One object, The Henriques Ring, now on display in the new Tank Men exhibition offers a fascinating and very personal link to the first tank attack in history.
At the Battle of Flers on 15 September 1916, 26 year old Lt. Basil Henriques was in command of a Mark I tank. As the tank progressed towards enemy positions, it came under heavy artillery fire.
One accurate blast smashed the thick glass vision prism that Henriques was looking through to direct his vehicle, embedding shards and splinters in his face.
He later recalled; “A smash against my flap in front caused splinters to come in and the blood to pour down my face. Then our prism glass broke to pieces, then another smash, I think it must have been a bomb right in my face.”
His wife received the troubling news of his injury in a telegram which read;
‘Regret to inform you that 2Lt. Henriques, Machine Gun Corps admitted to Red Cross hospital, Rouen Sept 17th with gunshot wound face slight. Further news send when received. Secretary War Office.’
Henriques was fortunate to escape more serious injury and the glass splinters were removed from his face by medics. One piece was large enough to be mounted as a `stone` in a gold ring, which he gave to his wife as a memento of his brush with danger.
Henriques was a prominent Jew who dedicated his life both before and after the war to social work, and particularly the social welfare of children. He was knighted in 1955 and a road in Whitechapel, London, is named after him.
His wife donated the ring to The Tank Museum in the 1960’s. Lt. Basil Henriques is another of the eight men whose story is featured in the Tank Men – The Story of The First Tank Crews.