On January 30, 1916 D’Eyncourt wrote to Lord Kitchener and informed him that the machine was ready for his inspection and that it fulfilled all the conditions laid down by the War Office (that it could carry guns, destroy machine guns, break through wire entanglements, and cross the enemy’s trenches, whilst giving protection to its own crew). D’Eyncourt also recommended that a number should be ordered immediately and that whilst these were being manufactured the design of a more formidable machine could be developed.
On 2 Feb 16 a VIP visitors’ day was held at Hatfield. Those who came to see Mother/Centipede/Big Willie in action included:
Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum (Secretary of State for War)
The Rt Hon A J Balfour MP (First Lord of the Admiralty)
The Rt Hon D Lloyd George MP (Minister of Munitions)
The Rt Hon R McKenna MP (Chancellor of the Exchequer)
Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Hamilton (Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel)
Sir William Graham Greene (Permanent Secretary to the Board of the Admiralty)
The Rt Hon G Lambert MP
Major General Sir S B Von Donop (Master General of Ordnance)
Major General Butler
Major General H G Smith
Lieutenant General Sir John Cowans (Quartermaster General)
Lieutenant General Sir W Robertson (Chief of the Imperial General Staff)
Major General Whigham (Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff)
Brigadier General Corkran
Brigadier General Nanton
Brigadier General Maurice (Director of Military Operations)
And a number of assorted Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and Majors.
The day after the unveiling of the mock up at Wembley in September 1915 work started at Fosters to make a prototype.
The now famous rhomboid shape was 10m long, 4m wide, 2.5m high and the length of each track was 18.5m. The final design was completed in just 36 days and, as posted last month, it was first trialled on 3 Dec 15 in Burton Park, Lincoln. The prototype tank was originally known as Big Willie although the tank’s name soon changed to His Majesty’s Land Ship (HMLS) Centipede. The alternative name of Mother appeared at around the same time.
The very real issue of security reared its head again, this time in relation to the openness of the test grounds at Burton Park and Wembley and so a new test site was developed at Hatfield House near Welwyn Garden City. Mother (aka Big Willie) was dispatched to Hatfield House by train on 26 Jan along with Little Willie and, having unloaded in the middle of the night, they both drove up to the testing ground.
The case was taken back to Fosters, suitably engraved and put on display in the factory. A photograph of it appears in their 1920 book ‘The Tank-Its Birth and Development’
On 3 December 1915 the first trials of Mother took place in Lincoln and, according to Stern, were “very successful”.
One of the tests that had been ordered by d’Eyncourt was the firing of the 6 pounder gun to see what effect it would have on the crew and the sponson. When Maj Hetherington attempted to fire the gun it misfired. The gun was elevated so that the cause of the misfire could be investigated when it went off, sending the shell in the direction of the Cathedral which was only about a mile away.
After two hours of searching however the shell was found, safely buried in a field. The conclusion reached by all was that a bigger test facility would be needed.
Picture courtesy of Richard Pullen