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Why collect old Army tanks?
What's this website all about and why would anyone want to collect old army tanks?.
It's a question I have been asked more than once and really there is no simple reason.
It's a bit like why do people collect anything? What pleasure do people get from having a collection of coke cans? Or car hub caps, or any of the other endless possibilities out there?
You can't get in your coke can and take it for a drive on a sunday afternoon - you can a tank. You can't even drink the coke from your cans (if they are still full in the first place) as that would radically reduce their value, there are just not many possibilities for interaction - a tank you can get in and out and climb over it (if it is not mobile).
There is nothing to do to the coke can, anything you do to it will probably degrade its value/appeal - there is always work to be done on a tank.
So why not a vintage car? In my case; they just don't hold my interest, its as simple as that!
An AFV (Armoured Fighting Vehicle - but a tank to most people) is interesting because of its complexity, because it is uncommon. There is a wealth of history, both combat and mechanical to any of these vehicles; the large number of books published on this subject is an indicator of that interest. They are not most peoples idea of a hobby and the majority of us who collect them realise this; but go to a display where one is present amongst other vehicles, even if they are military vehicles and what draws everyones attention? The AFV!
They will always draw a war veteran or ex-serviceman out of a crowd, no matter whether they hated or enjoyed their time in the military, they almost invariably come up to you and have a conversation about their experiences.
How it started.
So just how did I get into this hobby? Well, you know those plastic model kits that most boys get given for birthday presents? That's where it all started: for me it was an initial interest in aeroplanes; what are most kits of? Military aeroplanes, not civilian ones; model kits of civilian aeroplanes just don't sell! It is the military markings, the paint schemes, the various designs and types, there history and the part they played in it, that is the attraction. They make plastic model kits of tanks, as well as planes, don't they? So I had an interest in things military.
The farce that was Cadets.
When I became old enough I joined the High School Army Cadet Corps and rapidly came to the conclusion that something was really bizarre. We got to do a lot of marching, then more marching, got stood around at attention in full uniform in the heat etc. One day we were standing there and the NCO was facing us when he yelled "catch him", since we were all standing at attention with our eyes focused on infinity and the NCO never raised a finger to point at who we were supposed to catch, no-one could react quick enough to identify and catch the lad who fainted - before he bit the dirt - scratch one cadet member.
We did have a teacher who had officer rank, but we called him "the invisible man", it was left to the Corporals to do all the work and training, the only problem being they didn't have a clue. Such things as map reading classes (which really interested me) turned out to be a farce.
Gaiters - the saga.
We were issued such ridiculous pieces of equipment as "Parade Gaiters" which spent most of their time trying to crawl up our legs, but the NCO's had Vietnam pattern "Jungle Gaiters" which were totally different and cheaply available in all the disposal stores (and in copious supply both in and outside of the Army as the regular army had swaped over to "full length boots" without gaiters), but we were forbidden to purchase them, thus we got yelled at for having socks showing because our parade gaiters were trying to become knee guards. Oh, if you noticed your gaiters crawling up and tried to put them back where they belonged - you guessed it - you got yelled at.
When one day I asked the Cadet Sergeant when we would be issued "Jungle Gaiters" he stood 3 inches from my face and screamed at me whilst also spitting in my face. I was too young to know that retaliation on my part would not have really brought down the full force of military justice on my head as we had been lead to believe. This individual later became an officer graduate of the Duntroon Military Academy - I wonder if he still conducts himself in that fashion?
In the pictures below you can compare the two types of gaiters. You will notice that the parade gaiters are really nothing more than a band of canvas that is strapped around the leg.
Download the big pics by clicking on the small pics...
Above - The infamous "Parade Gaiters".
The jungle gaiter on the other hand was well designed and thought out. There is a strap that goes under the middle of the foot just in front of the heel. This stap is very prone to wear on rocky ground, but along with the necked in portion of the gaiter serves to stop the gaiter from riding up. The gaiter is long enough that the top is level with the mid point of the lower leg. There is a length of steel sewn into the gaiter which provides ankle and lower leg support (sounds bad, but actually is very effective and not at all uncomfortable). The photo below shows the gaiters from the inner side that normally faces the other foot. The outer side view not shown here would be just the overlap and a single strap at the top. The bottom of the gaiter has a hook and eye like device to locate it.
