Words by Gary Beach photographs by Maureen Thomas, Howard Burton and Gary Beach
WHO WE ARE?
The Military Vehicle wing is a semi autonomous group within DAS having its own constitution and annually electing its own committee. All members of the Military Vehicle Wing are also members of the Duxford Aviation Society. Based in the workshop area of the Land Warfare Hall with its associated running area the group has an expanding mix of members of both sexes and all ages from teenagers to those in their seventies. Our members also come to us with varied skills and abilities but all have a plentiful supply of enthusiasm which is put to good use.
The aims of the Wing as enshrined in our constitution is to support, through its volunteer workforce, the aims of the Imperial War Museum and of the Duxford Aviation Society both on site and at other locations. To ensure a duty of care to our members and by training and encouragement advance their skills and aspirations; to offer all present and future members fair and equal opportunities.
In a nutshell the group aims to allow, with training, all members to take an active part in the activities of the wing. This includes the use of workshop machinery and (providing the member holds a full current UK driving licence) eventually the driving of the vehicles owned or managed by the wing including, if suitable, tracked vehicles. A high number of current members have passed their H license which allows for the driving of tracked vehicles on a public road. Only H licensed drivers are allowed to drive when members of the public are in the vehicles.
The group has its own bi monthly newsletter, ‘The Mucky Overall’ which aims to keep members informed and amused
Health and Safety is paramount and rules are strictly enforced. As well as a committee member responsible for training we also have a Health and Safety advisor who works closely with their DAS and museum counterparts. Two days each spring are set aside for site license training which all members must undergo in order to renew or earn a site license. The training is a mix of classroom and practical work and includes ground handling (the external control of a moving vehicle), site driving and interfacing with the public. The site license issued has a validity of one year and will, where appropriate specify the class of vehicle the holder can drive. Training is also given on the various workshop machines throughout the year. We also have welding kit and two fork lift trucks and these require externally recognised qualifications which members must hold before they can use the equipment. The Duxford Fire Service provide fire prevention and fire fighting training courses which are always well attended and they also give basic First Aid courses.
WHAT WE DO
Our primary role is the restoration and maintenance of vehicles owned both by DAS and by the IWM. Many of the vehicles in the Land Warfare Hall and the gate guards have been restored by us. Major projects such as the current restoration of the Centurion Mark III (as featured in a 2008 Tank Overhaul series on TV) can take years and thousands of man-hours. Other projects such as a repaint can be shorter in duration but the same level of care is taken. Then there is the day to day maintenance that all running vehicles require; not as easy as it seems when spare parts are all but non-existent and Manuals few and far between or in many cases would be in Russian even if we had them! Most volunteers work on Sundays but for some this isn’t possible and we also have a team that work on Tuesdays.
Several times a year, in the warmer months we have run days where we display wheeled and tracked vehicles in the running area with an accompanying commentary by one of our members. At these events and on other occasions we give tank rides to the public in our fleet of 432 Armoured Personnel Carriers. As well as being very popular with the public it collects much needed funds for DAS coffers as does the Tanks and Tigers days run in conjunction with Classic Wings plus other corporate events. We also provide tank rides for serving members, veterans and their families during the Royal Anglian Regiment’s annual event at Duxford.
Vehicles are often taken off site to represent IWM Duxford and DAS at local (and not so local) events such as the Essex Show, War and Peace etc. We man vehicles during the “Friends of Duxford” Open Turret evenings and during the annual schools event run by the IWM. Given the nature of the vehicles and facilities we have we are able to provide assistance to other DAS groups and to the museum in areas such as heavy lifting using the AEC Militant, as trucks and vehicles for recruiting events and for moving museum exhibits as and when required. On the more glamorous(?) side our vehicles, members and running area have been used in television programs such as Tank Overhaul and James May’s series on iconic machines of the 20th century as well as various commercials.
The size of the fleet of vehicles we work with varies year on year but normally sits in the 35 – 50 vehicles range and these fall into four Main categories in terms of ownership :-
- 1. Those owned by the IWM
- 2. Those owned by outside organisations or individuals (and this can be anything from the Ministry of Defence to private collectors) but on loan to the IWM.
- 3. Those owned by the members of the Military Vehicle Wing
- 4. Those owned by the Military Vehicle Wing itself.
The fleet is a mix of tracked and wheeled vehicles and covers the period from the 1950’s to the late 1990’s (though some vehicles can still be seen in service around the world) and are, in the main British army and Warsaw Pact equipment. A not inconsiderable number of the later came to the site from the Iraqi army courtesy of British Forces after the Iraq War. Vehicles that fall outside this classification are a French Army Simca light truck, a Brazilian made Astros missile launcher and a WWII GMC truck of the type used by the US Air Force at Duxford during their occupation of the base.
One of the most remarkable looking vehicles owned by the wing is the Marksman an experimental vehicle that is the marriage of a radar controlled anti aircraft gun system with a Chieftain base.
The work horses of the group on the tracked vehicle side are the fleet of 432 armoured personnel Carriers (two of which can be seen above) which are used to provide tank rides to the public, for driver training, as a mobile starter and for moving other vehicles of a similar or lighter weight.
On the wheeled side the work horses are the AEC Militant, used as a towing and lifting vehicle both for the wing and the wider airfield community and the Bedford MJ a truck used to fetch and carry around the airfield and on a Sunday as the all important lunch wagon taking our volunteers down to the canteen!