The story of the creation of the tank here in Lincoln during the Great War was first told more than 80 years ago by the people who did the creating.
In 1920, William Foster and Co Ltd released a book called The Tank, its Birth and Development. And who was better placed to write such a book than Fosters, as they were the people who had actually invented the first tank - or “landships”, as they were originally known. During the war, the tank’s creation was beyond top secret and the company’s employees were expressly forbidden to breathe a word about what projects they were working on.
Fosters management and employees kept their secret and, in 1919, were officially commended for doing so. But after the war, the cat was out of the bag and everyone knew that Lincoln was the birthplace of the machine that had helped to break the deadlock of the trenches and cut the Great War short.
In 1919 the company got permission to publish their part in the story and by early 1920 the book was ready to go to the printers.
They had thought that it would be a terrific success and top the bestseller charts, but by 1920 the public had enough of the war.
Although many were sold, The Tank, its Birth and Development was not the runaway success they had hoped for.
Consequently, today, the book is rare with good copies changing hands for more than £100. Rarer still is the special edition created for presentation to the company directors and people who had been pivotal in the creation of the tank.
The standard edition was a hardback, covered with blue paper, but the special edition was fully bound in black leather and gold embossed with images of the tank and the initials of the person who received it.
In 30 years of research, I have only ever seen two of the special edition copies, one embossed with the initials of the company’s chief draughtsman, William Rigby, and one which was presented to the company’s managing director, Sir William Ashby Tritton.
William Foster and Co Ltd were not alone in publishing a record of their companies war work. Another of Lincoln’s engineering giants, Ruston and Hornsby Ltd, also had a go at writing when they released Our Part in the Great War. The book tells the story of Ruston’s military contracts and includes many photographs of a huge number of items produced by the company from 1914 to 1918, including engines, wagons, pumps, aircraft, tractors and munitions to name but a few.
As with the Foster book, the one produced by Rustons is rare nowadays. Copies come up for sale only occasionally and demand high prices.
I have never seen versions of such First World War books written by Lincoln’s other companies, such as Clayton and Shuttleworth, Penny and Porter, James Dawson and Sons, but it is quite likely that they also published records of their military work.