By Patrick Wright
Last updated 2011-02-17
'Tank mania' at home
The laughter and disbelief that followed the tank through its first manoeuvres in France were taken in different directions back in Britain. At home, people first learned of the tanks through the censored reports in their newspapers.
Unable to describe the new weapon in practical terms that might have been useful to the enemy, war correspondents greatly exaggerated the tank’s capabilities and resorted to the most far-fetched imagery, describing them as ‘waddling toads’, ‘dragons’, ‘prehistoric monsters’ and the ‘Jabberwocky’ of Lewis Carroll’s imagination.
Thanks to the intense public interest provoked by these poetic and propagandising descriptions, the tank was soon the star of cartoons, popular songs and musical shows.
By November 1916, it had even taken to the stage at the Gaiety Theatre in London. At the Palace Theatre, a provocative song and dance routine named the ‘Tanko’ was performed by the sixteen ‘Palace Girls’ under the leadership of the notoriously suggestive young French singer Regine Flory.
It was antics like these that infuriated the war poet Siegfried Sassoon, who retaliated with an angry composition entitled ‘Blighters’:
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