Near the Ashford town center stands a curious and sinister military monument, a World War I-era tank given to the town by the British government in the postwar years.
This particular tank is a Mark IV “female,” a term used during the war for tanks that had multiple Lewis machine guns as opposed to a mix of canons and guns like the original Mark I tank. As it was produced toward the end of the conflict, in 1917, it did not see active service in many of the most brutal slaughter fields of Europe.
The Mark IV tank would have typically been manned by a crew of eight soldiers, who would cram into the claustrophobic interior to drive over the muddy battlefield during an attack on an enemy trench. Conditions inside these primitive tanks were hellish; temperatures often exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and carbon monoxide poisoning from the engine fumes was exceedingly common. Numerous accounts exist of tank crews who passed out from heat exhaustion and consequently suffocated to death from carbon monoxide during attacks.
What’s more, in spite of its formidable armored appearance this vehicle was far from invulnerable. As slow-moving “sitting duck” targets, many were blown up by artillery shells during offensives, when they became stuck in bomb craters. The likelihood of entire tank crew being killed by the impact of artillery shells was extremely high as the enclosed space would have trapped soldiers in an implosion while the metal structure of the vehicle would have peppered the bodies inside with lethal fragments of shrapnel. Being a member of a tank crew advancing across no man’s land towards a German trench would have been a terrifying experience.
Ashford wasn’t the only town to receive a Mark IV tank in recognition of its support during the war. There were originally other tanks bestowed to the towns of Maidstone, Canterbury, and Folkestone, but these were quickly reclaimed by the government during the Second World War to reuse the metal for the war effort. The Ashford tank was able to avoid the same fate due to its continued use in housing an electricity sub-station from the late 1920s on through the turbulent years of World War II and into the 1960s.
Today the tank is the only publicly viewable outdoor Mark IV tank in Europe. It still stands in the same spot it was originally placed, and here remains, strangely, both a sinister reminder of the grim origins of mechanized warfare in one of the most deadly conflicts of human history and a beloved feature of this town.
Know Before You Go
You can visit the tank for free and it is easy to find as it's located just a short walk from the center of Ashford.