Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Eyes have It

Thanks to Ed Francis for helping me on this one.

Often British tanks will sport a pair of eyes painted on them. This tradition is done so the tank may see where it is going, and its enemies, in addition it will help ward off evil spirits. Invariably these eyes are of female shape, as in the British language tanks are female (Stan, take note!). One might ask where this tradition came from. 

There is a story that a prominent and very successful Chinese business man named Eu Tong Sen bought a Mk.IV male for the British war effort, paying a sum of £6,000 for it. This was presented to the British Army and as part of the propaganda value, it was suggested that the tank be given a pair of Chinese eyes. There was considerable lethargy to this idea and by the time permission had been granted the tank had already been shipped to France. However it is suggested that this happened later on in the Mk.IV's life, and the Chinese eyes have another source.
The explanation is that the eyes were painted on by members of the Chinese Labour Corps. These were Chinese men recruited to act as labourers behind the lines in France. This would free up British nationals to fight in the trenches. At the time this scheme was drawn up China was neutral.
Despite being behind the lines they were still within range of the Germans and often subjected to air raids and long-range artillery fire; some 2,000 CLC members were killed in France.
CLC members at work
There were other hostile feelings directed towards the men of the CLC. The British trade unions lobbied the Government and first prevented the CLC from being introduced to mainland UK, and then prevented those in France from taking up skilled trades. The Government bowed to this pressure, lest the trade unions call for strikes and generally disrupt the war effort, which they had the power to do at the time. This was something they would do in the opening years of the Second World War, when the unions tried to disrupt the war effort against Germany because Hitler was allied to Stalin, and Stalin was such a nice person who cared about the working man.
Luckily the Royal Tank Corps was much more progressive than the Trade Unions, and happily employed CLC members in skilled trades such as mechanics and riveters.
CLC members repairing a British tank.

So there you have it. Why British tanks are female, and why they can see you!