PROVENANCE: ROBERT ANDREW MOORHEAD MM AND BY DESCENT
Medieval-style chain mask, was worn by the British tank drivers at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. These masks were designed to help protect the crewmember’s face from shrapnel when looking through the view ports. The eye covers were metal, the mask was leather and there was a chainmail skirt to cover the mouth and chin. Popular during WW1, however, very few survived, which makes it rare and very valuable. The mask below was sold in December 2016 at Ross’s for £750.
What’s unique about this model, is that we know who owned it. The mask belonged to Comber man Robert Andrew Moorhead, who received The Military Medal (or MM) which was a medal awarded for exceptional bravery. His record is available to view at The National Archives. The MM was established during the First World War by King George V on March 25th, 1916, a year and a half after Britain had declared war on Germany.
The first tanks were highly unreliable, with a number of mechanical problems. The drivers were often at risk of taking hot shards of metal in the face as enemy machine gun fire and shells smashed into the exterior. That issue was called spalling and it was the main reason this mask was introduced.
Spalling occurs because the energy from the impacting round is transferred to the armour plate; this sends a shockwave through the armour plate. Since the armour plate can’t transfer the energy to anything else, fragments are ripped loose from the inside of the armour plate, and are slung into the fighting compartment at very high velocity. The thicker the armour, the less likely it is for spalling to occur.
Battle of Cambrai in 1917
The Battle of Cambrai proved to be a significant event in the First World War. It was the first battle in which tanks were used en masse, with the British deploying a mixture of tanks, heavy artillery and air power. Some military strategists did not believe that tanks could be effective in battle.