100 years ago, the fields of Cambrai were ripped open, burnt and destroyed by the ravages of the Great War. Frederick Tipping was only 36 years of age, yet still the oldest of Deborah’s crew, when his British Mark IV tank was knocked out on November 20, 1917.
The popular Gunner was one of four members of Deborah’s crew of eight to be killed in action that day. His tank commander, Frank Gustave Heap, could do nothing for them, it was too late. Instead, he helped the surviving crew members to make their way back to the British lines. Leaving Deborah, one of the 476 tanks used en masse during the battle of Cambrai, to her fate.
Tipping and his comrades lost their lives on the opening day of the battle of Cambrai, the first great tank battle in history. He left behind three children: Alfred Charles, Harry and Frederick, and a wife, Florence Millington.
Born in Nottingham in 1881, before the war William was working in the textile industry as a hosiery framework knitter, whilst Florence was employed in Nottingham’s famous lace factories. Interestingly, the Cambrai area is also associated with lace making. "When we visited Cambrai we went to Caudry to see the lace museum. Frederick William would have been at home here,” explained John Dodd, the husband of Frederick's granddaughter. “We were also reminded of one of our homes, Long Eaton near Nottingham in England, as this was the place where the Caudry lace machines were made!" Like so many British soldiers, William lived a simple life in northern England until war broke out, when he and his younger brother, Harry, enlisted. Tragically Harry too was lost to the War; falling at the Somme in 1916.
Few records survive to tell the story of Frederick’s military career before he joined the Royal Tank Corp. But it is known he was a crew member of Deborah D51 along with Joseph Cheverton, William Galway and George Foot, the three other crew members killed that day and now resting next to him at the British Hill Cemetery in Flesquières.
On July 25, 2017, Deborah D51 was moved to the soon-to-be-opened Cambrai Tank 1917 museum. On that July day Frederick’s granddaughter, Jenny Dodd, was present at the grave of her grandfather. Asked if there were collective memories in the family, she sadly replied no, as her father, the youngest son of Frederick Tipping, was only nine when his father fell. “It’s a day full of emotion,” she whispered, as she watched the crane carefully manoeuvre the 24-tonne tank into her final home.
“I hope she [Deborah] will have a new future when she is in her museum. That many people can now see her and will understand what the soldiers faced during this war,” explained Ms Dodd. The new museum is a fitting monument to her grandfather, his comrades and the soldiers of the Great War.