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The fate of a Cambridge gunner on his 20th birthday Centenary of the battle of Cambrai #Cambrai100

100 years ago, Joseph Cheverton from Cambridge, died on November 20, 1917, the day after his 20th birthday. He was a crew member in Deborah D51, a Mark IV female British tank. One of a crew of eight working in this dangerous iron can in 40-degree heat.

The remains of the Hindenburg Line in the Cambrai region.

Deborah was one of the 476 tanks deployed in the village of Flesquières (Northern France) on the very first day of the Battle of Cambrai, the first time tanks were used en masse in war.

Tanks arriving in Flanders

Cheverton’s tank was hit by German artillery as she paused just outside the village, then buried undiscovered in a field until being located in 1998. For 19 years, the tank has been on display in a barn in the village, but is now set to be the centrepiece of the new Cambrai Tank 1917 museum to be inaugurated on November 25th at 3 pm (local time). The museum is located next to the British Hill Cemetery where Joseph Cheverton and three other crew members, all killed by the German shells, are interred.

The picture of Gunner Cheverton was always by Deborah when exhibited in the barn.

The roof of the Cambrai Tank 1917 museum from the Flesquières Hill British Cemetery

The story of Joseph Cheverton is typical of so many soldiers of WW1. He enlisted in the army in 1915, when he was not even 19, the legal age. Gunner Cheverton, who was the only son of Mr and Mrs J. Cheverton, of Harlesden, (later of Thoday Street, Cambridge) joined the Cambridgeshire Regiment and embarked for France the following September. He was gassed in September 1916, and on his recovery, was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (Tanks), returning to France in June 1917.

Still remembered, a poppy by the grave of Joseph Cheverton. Photo taken on October 31, 2017

After his death, letters to the deceased’s father, and to his girlfriend Florrie Coote of 9 Godestone Road, Cambridge, from his superior officer, pay great tribute to Gunner Cheverton’s work with the tanks, and tell of the high esteem in which he was held by officers and comrades alike, especially by the writer. One letter describes him as a ‘splendid fellow, a willing worker, and a cheerful comrade’. Gunner Cheverton was killed instantly in the late afternoon of that first day of the Battle of Cambrai and buried two days later, alongside his comrades who had also fallen. The writer adds that ‘a cross to his memory was be erected shortly’.

On that morning of November 20, 1917, as the attack began, Joe Cheverton had just celebrated his 20th birthday. Did his comrades – William Galway, George Foot, Frederick Tipping – or the tank commander, Second Lieutenant Frank Heap, wish him a happy birthday? Did he spare a thought for his girlfriend, Florrie Coote, as he sweated inside the darkness of this metal weapon? During the battle, we can only wonder at the stresses these young ‘Tankies’ faced. What we do know is that Deborah was the only tank to make it through the village of Flesquières without being hit. But, as Frank Heap stopped the tank to take his bearings, the German salvo slammed into Deborah’s side; Joe Cheverton, Frank Tipping, George Foot and William Galway all perishing.

The four crew member of Deborah killed on November 20, 1917: Joseph Cheverton, Frederick Tipping, William Galway, George Foot.

The four young soldiers, tank pioneers all, rest in peace at the British Hill Cemetery in Flesquières. The Cambrai Tank 1917 museum will be inaugurated on November 25th, and pays homage to them, telling their story, so they shall not be forgotten.

Deborah now in the Cambrai Tank 1917 museum, to be revealed on November 25, 2017
Deborah D51, on July 26, 2017 when she was moved from the barn to the museum
The Cambrai tank museum to be inaugurated on November 25, 2017

Bibliography: Deborah and the war of tanks by John Taylor

Author: Delphine Bartier - Nord Tourism - Mobile + 33 674 19 39 45 - E -mail: dbartier@cdt-nord.fr

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Copyright: Delphine Bartier and Nord Tourism

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