Before the tank made its debut in France, it had to be undergo trials and approval stages in Britain. These took place at Hatfield Park.
Popularly known as Mother or Big Willie, but officially His Majesty’s Land Ship Centipede, it was transported by rail and driven through the night from the station to Hatfield Park, which had been chosen on account of its security and proximity to London for its first official demonstration.
There were three days of demonstrations at Hatfield Park, the first, a ‘preliminary canter’ Swinton called it, was on Saturday 29th January 1916. It was for those, Civilian, Military and Naval, who had played a part in the invention and development of Landships.
One Naval officer told anyone who would listen that we ought to have 3,000 of them, inspiring one Army officer to enquire: “Who is this damned naval man saying we will want three thousand tanks? He talks like Napoleon.”
This ‘damned naval man’ was Commodore Murray Sueter, head of the Admiralty Air Department, who had conversed with Winston Churchill on the subject back in January 1915 and had even designed his own Landship, one of the first people ever to do so.
Colonel Crompton, whose blueprints were used to design the first tanks, was at Hatfield on that day and, as might be expected, was grudging in his praise. The best anyone heard him say was “not bad”. Crompton didn’t think much of Mother; he called her ‘The Slug’.
Over the next week Mother would be shown to a variety of dignitaries including, Lord Kitchener, David Lloyd George and King George V. Following the successful trials of Mother an order was placed for 150 tanks, which would first see action in September 1916.