London: Copyright by Keystone View Co., published by the Evening Standard, 1 September 1927. Photograph. This original press photograph shows Winston S. Churchill and General Sir Alexander Godley inspecting the tanks of the newly formed Experimental Mechanized Force on 31 August 1927. This press photo once belonged the Evening Standard’s working archive. The gelatin silver print on matte photo paper measures 8 in (with an uncut piece of paper affixed to the verso folded behind the image extending an additional .75 in) x 10.5 in (20.3 x 26.7 cm). Condition is very good minus. The paper is crisp, clean, and free of scuffing with some loss to the lower right corner and some light wear along the edges. The photo has a raised grid to its surface as if it was stored on a rack. The verso bears the copyright stamp of “Keystone View Co.”, a stamp from the library of the Evening Standard dated 1 SEP, 1927, and the remnants of a typed caption. This photograph is housed in a removable, archival mylar sleeve within a rigid, crimson cloth folder.
Churchill was a soldier before he was a politician and maintained a lifelong informed fascination with the minutiae and machinery of combat. The man who began his career as a cavalry officer and participated in the ‘last great cavalry charge in British history’ would later help design the tank, pilot aircraft, direct use of some of the earliest computers (for WWII code breaking), and ultimately preside as Prime Minister over the first British nuclear weapons test. During the Second World War he showed keen interest in – and critical support for – the struggle for technological mastery that would prove as critical to winning the war as men, material, and logistics.
The tank was of particular note. As First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War Churchill advocated development and application of the tank as a decisive offensive battlefield weapon. The tank would, of course, revolutionize offensive warfare during the Second World War. In May 1927 the Experimental Mechanised Force was formed to investigate and develop techniques and equipment for armored warfare. It was reportedly the world’s first armored formation of its kind and for two years participated in exercises demonstrating its capabilities against traditional infantry and cavalry.
On 31 August 1927 Churchill, accompanied by his sixteen-year-old son Randolph, visited the Experimental Mechanised Force for a demonstration. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill arbitrated the funding that would be available for the Mechanised Force in the following year. Churchill was transported in a six-wheeled vehicle and shown about by General Sir Alexander John Godley, formerly the general officer commanding the New Zealand Forces in WWI. “The whole of the mechanized force was drawn up in long lines and presented a striking appearance. It included tanks, ‘Tankettes,’ armoured cars, self-propelled guns, ‘Dragon’ tractors, with gun wagons behind, half-truck lorries, and six-wheelers used for the transport of troops… the men in neat khaki were drawn up in front of their machines, and Mr Churchill was obviously impressed by their smartness.” (Hull Daily Mail, 31 August 1927) A demonstration was carried out with all of the drivers and crew members wearing gas masks as mustard gas was spread over the field. Civilians watched from a nearby hilltop. Later the machinery engaged in a mock battle against cavalry, field artillery, and infantry. Thirteen years later in a world barely recognizable to that of 1927, Winston Churchill would serve as Prime Minister of an imperiled Britain while the German Wehrmacht gave its own compelling demonstration of the efficacy of armored warfare in the blitzkrieg that brought about the fall of France. Item #005244