The Tank Museum | Ace Detective Work from the Museum’s Archive Team

Ace Detective Work from the Museum’s Archive Team

A donation this week from the Dynamo Club set our Archive off sleuthing!

1st January 2020

The Southampton Dynamo Club, formed in March 1920, has recently visited the Museum to donate a tank pennant and letter from Winston Churchill. 

pennant cut out

In 1942, the club had adopted a tank named ‘Southampton’ and alongside sending monthly parcels of food and clothes to the crew, the ladies gifted them a handmade cloth pennant.

The tank, and its pennant, would travel all the way from Normandy to the Rhine and in 1945, Winston Churchill wrote a personal letter of thanks to the Dynamo Club. The pennant would be presented back to the club in 1946 by a grateful Captain Johnston MC of the tank ‘Southampton’.

This week, the Dynamo Club presented the pennant and letter to The Tank Museum for preservation. However, the question was, who was ‘Captain Johnston MC’ and ‘Southampton’? Our suspicions had been raised when the colours of the pennant did not match known RTR or RAC flashes.

churchill letter

With our only clues being the pennant colours, some brief anecdotes from the donors and the accompanying plaque with the names ‘Southampton’ and ‘Captain Johnston MC’; the mission was on to discover just whose pennant it was.

First, our Archive & Library Officer checked the book ‘The Military Cross - 1937 to 1993’ by Lieutenant Colonel R. M. Kamaryc, which was a chronological compilation listing recipients of the Military Cross. While there was no matching entry for a ‘Johnston’ relating to the RTR, there was one entry for a ‘Capt. A. T. Johnson’ of RAC. Since there were no initials on the original pennant plaque, we were unable confirm the match. 

Our next move was to check the War Diaries of RAC units that named their tanks after cities, and found nothing. Becoming more convinced that this was not a tank related to the RAC or RTR, we chanced on our sneaking suspicion that Johnston was a Guardsman. We found a J. F. D. Johnston (then a Lieutenant), of the Grenadier Guards who was awarded a Military Cross on 2nd August 1945 in Kamaryc’s ‘Military Cross’ book.

We then cross-referenced with 6th Guards Tank Brigade: the Story of Guardsman in Churchill Tanks’ by Patrick Forbes. Forbes, helpfully listed every tank name used by 6th Guards Tank Brigade, including ‘Southampton’ of No. 12 Troop, No. 3 Squadron, 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards.

With this wealth of information our Archive & Supporting Collections Assistant Manager tracked down 233953, Lieutenant John Frederick Dame Johnston‘s Military Cross citation and even an photograph!

In many ways it is a great shame that the pennant doesn’t fall in line with our collections policy. The policy deems that the Museum collects items relating to the Royal Tank Regiment and Royal Armoured Corps. However, it is right and proper that this pennant and its great story is passed on the Guards Regimental Museum in London.