‘Deborah’ is a British Mark IV tank which saw service in Flesquieres during the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917.

British Tank 'Deborah'The tank battle at Flesquières was particularly fierce, and many tanks like Deborah, were crippled. The photos show the damage inflicted by a direct hit in which 5 men died.

In keeping with the usual tradition, tanks were given names: female for ‘female’ tanks and male for ‘male’ tanks.

‘Deborah’ was buried after the war and dug up in 2000. She is believed to be the only surviving British tank who was in action in the First World War. Having been cherished by the landowner who dug her up, Philippe Gorczynski, she is now being housed in a purpose-built museum close to the place where her crew are buried.



Gouzeaucourt, along with many ruined villages in the surrounding area, was used as a marshalling point for the hundreds of tanks which were used in the Battle of Cambrai. They were hidden in the ruined buildings in an only partially successful attempt to keep their presence secret. As they were moved up towards Cambrai immediately before the battle, allied planes flew up and down along the line to drown the sound of their engines.



As the 20th century wore on, persistent rumours continued in the area of a WW1 tank having been buried. Philippe Gorczynski made it his life’s work to discover and rescue the tank. His search began with the memories of Mme Bouleux who, a teenager in the war, remembered a tank being buried by Russian prisoners-of-war under instructions from the occupying German army. Searches with metal detectors at the location indicated by Mme Bouleux did not suggest anything.

The search then continued in and around the area for the next 6 years. French and German documents and records were also studied, and eventually the search returned to Flesquieres, to a position fairly close to that which had originally been indicated by Mme Bouleux. This time metal detectors, aided by aerial photography, did indicate something below the ground. The roof of a tank was uncovered 15 feet below ground level after just one hour’s digging by a mechanical excavator. With the help of a team of archaeologists the entire tank was uncovered in time for the anniversary of the Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1998.


Determining the precise identity of the tank was another painstaking exercise. Faint markings of the number 1 were still visible on its petrol tank, but that only narrowed it down a little. David Fletcher, the curator of the British Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset, having visited Flesquieres for the recovery of the tank and the small remembrance service held there for the battle’s anniversary, returned to Bovington to find a request from a William Heap for information about his grandfather’s tank, complete with an old photograph of it taken in the aftermath of the battle. Noticing that the damage on the photo was very similar to the damage he had just been looking at in Flesquieres, he identified that Capt Heap’s tank was D51 ‘Deborah’, that it had been involved in the Battle of Cambrai and disabled there, and the identity of the tank was confirmed.

The fighting in Flesquieres on 20 November 1917 as part of the Battle of Cambrai was particularly fierce with enemy snipers fully ensconced in the ruined buildings and cellars of the village. ‘Deborah’ made her way through the village under fire, but took 5 shells, which on exploding inside the tank, disabled it and killed 5 of her crew of 8 men. The tank commander, 2nd Lt Frank Heap, survived and was able to lead his 2 surviving men back through Flesquieres to the British lines, for which act of bravery and determination he was awarded the Military Cross. The village of Flesquieres was taken by the allies the following day when the dead soldiers were recovered and buried by the 51st Highland Division. It remained in Allied hands until the German offensive in March 1918.

Records indicate that ‘Deborah’ was buried by the British during these months to act as a hideout and shelter for troops. It was pulled by tanks nearly a mile to a large hole which was an unfinished German concrete bunker. It must have been during this operation that 2nd Lt Heap took the photograph which was, many decades later, to lead to ‘Deborah’s’ identification. And there it remained until its discovery by Philippe Gorczynski. Unfortunately Mme Bouleux died before the excavation took place so did not see the tank she had watched being buried so many years before.

‘Deborah’ has been on display in a barn in Flesquieres since 1998 but in 2017 was carefully moved to her final resting place, a purpose-built museum in Cambrai.