First World War Tank in Abington Park

First World War Tank in Abington Park

Between 1920 and 1935 Abington Park was home to a First World War tank. It was gifted to Northampton in 1919 in recognition of the money raised by the town for the war savings campaign. Also situated in the park at this time were 2 Boer war field guns, 3 First World War German Field Guns and a ships cannon.

Tanks were offered to 265 towns who had held ‘Tank Weeks’ to raise money for the war savings campaign.

The tank weighed 30 tons and was transported to Northampton’s Castle Station by rail on the 24th October 1919. The plan was to then drive the tank to Abington Park where there would be a naming ceremony a week later. However, the tank would not start and due to its great weight there was no other way to get it to the park.

The tank eventually arrived on 16th April 1920. A brass plaque was fixed that read:

‘Presented by the National War Savings Committee to the citizens of Northampton in recognition of the readiness with which they loaned their money to the country in the financial campaign carried out by the local War Savings Committee during the Great War 1914-18’

Abington Park was used numerous times between 1914 and 1918 for fundraising events to support prisoners of war, refugees and soldiers serving overseas. Pictured here an Abington Park Fete programme (1918).

Abington Park Fete Programme

Abington Park Fete Programme

The tank was named Steelback in honour of the Northamptonshire Regiment. It was situated next to the mound near the bandstand and was used mainly as a climbing frame by the local children. The mound is still often referred to as ‘Tanky Hill’.

The tank was a Mark IV ‘male’ tank – the most common First World War tank with over 1000 made. The ‘male’ tanks had a 6 pounder gun where ‘female’ tanks had machine guns. They were very unreliable and many broke down before they reached the front, much like the Abington tank breaking down at the station. These tanks had an 8 man crew. They require four people to drive and four people to operate the weaponry. It would have been very hot and cramped inside with a high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning as exhaust fumes filled the tank.

Mark IV tanks had a top speed of 4mph and a range of 15-20 miles on flat ground but a much shorter distance cross-country.

The Abington Park tank had the number 2324 which makes it one of the 100 male Mark IVs built by William Foster & Co at the Wellington Foundry in Lincoln.

1925 Map of Abington Park showing the Armoured Tank (National Library of Scotland)

1925 Map with Tank

1925 Map with Tank

Local Quakers opposed the tank and guns being kept in the park. They submitted a petition to the council to have them removed and the council voted in agreement. Councillor Barratt argued that the presence of the guns and the tank created a ‘war mind’ and were ‘a danger to the moral welfare of our young people and society generally’ (Northampton Mercury, Friday 13 April 1934)

Once it had been decided that the tank and guns would be removed from the park there was great debate over how they should be moved, especially considering the weight of the tank. One suggestion was that the tank should be buried in the park. This gave rise to the myth that the tank is buried under ‘Tanky Hill’. In fact the tank was purchased by a Sheffield-based company for scrap and in February 1935 the tank and the guns were cut up using oxyacetylene cutting torches and removed from the park.

Please visit the Conflict & Community digital archive containing over 300 objects, documents and oral history clips relating to the First World War:


Embroidered Silk Postcards

Embroidered Silk Postcards

Embroidered silk postcards were popular items for British soldiers to send home during the First World War. These precious and expensive gifts represented skilled local craftsmanship and contained intricate details and were often sent home for a special occasion such as a birthday or Christmas. Designs varied considerably but usually the postcards featured a patriotic or personal theme and contained bright colours.

Embroidered Silk Postcards

Embroidered Silk Postcards

Embroidered silk postcards, 1914-1915

Northampton Museum holds a framed example of these postcards. The writing in the frame reads ‘Embroidered silk postcards made in Paris during the 1914-18 war. Presented by Mrs D.H. Simmonds in memory of her husband’. There are three cards in this frame: two silk and one smaller paper card. The first silk postcard includes an embroidered badge of the Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry and the second silk card has a Christmas theme with holly and three flags representing the allied powers: Russia, Italy and Great Britain. The smaller paper card reads ‘To bring you Luck’.

Many of these silk postcards were produced by civilians in France and Belgium and the popularity with British soldiers supported the craft industry and the local economy in some of the smaller towns and villages.

Many of the silk designs would have been standardised and drafted by a professional. The wording, like ‘Christmas’, would have been swapped according to the occasion and designed to fit within the pre-made card frames to allow them to be posted. The message would then have been written on the back of the card.

