There are times when Ashford shows that it can really rise to the occasion, and one of those took place with the service of commemoration to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Cambrai. The service took place at the unique site of the town’s Mark 4 World War One tank.
The event itself was one of a series of commemorations of the War as we pass through a series of centenaries. It is a special anniversary for Ashford because no one else has preserved a WW1 tank in the same way, as a public memorial. Most of the others were melted for scrap metal before the Second World War, and after the war the Ashford tank was only preserved for the almost surreal reason that it was used for years as an electricity sub-station. Fortunately it is now Grade Two Listed.
The significance of the Battle of Cambrai was that it saw the first time that tanks had been used on a large scale in a pitched battle. 476 tanks were deployed against the Hindenburg Line, and moved forward 8 kilometres in the first 24 hours, which was unprecedented progress compared to the usual horrors of trench warfare at that time.
I learned at the service of the appalling conditions that faced the tank crews in those days. The engine was inside the tank itself, so the eight-man crew were in constant danger from hot oil spurting out over them, as well as the shells coming at them from the outside. As it turned out the mud was the biggest enemy of the early tanks, with many of them losing their tracks in the course of battle.
It was also fascinating to hear a poem written in praise of Ashford and its contribution to the war effort by a pupil from Ashford School, Driver E Rossiter.
Ashford Borough Council was one of the first to sign up to the Military Covenant, and the organisation of this service was one practical way to show the proper respect both for those who have served in the past, and for those who are doing so today. It was particularly moving to have some of the readings done by existing members of the Royal Tank Regiment. The whole event did Ashford proud, and I am sure the veterans and current service personnel who attended were delighted with it.