Memories of Egbert - the tank of our town

APPEAL: The scenes in Hartlepool during the town's fight to raise the money needed for the First World War effort. Photograph courtesy of Hartlepool Reference Library
APPEAL: The scenes in Hartlepool during the town's fight to raise the money needed for the First World War effort. Photograph courtesy of Hartlepool Reference Library

MOST of us have been involved in fundraising campaigns.But in 1918, the people of Hartlepool came together for a cash-gathering task with a real difference. Their aim was to support the war effort and win a battered old tank as their reward. Chris Cordner explains more.

HOW many families’ lives will have been shaped by the First World War.

Dozens of townsmen died or were injured in action at the front.

Many more back home in Hartlepool took part in an immense fundraising campaign to support the war effort.

Among them were the town’s rich and famous. Families which shaped our town and who had an effect on all our family roots.

Sir William Gray and Sir Robert Ropner. W. Pearson and George Horsley. Sir John Ellerman and Mr HW Casper to name a few.

They came together with the man on the street.

Every one of them and more responded to the rallying call that went out to the people of Britain to raise money which would be invested in National War Bonds and War Savings Certificates.

In return, the towns that raised the most would receive a tank as their reward.

It caused a frenzy in Hartlepool of fundraising and, during the campaign called Feed The Guns week, Hartlepool headed the list of towns which raised the most.

In an incredible surge of patriotism and the people of Hartlepool had raised an incredible average of £31, nine shillings and a penny per person.

It was one of 264 war-battered towns to receive its prize, a battered old tank called Egbert which arrived in Hartlepool to great pomp and ceremony.

But the story actually began earlier than that.

On February 4, 1918, Hartlepool was given a taste of what its prize could be when a tank called Nelson was brought to town. In fact, Nelson went on tour from town to town to raise money.

It was touring the country, getting towns to come up with money for the war effort.

Town mayor, Councillor William Edgar, gave a speech that day. He said: “Nelson was at Middlesbrough a fortnight ago and realised a sum of £1.9m, a rate of about £15 per head of the population.

“We are out to beat that record and I am sure that we can do so.

“England expects that every man this day will do his duty and Nelson may go away satisfied, enabling him to say ‘Well done West Hartlepool.”

The call for cash worked. The town’s bigwigs played their part. Sir William Gray gave £25,000 himself and his company £100,000. Councillor Edgar gave £15,000 and the Mayoress £5,000.

Messrs J.W. Cameron and Co gave £25,000 and Mr H.W Casper £10,000.

All this happened during one incredible week of fundraising and, on the day that Nelson was due to leave town, Hartlepool had raised £2.3m.

It prompted a Northern Daily Mail headline of “Enthusiastic scenes in Church Square”.

Ten thousand people turned out to hear the news of the final fundraising total and hear Hartlepool had smashed Middlesbrough’s record. More next week.