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Which monument in France is dedicated to all the men from the Tank Corps who fell during the Great War?

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On 22 July 1922, representing His Majesty King George V, the Tanks Corps Monument was unveiled at Pozières, France by Montreal-born Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Morland (9 August 1865 - 21 May 1925). After the outbreak of the Great War, Morland had become General Officer Commanding (GOC) 47th Division, then GOC of 14th Division and then GOC of 5th Division. He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1915, commanded X Corps through to April 1918 and took command of XIII Corps at the end of the war.

This location on the Somme battlefield was selected for the erection of the monument as it was "NEAR THIS SPOT THE FIRST TANKS USED IN WAR WENT INTO ACTION ON 15TH SEPT 1916" with the British Army, as a new, surprise weapon against the German Army during the First World War. This is the site where three tanks originally moved into their departure point and actually set off for the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, a few kilometres away immediately behind the monument, from 15 to 22 September 1916. In the night of 14 September 1916, a total of 49 available tanks deployed to their allotted departure points for the launch of the British and French attack on the German positions between Courcelette and Combles. From the total number of tanks, 27 reached the German front lines, 19 their first objective, 11 their second and only 6 their third. Only a third of those tanks managed to make an impact on the German strongpoints as the others either broke down, got stuck, or were knocked out. Although the battle resulted in high casualties for many of the British battalions taking part (nearly 30,000 British casualties on 15 September alone), and the majority of the tanks were not successful in reaching their objectives, there was a great morale boost reported by the British press with the capture of Flers combined with the fact that some of the tanks did break through the German lines. At the time the six operational tank companies were grouped as the Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps. It was not until 28 July 1917 that the Tank Corps came into existence, later called the Royal Tank Regiment -- the oldest tank unit in the world.

In 1919 the Tank Corps applied for permission to erect a monument on this site. The design proposal consisted of a granite obelisk on a plinth with four models of tanks positioned at the memorial's corners. The small-scale replicas are: the Mark 1 heavy tank (the first type of tank used as a fighting vehicle anywhere in the world); the Mark V heavy tank (which had a crew of 8 men similar to the Mark 1); a medium Mark A Whippet (which weighed 18 tons and with a crew of three or four men who could operate machine guns from the fixed turret); and the Mark 1 Gun Carrier (the world's first self-propelled gun). After receiving approvals from the British Battle Exploit Memorials Committee (formed in February 1918) and the French authorities' "Décret d'hommage publique", the application went ahead with the purchase of the plot of land from Monsieur Thibaut for about 750 Francs. In addition to the frontispiece dedication plaque that "THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF OFFICERS, WARRANT OFFICERS, NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICERS & MEN OF THE TANK CORPS WHO FELL INTO ACTION IN THE YEARS 1916-1917-1918 DURING THE GREAT WAR", there are three other bronze plaques inscribed with the battles on the Western Front in France which the tanks participated in from September 1916 to the Armistice in November 1918: 1916 -- 1ST SOMME, ANCRE; 1917 -- 1ST ARRAS, MESSINES, 3RD YPRES, 1ST CAMBRAI; 1918 -- 2ND SOMME, RIVER LYS, HAMEL - MARNE - MOREUIL, AMIENS - BAPAUME, ARRAS – EPEHY, CAMBRAI - ST. QUETIN, SELLE - ORMAL FOREST. An interesting feature of the site is the boundary fence around the monument. As part of the building application, the fence was suggested as a way of keeping cattle away from the monument's plinth. The fence is comprised of ten upright 6 pounder tank gun barrels with tank driving chains mounted across them.

On this day, 15 September 2022, we commemorate the 106th anniversary of the first tanks used in war that went into action and mark more than 100 years since the unveiling of the Tank Corps Monument commemorating all the men from the Corps who fell during the Great War.

André M. Levesque

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