Documents Reveal Tank Inventor's Frustration

A trove of unique documents relating to the design and development of the Mark I tank has been acquired by The Tank Museum.

The documents were purchased via the same auction house that sold the “lost” Mark I blueprint to the museum last year and came from the same private vendor.

The collection contains hundreds of pages of documents, illustrations and correspondence that was once the property of Sir William Tritton, who with Major Walter Wilson is regarded as the inventor of the tank.

The Museum team will now work through each document to record and catalogue them so that the importance of the trove can be fully understood.

But a few gems have already been discovered.

Among them are Sir William Tritton’s business card, a telegram sent by Fosters of Lincoln (the manufacturer of the Mark I tank) to the trademark office to “register the word tank,” and some sketches that appear to indicate that the rear wheels were primarily intended to correct the centre of gravity of the tank, rather than to aid steering as previously believed.

Of particular interest is that a good deal of the correspondence deals with Tritton’s frustrations dealing with wartime bureaucracy.

As co-inventor of the tank, Tritton wanted to ensure his designs were protected by patents and that he and his partner were given the “reward” they had been promised for their success after the war.

Black and White Photograph of William Tritton with business card.
Sir William Tritton and business card.

It appears that, owing to secrecy, he was denied the right to submit a patent. But the subsequent publicity around the tank following its debut made it impossible for him to do so later.

Sepia toned image of a letter from Tritton.
Telegram sent by Fosters Of Lincoln to register the word 'tank'.

This led to a correspondence exchange with War Office representatives, providing evidence of his claim and a record of the promises he had been made.

In one letter he writes:

“Mr Lloyd George (who was then minister of munitions) was present and told Colonel Stern (who was then Director of Mechanical Warfare Supply) and Sir William Tritton that if the Tanks proved a success, a very substantial reward would be due to their designers.”

“The point which I wish to bring to your notice is that no pecuniary reward has ever been made wither to Major Wilson or myself for the work done by us as originators and designers.”

In another, he writes with increased exasperation;

“The penalty of originality in a small firm is clearly shown. No such treatment could have been meted out to a large firm nor to a member of a trade Union.

“The Tanks have struck the public imagination, and their success has been utilised by the Government for propaganda work and War-savings duties.”

“Is not the labourer worth of his hire? Major Wilson and I should receive the due reward of our professional work.”

Sepia toned creased letter sent to Tritton.
A letter to W.A Tritton from the Ministry of Munitions of War.

The documents were purchased with the assistance of Tim Allan CBE, a former Royal Tank Regiment Officer and Chair of the V&A in Dundee.

When properly examined and catalogued, we will publish more information about the collection.

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