Frank's tank on the move again 100 years after battle

A First World War tank, commanded by a Blackpool hero, has been given pride of place in a museum dedicated to pioneers who battled on the Western Front.

Monday, 31st July 2017, 4:37 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:42 pm
The tank being lifted into place
The tank being lifted into place

Nineteen years ago, the Mark IV British tank named ‘Deborah’ was unearthed close to the village of Flesquières in northern France.

After being displayed for 17 years in a barn in the village, she has now been moved to her new home as the centrepiece of the Cambrai Tank Museum 1917.

And the great grandchildren of Frank Heap, the tank’s commander during one of the war’s hardest-fought battles, were present for the big move.

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Frank Heap was 25 when he was thrown into the battle of Cambrai.

The son of a former Mayor of Blackpool, where his family ran restaurants he attended Blackpool High School for Boys and studied history at King’s College, Cambridge. He was a gifted athlete.

He served on the Somme as a despatch rider with the Royal Engineers, joined the Heavy Machine Gun Corps and was posted to the tanks little more than two months before the Battle of Cambrai.

Frank’s grandson, Tim, along with his own son and grandson, were at the bar to see ‘Deborah’ begin her delicate move.

They were joined by Philippe Gorczynski, whose painstaking search unearthed Frank’s war machine.

Delphine Bartier, from the Cambrai tourism department said: “The transfer of the delicate, 100-year-old Deborah was a highly technical operation involving hydraulic cranes, specialist transporters and a team of engineers.

“The next day, after being removed from the barn, Deborah was successfully transported to the Cambrai tank museum, sited close to the British Hill Cemetery.”

Frank returned to Blackpool to run the family hotel and catering business.

Several of his fellow tank crew members were not so fortunate.

The German forces had been given warning of the intention to use tanks at Cambrai and the British advance came to a halt near the village of Flesquières on November 20 1917.

Four of the tank’s eight man crew are buried in the British Hill Cemetery, including Frederick William Tipping. 36, whose granddaughter, Jenny Dodds was also present to witness the move.

As for Frank, he never lost his thirst for adventure, and became a keen rock-climber and mountaineer in the nearby Lake District. When he died in 1956, his ashes were scattered on Scafell, one of his beloved peaks.

His family still live in Cumbria.