AT Easter 100 years ago, the name on everyone’s lips was Egbert. Egbert was a battle-scarred veteran of the Somme and he was rolling into County Durham to raise money for the war effort.

“A finer holiday attraction could surely never have been devised,” said The Northern Echo as Egbert prepared to invade Durham City, “and it is to be hoped that the monetary response will be such as to uphold the reputation of the city and district for patriotism.”

Indeed, Egbert was there not just to raise money – he was there to cajole and extort it out of people. Town was set against town, company against company, school against school: who could raise the most money to satisfy Egbert’s voracious appetite?

Flags flying from the lamp-posts in Darlington Market Place said: “Some gave their sons; others money. What have you done?”

Egbert was a tank. He’d fought at Cambrai, in one of the largest tank battles on the Western Front, and when he had paraded through the streets of London in the Lord Mayor’s Show, the public loved him. The Government quickly realised his potential and placed him in Trafalgar Square with a collecting box beside him.

He raised so much money that five more Egberts were acquired from the battlefield and sent out around the country.

Egbert arrived at Darlington’s North Road station, from Halifax, on Monday, March 25, and was welcomed by “thousands upon thousands” of people. A huge procession marched with him into the Market Place where he performed his tricks.

“There was an expectant hush as Egbert set his nose at the obstacle and this was broken by a cheer as the tank reared itself up and then surmounted the pile and descended the other side,” said the Echo.

A special savings bank was opened beside him and people brought every spare penny to buy War Bonds from the tank bank. To encourage deposits, there were competitions and spot prizes.

“The smallest girl at Bondgate School, Winnie Penman, who has four brothers serving at the front, was given £5 by her father to invest in a War Bond, and when she visited the tank she was handed a paper which informed her that she was entitled to another £5 War Bond,” said the Echo.

At the end of Egbert’s five day stay, he had raised £812,000 – £13 10s 6d per Darlingtonian.

Then he rolled off to Durham City, where the weather broke and he slithered down Claypath and Gilesgate in the rain. “The entry of this battle-scarred monster into the ancient city created considerable interest,” said the Echo.

Lady Eden of Windlestone Hall, who had lost two sons in the conflict and had her eldest held prisoner for two years in Germany, climbed onto Egbert’s roof and passionately declaimed: “It is the bounden duty of every man, woman and child to render service of some description during this crisis, or else they are not worthy of the supreme sacrifices being made by the soldiers at this very moment.”

After three days, Egbert had raised £225,000, and he rolled off to Houghton-le-Spring and Birtley before entering Bishop Auckland on April 13 where he was acclaimed as a hero. “The town was crowded long before noon, and when Egbert reached the Market Place at the head of a long procession to perform the customary stunts before taking up his position, there would be, on a moderate estimate, quite 10,000 people present,” speculated the Echo.

Towns and communities not personally visited by Egbert chipped in. Crook set up a tank bank in its Market Place, Sedgefield sent over £47,000, and Shildon had a military squeeze placed upon it as every street, every door, was visited.

"The majority of the canvassers are ladies – chiefly teachers," said the Echo.

At the end of Egbert’s three freezing days, Bishop had contributed more than £400,000, and he rolled off to turn out the pockets of people in Scotland.

But West Hartlepool was declared the winner. Of all the towns in all the country it had raised the most – in a weeklong stay in early February, when Egbertmania was at its height, it had raised a staggering £2,367,333. That’s £237m in today’s values, according to the Bank of England Inflation Calculator.

That’s £37 per head – £2,000 per Hartlepudlian in today’s values.

As a reward it got to keep Egbert, and in June 1919 he was placed on display at Stranton Bull Garth.

But there were so many obsolete Egberts after the war that the National War Savings Committee offered 264 to the towns just beneath West Hartlepool. Darlington's Egbert was placed just inside the Victoria Embankment entrance to South Park. Its innards were taken out and although it had metal railings around it, it became a climbing frame.

Today, only one of the 264 Egberts survives – at Ashford in Kent. Most, like Darlington’s, were cut up for scrap when the Second World War began, although Hartlepool’s suffered a worse indignity. In 1937, local councillors voted on whether it represented a vital lesson of war or was a “relic of barbarism”. Despite the town’s monumental efforts just 20 years earlier, they voted by 20 to 12 that the original Egbert was a “relic of barbarism” and he was scrapped.

  • Is it too much to hope that anyone remembers visiting an Egbert just before the Second World War? Does any family album have a photo of an Egbert? And it we were to do a similar exercise today, would Egbert be called Tanky McTankface?
  • Also 100 years ago this week, a crowd of 5,000 at St James’ Park, Newcastle, witnessed a munionettes’ football match between Northumberland and Durham. All the players were female munition workers and although Northumberland took the lead, Durham ran out 4-1 winners. “Cornforth was the success of the match,” said the Echo, “although she tired towards the close. She scored all four goals for her side, the last being from a penalty.” Is anyone related to the free-scoring Ms Cornforth?