The Battle of Cambrai, which took place in France on 20 November 1917, saw the first use of mass tank formations to break the deadlock of trench warfare, taking the enemy by surprise and breaching the ‘impregnable’ Hindenburg line. On the eve of the battle, Major General Hugh Jamieson Elles CB DSO issued his hand written ‘Special Order No 6’ which is still read on ‘Cambrai Day’ each year by the youngest officer in the Regiment. In 476 tanks, the men of the newly formed Tank Corps advanced into battle under the brown, red and green colours of the Corps’ new flag. General Elles was to inspire his men by leading the great tank attack from the front – something unheard of in ‘modern’ warfare
It was very important and a privilege to be on the parade today to commemorate a hundred years since the Battle. Trooper John Hodgkinson
The day started when the soldiers known as ‘Tankies’ were woken by officers and senior non-commissioned officers who served them with ‘Gunfire’ – tea laced with rum. At 0620hrs a bell was rung to mark the moment when the tanks commenced the advance 100 years ago. Later the Regiment marched on to the parade ground where they formed a hollow square and a drumhead service was performed and as is the tradition of the day, ‘Special Order No.6’ was read out by 2nd Lieutenant Rob Hornblower.
The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Ridgway said:
“The Battle of Cambrai is of tremendous importance to the Regiment and every year we take the opportunity to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of the world’s first tank crews. The qualities shown by these men – their daring, innovation and willingness to attempt what had never been tried before – remain at the core of the Royal Tank Regiment and its soldiers. The Regiment is fiercely proud of its status as the oldest tank unit in the world and continues to adapt to meet the challenges we face today.”
2nd Lieutenant Hornblower said:
“It was a quite powerful moment. When you think 100 years ago yesterday was the day that Major General Elles said those words to the very first iteration of the regiment that is stood here today, and to be privileged to be repeating those words on the centenary is a great honour”.To mark this centenary year, the Regiment yesterday took part in a parade from Whitehall to the Cenotaph in London where a replica Mark IV tank was placed at Britain’s primary war memorial and a service of thanksgiving was held at St Mary Aldermay Church in the City of London. They will go on later this week to Northern France where there will be a Freedom of Cambrai parade on Sunday 26 November.