Tank Banks | RBS Remembers

RBS remembers

Tank Banks

Julian the Tank Bank in Aberdeen, 1918 © The Tank Museum (image 7702-B4)


The government’s insatiable need for money led to increasingly elaborate campaigns to sell more war bonds and savings certificates. Among the most memorable were the Tank Banks.

Although tanks had made their debut on the Somme in 1916, it was their role at Cambrai in November 1917 that really brought them to the British public’s attention. Here at last was something that looked like it could break the war’s terrible stalemate. Capitalising on the excitement, half a dozen battle-scarred tanks were brought home to Britain, to be used in a national tour of fundraising events.


I must say it appears a somewhat barbarous way of collecting money, but after all it is justified by its success  

Alexander Kemp Wright, cashier of The Royal Bank of Scotland


A visit from a Tank Bank was a major event. For days beforehand, local newspapers were full of anticipation. The Tank – each one had a name, and near-celebrity status – arrived accompanied by soldiers. After a demonstration of its capabilities, breaking through barbed wire and clambering over specially-made soil mounds, the Tank Bank was officially opened.

The Tank Banks were staffed by clerks from the Bank of England, who sold war bonds, and the post office, who sold war savings certificates. Such was their popularity that there were often long queues, and clerks from local banks were sometimes called in to help.

Arrangements for the tour were made hastily, and the logistics were patchily communicated. When Scotland was expecting the arrival of Julian, for example, The Royal Bank of Scotland’s cashier knew that he was the most likely of the Scottish bankers to be asked to help, because the Royal Bank was the Bank of England’s representative in Scotland. Try as he might, however, he couldn’t get information from the organisers about what might be required. In the end, he wrote to banks in Cardiff and Sheffield, which had already been visited, to ask how it had worked there.

In the event, Royal Bank clerks were needed; in Edinburgh, as many as six at a time, loaned from branches around the city. In addition, Tank Bank officials used Royal Bank branch premises after hours to count the takings, arrange remittances to London and process paperwork.

As well as helping with the logistics, banks were expected to contribute financially. They were already heavily invested in war bonds and other government securities, and were not particularly inspired by novelty fundraising events. Nevertheless, an Edinburgh bank could not fail to contribute to Edinburgh’s Tank Week. The Royal Bank of Scotland bought £200,000 of bonds. The other Edinburgh banks invested similarly, and in all, Edinburgh Tank Week raised £4.8m, the third-largest total raised by any British city.

The following week, Julian moved to Glasgow. Naturally, Glasgow wanted to raise more than Edinburgh, and now The Royal Bank of Scotland had a problem. It, more than any other Edinburgh bank, enjoyed a strong bond with Glasgow and the west of Scotland. Seeing itself as part of Glasgow, it felt obliged to contribute to Glasgow’s effort. Although unenthusiastic about owning yet more war bonds, it bought another £100,000. Glasgow Tank Week raised a mammoth £14.5m, dwarfing not only Edinburgh’s total, but those of all other cities. 




Ellen Shockley May 21 2015 11:23PM

So interesting seeing as I just purchased (in a thrift store of course), a slightly scarred up like plaster of paris tank bank with a paper lable with parts of the history on the bottom of it. I wish I could find pictures of all the banks to know of which tank I have.


Ellen Shockley May 21 2015 11:25PM

The stoiry is wonderful, so well written.

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War savings certificates

Savings certificates were designed particularly for small savers.

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Taxation alone was not enough to match wartime expenditure.

National war bonds

War bonds allowed the government to borrow on a continuous basis.

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