Saturday, 16 June 2018

A tank, a souvenir, and the soldier far from home in Woolwich

Now the romantic in me would like to think that George Davison bought one of these as a souvenir for his wife Nellie and their son Duncan.

The Woolwich Tank, circa 1918
He was in the Royal Artillery and was stationed in Woolwich during the Great War, first in 1915 and then again in 1917, and 1918 while they were living in Manchester.

That said Nellie spent time with him in “digs” in Ireland and Woolwich so it is very possible that she would have come across this piece of crested china, and took it home from London.

Pieces like this were very popular during the Great War and were turned out in their thousands.

The coat of arms of Woolwich
The porcelain companies, seeing the potential of war souvenirs switched from models of Blackpool Tower and Ann Hathaway’s cottage to tanks, battleships and ambulances.

They turned out identical ones, with just the name of a different town or city and coat of arms to distinguish them.

Sometimes in their zeal to market across the country they got it wrong, so while you could have bought an ambulance or tank with Manchester’s coat of arms, you could also have bought a model battleship, despite the fact that there was no such ship in the Royal Navy during the conflict.

The Davison's, 1916
Our Woolwich tank is in perfect condition, and bears the name Shelley China, which was a Staffordshire pottery company founded in 1862, only ceasing as an independent business in 1966.

What I particularly like about this one is that it has been acquired by my old friend David Harrop, who is the also the custodian of the George Davison collection which is a fascinating archive of letters, personal documents and pictures, spanning the period from George’ birth in 1886, through to his war service and into the 1950s.

Mr Davison was killed on the Western Front in June 1918, but his wife continued to add to the collection throughout a big chunk of the century.

And what makes the collection just that bit personal for me, is that he appears in the book I wrote about Manchester and The Great War, but more than that he was at one point in 1918  living just down from our family home on Well Hall Road prior to embarkation for France.*

This I know because we have his will he made out in March 1918, witnessed by a Mr Drinkwater who lived on what is now the old Well Hall cinema.

And in a letter to Nellie he refers to her stay at the house which was just minutes from ours.

Nor does the connection end there, because before he married Nellie, he lived in Chorlton-cum-Hardy just a short walk from where we live now.

And while there, at Barway House on Edge Lane he wrote a series of courting letters to Nellie.

Shelley China
All of which makes the tank and the story very personal.

When David told me he had the tank the message just said “Tank coming home” and while it is not going back to Woolwich it will be joining the George Davison collection, and will have pride of place in a major exhibition to mark the end of the Great War, which will be on show at Central Ref from September 2018.

Location; Woolwich, Manchester

Pictures; the Woolwich Tank, circa 1918, George Davison, his wife Nellie and son Duncan, 1916 from the collection of David Harrop

*Manchester Remembering 1914-18, Andrew Simpson, 2017, the History Press, 

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