A 1942 military Jeep © Veronica Cowan
Amberley Working Museum hosted an impressive Military Vehicle Show on May 20, showcasing a range of vehicles from World War Two and peacetime. Veronica Cowan went down and met some of the enthusiasts there.
A good space is certainly important in order to exhibit vehicles, and there is plenty of that at Amberley, a 36-acre site on the South Downs in West Sussex. Hardly surprising, then, that there was room for a selection of military models too.
The Military Vehicle Show was well attended, with many exhibitors turning out in period costume. One of these dressed-up enthusiasts was Mark Randall from Guildford, who was in the Territorial Army for 25 years, sporting standard issue beige overalls. Wanting something to do at the weekend, he acquired a 1942 British Army motorcycle to restore.
World war two navy veteran Able Seaman Vivash. © Veronica Cowan
“It is largely war-time 'spec’,” he explained, adding that he has always had an interest in militaria. “My father was in the air force and I used to get all the Airfix models as a child. I suppose I never grew out of it really.”
A military ambulance from the first Gulf war – a Land Rover 101 – was Mike Clark’s choice of vehicle to rescue from a breakers’ yard, the latest in a long line of jeeps and other war-time vehicles he restores for a hobby.
“It was kitted out with special air equipment, so the back compartment is sealed, because they were worried about a gas attack in the Gulf war,” he said. “It is also anti-nuclear,” he added, and with an eye to economy as well as a lower carbon wheel-print he has converted the petrol engine to run on gas.
Many of these collectors seem to get just as much of a kick out of meeting up with like-minded individuals as restoring their engines.
Mark Randall proudly showing off his BSA motorbike. © Veronica Cowan
“I take the ambulance round to the shows, and my club, The Invicta Military Vehicle Preservation Society based in Kent, goes every year to France,” said Mike. “This year I am going down to Arnhem, to the bridge featured in the film A Bridge too Far.”
The club were invited to Bayeux, the first place to be liberated by the Allies, and he said the French, who are very hospitable, contribute towards their fare because they want them to visit a lot of the towns. They also attend the D-Day beach anniversaries every five years.
The navy was represented by Able Seaman Vivash, number V/JX215236, who joined up in 1939.
“I did six complete years and had one week home in six years,” he recalled, without a trace of self-pity.
Serving on Russian convoys in the Arctic, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, a lot of ships were sunk, he explained: “We were lucky we got bombed but not sunk. On the way out the dive bombers swooped down with their machine-guns. I was in the crow’s nest until we got back out to sea and when I came down and saw all the holes in the funnel I was glad I was up the top.”
1956 Gurkha Red Cross vehicle. © 24 Hour Museum/Veronica Cowan
Nick Johns also had a near brush with death, but of the non-military kind, having been told 15 years ago that he might only have a couple of years to live. Collecting and restoring military vehicles, which he has been doing for forty years, has become a lifeline for him.
“We go to all these shows and for me it is to keep myself going, and to stop getting depressed.”
He was brought up in Camberley where there was a big military influence because of the nearby Aldershot army base.
“I have always been interested in military vehicles, and have worked for lots of ex-military dealers. I have just rebuilt this jeep in nine months over the winter,” he said, pointing to a 1942 jeep belonging to a friend. He is looking ahead to the War and Peace show between July 18-22 at Beltring in Kent.
“It is the world’s largest gathering of military vehicles, and more turn up there than the British Army owns these days.”