The design would have been transferred to silk organdie and then stitched with silk floss. The technique is called ‘silk shading’ and predominately uses satin stitch and long and short stitch. These items would have been stitched by a competent embroiderer, most likely using a hoop and then sold to soldiers to send home.

In 2018, objects like these and many more will be made available online for you to explore through a First World War digital archive. For more information on the Conflict & Community Project please click here.

Further information:

Imperial War Museum: Embroidered Silk Postcards

Christmas during the First World War

Christmas during the First World War

 As Christmas fast approaches, most of us are contemplating what gifts to buy our friends and family. During the First World War (1914–1918), many families did not have the money or resources to buy extravagant presents. Those that could spare some pennies tended to purchase British made items including toys, perfume, pens and cigars and these were considered a true luxury during a period of food shortages, price hikes and wartime thrift.

Exchanging presents at Christmas was viewed as an important act. Through all the struggles and hardships of war, Christmas time offered a flicker of happiness and a feeling of hope. Not only was this important on the home front but also on the front line where soldiers maintained military operations throughout the winter months. During 1914, at the age of seventeen, Princess Mary supported a public fundraising campaign to send gifts to the soldiers serving overseas. The Princess Mary Gift Fund box was made of brass and contained a variety of items such as tobacco, sugar candy and a Christmas card.

Princess Mary Gift Fund Box, 1914–1915 

Brass tin containing two packets of cigarettes, tobacco, a printed Christmas card and a bullet pencil case.

Many families shopping for soldiers in Britain searched for practical gifts as opposed to seasonal novelty products. Relatives purchased presents that would be useful to the soldiers such as gloves, lighters, razors, watches and wallets. The leather wallet pictured below is an example of one such item:

Leather Wallet, 1917

Brown leather wallet with fabric and buff leather lining presented as a gift by the Northampton Allied War Fund during Christmas 1917.

In 2018, objects like these and many more will be made available online for you to explore through a First World War digital archive. For more information on the Conflict & Community Project please click here.

Further reading:

Imperial War Museum: Princess Mary Gift Fund 1914 Box and Contents

10 ways Christmas was celebrated during the First World War

The War Memorials of Northampton Town

The War Memorials of Northampton Town

Reflections of the talk by Angela Malin

I think everyone who attended, enjoyed the talk on the War Memorials and Rolls of Honour that can be found around the town.  Some are obvious such as the Cenotaph in All Saints’ churchyard but did you know that the side chapel at All Saints was also built as a memorial to those who served and died?

It was interesting to see in the newspapers that once the idea for a memorial was proposed, various architects came up with some rather grandiose schemes.. One even looked like the Admiralty Arch in the Mall in London, others involved the demolition of the top of Guildhall Road and part of St Giles Square!   I was also amazed at how quickly the funds within each church or parish were raised to pay for these memorials, especially as many of the veterans found it hard to regain employment after the war.

Abington Square War Memorial

Abington Square War Memorial

On a reflective note, it is humbling to see that all the memorials are well cared for and that 100 years on, the men who gave their lives for our freedom have not been forgotten: we have and will continue to remember them

Leading the Way: How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

Leading the Way:  How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

In 1914, the nation went to war.  In the fervour that followed the despatch of the British Expeditionary Force, young men signed up in their droves.  For many it was a jolly jape.  Most believed it would be over by Christmas.  Few gave thought to what laid ahead of them, whilst back at home, the authorities had to make plans to care for the wounded who would be sent back to Britain away from the theatre of war.  The Great War was the first war of its kind.  No one had any concept of the impact of this type of fighting or how many casualties would result from such a war.

Plans were being put in place, setting aside beds for the wounded heroes.  How many beds would they need?  How long would they be needed for?  Who was going to pay for it?  How much would it cost?  What would happen to the soldiers when their medical needs had been met?  What would be the psychological impact?  What happens next?

At the start of the war, these were among the questions that needed answers.  What wasn’t foreseen was the sheer volume of wounded that would require care.

As part of the Community and Conflict Project, it was decided that some research needed to be done into how the wounded soldiers of the Great War were cared for in the county of Northamptonshire.  The research revealed who was responsible for the care and how this was paid for, and who was responsible for the coordination of funding and care.  The research shows the complexities of such an operation and the logistical difficulties of the task ahead.

Wounded Soldiers

Wounded Soldiers

Come along to our Museum talk on Tuesday 22 September 2015 at 7pm to explore how Northampton and the county rose to the occasion, who was involved, and endeavours to show that Northampton did indeed, lead the way.

All talks £5, ring 01604 837397 to book. Tickets also available on the door.

