Major who saved the VW Beetle factory honoured with display at REME Museum of Technology

By Richard Moss | 13 October 2010 | Updated: 13 October 2100
a photo of two soldiers sat in half of a Volkswagen Beetle watching a video presentation
© REME Museum of Technology
New display: The Beetle and Major, REME Museum of Technology , Arborfield

Beetle, Golf or Combi enthusiasts may not know it, but the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and car giant Volkswagen have a long and intertwined history.

In August 1945, with Germany in ruins, a young British Army Officer was sent by the Control Commission of the Military Government to "sit on" the bombed remains of the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg.

The man in question, Major Ivan Hirst REME, didn't fancy the idea of sitting on a bombed out factory and decided instead get his team to undertake the seemingly impossible task of restarting production. 

Having secured an order for 20,000 Beetles from the Military Government, he set about utilising his considerable engineering and management skills - together with his people skills - to cultivate an open door policy that soon turned the shattered Volkswagen Factory around and ensured its survival.

This remarkable feat of engineering and organisation is highlighted in a new exhibit at the REME Museum. The Major and the Beetle is dedicated to memory of the remarkable officer, without whom there may have been no Volkswagen as we know it today.

Part of the exhibition is a video display and a unique "Beetle sofa". Created from half a Beetle, it incorporates a seat and built-in audio facility so visitors can sit in a piece of history and learn about its roots.  

Visitors can also see a perfectly detailed scale model of a 1949 Volkswagen Beetle given to Major Hirst in 1949 in recognition of his work.

"Ivan Hirst was a hero in his own quiet unassuming way; a man who not only saved a fledgling car company but a man whose humanity found a path through the problems left behind by the war," says Judy Booth, Senior Curator at the museum. "This exhibition recognises him and his work."
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