Antiques Roadshow expert stunned by guests grandfathers grisly army tank mask

In a recent episode of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, host Fiona Bruce took viewers to Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland to look at the delights guests had brought to be valued and auctioned. During one encounter, master gunsmith and expert on firearms and ballistics Robert Tilney was particularly impressed with one of the guest’s army tank mask, which belonged to his grandfather.

Taking a look at the old and discoloured mask, Robert asked: “I am assuming you know what that grisly item is?”

“And I am presuming from that the chap in the photograph, he was your…”

The guest confirmed: “Yep, that is a tank mask, [and] my grandfather!”

Alongside the mask, the guest also brought a picture of his grandfather in his army uniform, which Robert picked up: “Have you ever noticed anything interesting about his cap badge?”

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Looking unsure, the guest replied: “It might be a different part of the regiment?”

Confirming his suspicions, Robert explained: “Yes, that is a machine gun badge, but the early tanks were assigned to the machine gun corps to keep them a secret from the enemy.

“They were known as land ships, and then they called them tanks because they look like a water tank, and it was to stop the Germans from guessing they had this new secret weapon.

“They were also absolutely horrible to be in; you had an eight-man crew for the mark one, the engine was inside the tank operating temperatures of about 130 Fahrenheit.

“You couldn’t kill a tank unless you hit it with direct artillery or mortar fire, so mostly you’re up against small arm.

“Now, if you hit armour plate with a small arm around, it won’t penetrate, but what it does, it will flake off little splinters.

“And you’ve got red hot splinters pinging around the tank, and that’s what’s meant to protect you, and I notice that’s got a hole in it…”

Knowing a small part of the story, the guest explained: “The story I was told when I was younger was that the bottom right was where a bit of shrapnel went through the mask and went through his bottom jaw, but I was only six.”

“Did you ever use it as a child?” Robert curiously asked, to which the guest replied: “I used to put it on, I mean, the strap used to go all the way around, and I used to run around with it.”

“Making tank noises presumably?” Robert joked.

Laughing at the comment, the guest said: “Yeah, and playing soldiers, but since then, it’s just been wrapped up in the top of the cupboard, really, and we just try and keep it safe.”

“Well, they’re very collectable,” Robert remarked as he began to evaluate the piece of history.

“It’s a fantastic relic of the first armoured fighting vehicles, something like that, at an auction, between £500 to £800.

“Your grandad was a very brave bloke to be in a tank because you just didn’t want to be in a tank full stop, I am very pleased you brought it in, very interesting.”

The guest was impressed with the history that came from his grandfather’s mask and thanked Robert for his expertise when evaluating it.

Antiques Roadshow is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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