Friday, August 07, 2009

Watercarriers for Mesopotamia

click photo to enlarge
The story of how the word "tank" to describe the armoured fighting vehicle came to be used is an interesting one.

During the First World War the British Admiralty Landships Committee was charged with developing a fighting vehicle that could cross the mud and trenches of the modern battlefield. The members turned to a number of designers and companies to help them in their task. One firm that was approached was the agricultural machinery manufacturers, William Foster & Co of Lincoln. Foster's began life as a mill owner in 1846, but soon expanded into milling machinery and threshing machines. It opened its Wellington iron foundry in 1856 and went on to make traction engines and steam tractors. In the First World War it made large Daimler-Foster tractors and trailers for hauling howitzers, so it was natural that the Commitee saw it as the possible developer of a new fighting vehicle.

William Tritton (the chairman of Foster's) and Walter Gordon Wilson worked together in 1915 to develop the first "landship", named "Little Willie" after its co-designer. When the Lincoln factory came to produce the first batch of the new armoured vehicles there was a great need for secrecy so that the impact of their deployment could maximized. Consequently, the workforce were told that they were engaged in making "Watercarriers for Mesopotamia" (modern day Iraq)! This mouthful was soon shortened by those working on the machines, so the story goes, to "tanks", and the name stuck. Fosters went on to make hundreds of tanks for the British Army, with examples also going to the allies, including the United States and Canada. In recognition of the pioneering work in designing and making the first examples of this important military weapon the company incorporated it into the design of their nameplate that adorned the vehicles they manufactured.

I came across the example in today's photograph at a Lincolnshire gathering of traction engines. Unless one knows the story of William Foster & Co of Lincoln, the inclusion of a military tank on an agricultural vehicle maker's nameplate looks decidedly incongruous. But once you do know the reason it seems entirely natural!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 64mm (128mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On