The Battle of Aubers Ridge – 9th May 1915

Geoff Grainger – Final Blog

The Battle of Aubers Ridge – 9th May 1915.

When I volunteered for this project I had little knowledge about Aubers Ridge or that I would eventually walk this once hallowed ground in northern France.  Despite previous studies of WW1, I had come across Aubers only fleetingly, as one of the Allies’ failed attempts to help break the deadlock on the Western Front in 1915. In the annals of the Great War it was considered a sideshow to a larger and partly successful French offensive fifteen miles to the south and had become largely forgotten.

For the British Army, Aubers was a ghastly failure, which threatened to undermine the authority of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French – indeed the subsequent Shell Scandal toppled the Liberal Government. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener only just survived, because political attention was perhaps conveniently diverted to another, larger failure, at Gallipoli.

For the Northamptonshire Regiment however, it was massively significant, as indeed it was for the County’ communities. In just a few hours on 9th May, the Steelbacks suffered a tenth of their casualties killed during the whole war. In Northampton very few streets were not visited by a telegram boy bearing the dreaded War Office notification. For hundreds of families news was not forthcoming as loved ones were posted ‘missing’, and the agony of uncertainty went on for many months. By delving into the local press coverage I was able to discover many tragic tales of suffering and broken families. I was brought face to face with the reality behind the hundreds of names of men of the Shire that appear on memorials to the Missing.

Most distressing were the appeals for news from relatives who could get no information from the War Office. As I read I already knew that these brave soldiers were never to be seen again or have a burial place. For the Missing there was no ‘corner of a foreign field’ – only their names on vast memorials.

And so to Saturday 9th May 2015

The Museum’s publicity machine  worked well because my talk at 1pm was sold out, despite the General Election and VE DAY commemorations. Helped perhaps by the Chronicle and Echo feature on Thursday 7th May and my BBC Radio Northampton interview early on Saturday morning, a second talk was scheduled for 3pm and that almost sold out as well.

Thank you to Northampton Museum for not forgetting the 9th May 1915, and for staging the event at Abington Park. Thank you also to all the good folk who took the trouble to attend or to share their stories of that dreadful event.

This was arguably the blackest day in the history of the County and deserved to be acknowledged as such. I feel privileged to have been able to play a small part in perpetuating its commemoration.

As a result of my research into the tragedy of Aubers Ridge I also made an intriguing, if sinister, discovery. I had been vaguely aware that a certain Adolph Hitler had been a regimental runner in Flanders in 1915. During the course of my investigations here and in France I discovered that his unit, the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, had been opposite the 2nd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment – in fact only some 350 yards directly across No Man’s Land. Further research into German archive material and eye-witness statements showed that Hitler was present at the battle of Aubers Ridge. He was a runner in the sector in front of the 2nd Northants, carrying despatches to and from his regimental HQ and the front line. Fate must have played a big part in keeping him alive.

So to my final reflection after these months of research?

Might a Steelback’s bullet have changed the course of history?

What might have been the destiny of the modern world if Hitler had not survived that day in May 1915?

Geoff Grainger

25 May 2015



The War Memorial of Northampton Town

The War Memorial of Northampton Town

Update on my research  by Angela Malin


I’m continuing my research into the War Memorials of the town ready for my talk on 18 July at the Museum.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at reports in newspapers. It is interesting to see the difference in how events and stories are depicted in the two local newspapers of the time – the Mercury and the Independent, the former reports more on council and civic goings in whilst the latter is more people orientated.

Whilst there was a need for the town to commemorate its dead, it is clear to see that life goes on. There was much concern in the year or two after the Armistice over the lack of employment opportunities for disabled ex-soldiers and the need for additional housing now with the great influx of returning servicemen.

There is little coverage on how the costs for the various memorials were met.  For some, I have been able to find subscription lists where parishioners paid a few pence a week as and when they could, supplemented by fundraising events.  Occasionally, the cost was met by the family of one of those killed in the war as a way of honouring their memory.

Decisions also needed to be made by the organising committee on the form of memorial – should it be a stone cross outside, a tablet on the church wall inside, perhaps a stained glass window or new reredos.   Many parishes erected plaques listing those who served as well as commemorating those who died in service.

Plaque in St Giles Church

Plaque in St Giles Church

Unbelievably, it took until May 1938, just a year before the outbreak of the Second War World for the Memorial to those men of the Borough of Northampton to be unveiled in Abington Square.

Angela Malin