Members of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment (2 RTR) have taken a short break from operations in Afghanistan to celebrate their main battle honour - Cambrai, and the first use of tanks en masse.
The Battle of Cambrai, which took place from 20 November to 7 December 1917 in northern France during the First World War, was a milestone in British history with massed tanks breaking through the stalemate of trench warfare.
More than nine decades later, modern ‘Tankies’, as the soldiers of 2 RTR are known, are still at the forefront of armoured warfare using the latest vehicles in service with the British Army, including the mighty Mastiff and the Wolfhound, Ridgback, Warthog, Jackal and Viking 2.
Cambrai Day, celebrated on 20 November each year, is an important event for the soldiers of 2 RTR as Corporal Max Belton, who has served in the regiment for 11 years and is presently commanding a Mastiff armoured fighting vehicle, explains:
Cambrai is our biggest battle honour and we celebrate it every year. We mark it to remember what tankmen did in the battle and to keep our traditions going. It means we don’t forget what they gave.
Back in the UK the regiment will always come together for a day of celebration and remembrance. Cpl Belton explained:
At six in the morning the soldiers all get woken up by the officers and sergeants bringing us ‘Gunfire’ - a mixture of coffee and whisky.
We get up and hold a regimental parade before marching to the football pitch to watch the final of the regimental football tournament. After that the lads have lunch served to us by the officers and seniors. The day ends with an all-ranks party.
In Afghanistan things have to be a little different but the Tankies still mark the day. Amidst the long hours and arduous duties of an operational tour, the soldiers find time to reflect on what the Tankies of previous eras have achieved. The chance to carry on a few regimental traditions is also a very welcome break for the soldiers.
For new soldier Trooper Omar Williams this was his first Cambrai. He explained:
The day started with an early awakening by the Squadron Leader who, because we’re in Afghanistan, woke us all up with a non-alcoholic beer instead of the ‘Gunfire’.
We didn’t have the space for a decent game of football so we held a volleyball tournament before ending the day with a barbecue. It was a good celebration of the courage of the regiment and what our motto ‘Fear Naught’ means.
To me it’s the one time of the year that the regiment can really come together and celebrate, with a few beers, what the regiment has achieved.
But it’s more than just a reflection on the past, it’s also an opportunity for the officers and seniors to thank the boys for their hard work throughout the year by serving our food and celebrating a day that’s primarily for the soldiers.
2 RTR is a close-knit unit which values the bond between its soldiers, officers and their families. Lieutenant Daniel Keating said:
The regiment is a family, and Cambrai is a bit like the regiment’s Christmas Day. It’s a time for everyone to be together and celebrate what it is to be in the regiment.
Lance Corporal Arnoux Horne added:
When we celebrate together it does make you feel part of something special.