A new exhibition on the Second World War is entering its final design stage.
The 3400 sq. foot gallery will tell the story of the men of the Royal Armoured Corps through a series of campaigns and battles, beginning with the British counter-attack at Arras in 1940 and finishing with the fall of Germany in 1945. The project will be delivered in two phases over 2020 and 2021. First-hand testimony from tank crewmen will be at the centre of the displays. Their written and spoken words will feature across graphic panels, films, showcases and set-piece recreations. There will also be numerous showcase displays linked to individual soldiers containing a variety of artefacts from paintings, to medals, textiles, weaponry and personal mementos.
Recent research on individual soldiers has led to some important donations to the Museum’s collection. These include the medals, original diaries and bed plate of Sergeant Jake Wardrop of the 5th Royal Tank Regiment. Wardrop served throughout most of the war – in France, North Africa, Italy and Germany. He was killed in April
1945, just a few weeks before peace was declared.
“He was better than any man alive and I was pleased to call him pal. He has been taken from us but we will meet again.” Sergeant A.E Hall in a letter to Wardrop’s mother, May 1945.
Another more unusual artefact is a china doll known as ‘Audrey, Abbess of Chantry.’ Audrey was the tank mascot of Captain Bill Bellamy of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars and was attached to the tank’s
searchlight throughout the campaign in North-West Europe.
“During one of the battles my tank crashed through a thick hedge and unseen by me, Audrey was knocked off her perch by a branch. I was immediately notified of her loss by Bill Pritchard who was following me.
As I was about to give the signal to move, I saw Sgt Pritchard leap out of his tank, he rushed back to the hedgerow, picked up Audrey, clambered onto the back of my tank, handed her to me and shouted. ‘I’m not
going without her!’ I knew she had become a very much loved mascot.”
Phase one of the exhibition will finish with a diorama of a German encampment set in the Normandy landscape. The Humber Scout car will be seen entering the camp as shown in the visual at the very top of this page. This scene is based on fact when this actual vehicle mistakenly drove up to a German camp believing it to be British. Once recognising where it was, it beat a swift exit.
The Normandy section will also feature a large audio visual screen where a number of veteran accounts will be shown. The Museum has interviewed over 30 Second World War tank crewmen in the last few years and many of them saw action during the Normandy campaign. One such man was Corporal Ken Tout of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry.
Ken has written extensively of his wartime experience in a series of published books, including some poetry. On 8th August 1944, he was involved in the action at St Aignan which 50 years later inspired these words:
St Aignan, August 8th 1944 and
August 8th 1994.
No cabbages will grow where 2 Troop
burned and died;
No fertile row thrives where 2 defied
And their olden cremation marks still
barren each tank’s station.
So my inmost soul has burned out
places, the sterile toll of war, fear,
Each a St Aignan tank location
impotent of golden elation.
Construction work on the exhibition will begin in January 2020, with phase one due to open in the spring, resulting in disruptions to the WW2 Hall.
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