Download the big pics by clicking on the small pics...
The practical, sensible "Jungle Gaiters".
We had been issued blacked military web belts, the sort with big brass buckles and hangers on the back to attach webbing to: although we were never told, I now know these to be British "Pattern 37 Belts" (as in 1937), so in 1974, the Australian Army Cadets were only 37 years out of date...... (However, when you think about it, what better way to use up old stock?)
We were not allowed to wear these under the belt loops of our trousers (to try and stop the things from falling down) nor were we allowed to have a belt under the military one - rather hard to march when your trousers are in constant danger of descending to your ankles. Of course, the NCOs had been issued something different, a belt known as a "Pistol Belt", which looked similar to a pattern 37, but did not have the rear brass hangers. It had a large number of holes in it which were reinforced by hollow rivets, I believe these belts were of US origin.
Download the big pics by clicking on the small pics...
The "Pattern 37" web belt - this one is regular, not cadet issue and has thus not been blacked.
Boots and guns.
We were finally issued our boots which turned out to be smooth soled leather of the type that so inhibited WW2 English troops. They were as stiff as boards and so difficult to walk in on the paved areas of the school that one bit of water or moisture meant the wearer ending up flat on his back, which happened to me too, and I was far from impressed at smacking my head into the concrete. My friends said I looked ridiculous trying to walk in them.
As far as I was concerned, the whole cadet thing was still in the WW1 "Cannon Fodder" mentality and if this was the way the army treated those it was trying to recruit, well, how much worse was it when someone was foolish enough to sign up for the real thing?
At this point I had had enough of being made to look like and act like a puppet on a string and decided to pull out. It was then that they tried to intimidate me into staying, I was told that to do so would mean that my name would be sent to the Royal Australian Army and that should I apply to join the Army after leaving school I would not be accepted.
Oh, by the way, I did actually get to fire a gun whilst in the cadets - once - on a "range day", it was a WW2 .303 Lee Enfield re-barreled to .22!
Which didn't impress any of us one little bit.
The recoil of a genuine .303 Lee Enfield had been demonstrated to us earlier by (guess who?) the Cadet Sergeant! He made us all lie on the ground holding the .22 Lee Enfields in the firing position whilst he proceeded to walk along and kick the end of the barrels with the heel of his boot and inform us that this was equivalent to 1/2 the actual recoil of a .303. Having subsequently fired the real thing I can assure the reader this is not the case and I prefer to fire a gun any day to having it kicked into my collar bone. More bastardisation.............
I really do wonder how those who were/are unfortunate enough to serve under him have faired?
About 2 months later the School Cadet system collapsed, nothing to do with me, but a lot to do with how it was run. It would be another 2 years before it was resurrected, many of the original members who were still at school rejoined. By then I was doing my Higher School Certificate, a 2 year Welding Course and restoring a WW2 jeep and too busy to worry about them and had no interest in repeating the experience.
Back to the subject of marching. The more I have thought about the military's insatiable desire to march people around for no apparant purpose than to waste time and to be annoying, the more I have come to the conculusion that it is purely a case of institutionalised tradition that serves no useful purpose. Ask someone in the military and they will tell you it builds character, fosters a team spirit, instills discipline etc. How walking in step for hours being yelled at, not being allowed to interact with your fellows and not learning anything relevant to survival in battle baffles me. However, if you analyse the origins of marching, all becomes clear. Back in the days of the Roman Empire and even as late as perhaps the Boer War (late 19th Century), marching served a purpose. That purpose was that battles took place on open ground with troops formed into ranks and were very set piece (ie, like a chess set). Safety and victory were dependant on troops maintaining their position, both statically and dynamically. World War 1 having both sides using firearms (as opposed to say Zulu War where one side was using spears etc) ended that concept forever. For thousands of years war had been fought on the principle of "don't break the line", the fact that the firearm has rendered that concept obsolete appears not to be a valid reason for the military to move with the times.
