914 and 1918. Hatfield was no exception. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy moments came in early February 1916 when the first tank trials took place in the Park. This was significant in the history of warfare and led to a revolution in military doctrine – sadly, initially most effectively exploited by the Germans in the Second World War. As part of our commemoration of the First World War, we thought it important that we should mark the centenary of the first tank trials and, although the tank that Churchill gave my great-grandfather in 1919 is now in the Tank Museum at Bovington, where it has been magnificently restored and displayed, we are fortunate to have secured a replica which will be the centrepiece of our exhibition. I hope you all, as visitors, enjoy it.”
The centrepiece of the exhibition will be the replica Mark IV Tank, known as Edwin. This tank is on loan to Hatfield House from Vanguard Holding Limited, a storage company just off the A40. Along side the Tank will be information boards about the tank trials with an accompanying exhibition in the Library explaining the history of the Tank and its links to Hatfield House.
As well as the exhibition Hatfield House will be hosting an event ‘Tanks, Tommies and Trenches’ on 10 and 11 September 2016, further details to follow.
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