Granted, there is a need in "fire and movement" tactics for discipline and order, but that isn't a valid reason to march. Isn't it better to learn "fire, movement and concealment" itself?
Back to the story:
My father had commenced learning to fly with the Royal New Zealand Air Force Air Training Corp towards the end of WW2. The remainder of his flying training had taken place after the cessation of hostilities when the RNZAF had honoured the expectations of those who had joined and taken them through to qualification even though the war had ended and it was awash with qualified pilots. Very honourable of the RNZAF and not what everyone had expected them to do.
In the late 1970's he purchased a surplus RNZAF WW2 Harvard radial engined trainer and I left school and became a tradesman.
Then, when I found myself in the workforce and the reality of the actual cost of aviation, let alone, ex-military aviation set in, I came to the realisation that I could never afford aeroplanes and a comfortable lifestyle; it had to be one or the other. By this time I knew plenty of people in light aviation and the majority of them weren't very well off and the cost of aviation was the reason.
It all grew from there and I still had those tank models. I wasn't about to join anything after my cadet experiences so I decided if I wanted to be involved with tanks I would have to do it myself. Regardless, according to the Cadet Corps, I was barred for life anyway from joining the Army - which in hindsight was probably not such a bad thing after all............ ;-)
How expensive could an old rusty tank be anyway?
Reality has had its way of finding fault with my logic. AFV's, but especially tanks, have proven themselves to be more expensive than I at first imagined. Then there is the reality of twice waking up after mis-adventures with recalcitrant tank parts and my body. (I fainted on both occasions) I have managed to put my finger between a large hammer and a track pin: and also get a finger crushed in a hatch, (that one got the doctor's attention when he studied the X-Ray!) which left several of my friends with the problem of rescuing me from inside the vehicle (they woke me up by shaking me - a definite no-no, according to another friend who is trained in first aid - whilst one of them held me upright by the collar), but I came to and after a while was able to climb out, much to their relief! AFVs are a piece of equipment and you run the same risks of getting hurt just as with any other piece of machinery. Most people in mechanical hobbies tell similar stories of learning things the painful way.
No live weapons.
Another question (usually the first one) is whether the gun/cannon is live; well, for the umpteenth time NO IT IS NOT! No, I do not shoot it and no, I have no intention of doing so. There are some very specific and draconian laws on this subject and it basically boils down to the fact that you have to prove to the N.S.W. Police that the gun is permanently "rendered innocuous" (damaged such that it cannot be re-activated = never fired ever again). Live weapons are just not worth the hassle, the security problems and cost of compliance. If you want to shoot them then you had better join the Army.
What it is.
What the collecting of tanks is really about is the preserving and enjoyment of a piece of history that would otherwise probably be sitting in the corner of a farmers field rusting away. As a generalisation, the vehicles in private hands are in much better condition, more complete and better able to be experienced up close by the general public than those behind a rope in some museum. More so, with the current museum trend of "preserve as is" - no matter how derelict - rather than restore. If the car world subscribed to this idea there would be one heck of a lot of rusty and rotten T-Fords and Chevs on display. To me a significant part of this hobby is the locating of the parts needed to return the vehicle to the condition in which it was originally designed/manufactured/operated. If you are fortunate enough to be able to have a vehicle of your own then all the better. You also get to meet a lot of interesting and friendly people in this hobby - have a read of my Normandy and Beltring articles to see what I mean.
In some of my articles you will see I emphasise safety and responsible operation of mobile vehicles. This hobby does not need what we call in Australia "Yahoos"; who through their stupid and/or thoughtless actions cause a tightening of laws and rules that just make it all the harder for the rest of us. These vehicles draw attention by their very nature, irresponsible operation will draw criticism, complaints and worst of all, the negative attention of the authorities not only to the individual concerned but to the hobby as a whole.
In summary it quite probably all comes back to the old saying "Men are just little boys with bigger and more expensive toys".
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