DAY OUT: Bovington, Dorset

Heidi and tank lr

By Tim Saunders

The tank was not invented until 1916. That’s the first fact that hits us during our visit to The Tank Museum at Bovington, Dorset. Before then horses and other forms of artillery were relied upon. I can’t believe that one million horses served in the First World War and just 60,000 returned, the rest being killed or sold locally. Displays show us that there have been wars in many decades of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. War is absolutely gruesome and sadly, we don’t seem to learn. Ukrainian soldiers have been trained at Bovington.

I visited The Tank Museum when I was growing up and living in Dorset but today’s museum has changed beyond measure. It is considerably larger and by all accounts it is an extremely popular attraction, not just with Brits but holidaymakers from abroad including France, Germany and Japan during our visit.

It’s quite mind blowing for a little seven year old boy, so Henry is all over the place. But I soon realise that he is hunting out what interests him, which is fair enough. He’s not bothered about all the tanks on display, they don’t mean anything to him. But he is interested in actually climbing inside a couple and pretending to drive a play one. He tries the computer games but isn’t overly bothered with them. What does grab his attention is a Warhammer type game involving army figurines which enthrals him for quite some time. He also enjoys the Lego-type army building blocks. Meanwhile, I enjoy reading about the tanks. One used the engine from an E-type Jaguar while another had one from a Rolls Royce. The Daimler armoured car was held in high regard, apparently because it drove so well and had superb suspension. It was praised for not being built on a car chassis like so many but built from scratch. Apparently the car manufacturers built tanks. There’s the last one that rolled off the line at Vauxhall in 1945 – much sturdier than any Vauxhall I have driven!

Tanks, by all accounts have inspired a great many things from books to arcade and computer games and there are displays celebrating all of these. It’s interesting to note how model making has evolved alongside the museum, with it working in collaboration with the likes of Tamiya whose model kits can be found in the well stocked shop. In fact the boss of Tamiya contributed to an extension of the museum in the 1990s.

We really appreciate the First World War displays, the excellent replica trench and the very life-like wounded soldiers, which certainly help you to have a little understanding of the suffering that that generation endured. One soldier had to have a special glass eye, which was painted to match his other. He received a special solution by post.

Despite my grandfather being a Lt Cmdr in WW2 as a civilian family we have no real idea of the challenges faced by a military one. I glean little snippets of information, for instance Germany is great for tank training and when soldiers are stationed there their spouses only see them for 25 per cent of the year. These soldiers are then destined to war zones like Afghanistan.

Various activities are not included in the tickets and require extra payment such as gel gun target practice and riding in an all terrain tracked vehicle. We experience both and they really do enhance the visit. Those tracks really do allow a vehicle to tackle the most challenging of terrains at speed. Great fun.

We sit on a bench to have our picnic and I look at who it is in memory of and am saddened to read that it is Dr James Flint (36). He served with The Rifles, as part of 3 Commando Brigade on Operation Herrick 9, and was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015. Life is very unfair. While we have our picnic Henry enjoys playing on the life-size wooden tanks in the play area, climbing up them, jumping off and going inside. There are swings, too. He can now swing himself.

“It could really do with an audio guide for visitors like the National Trust and English Heritage do,” says Harriett (12). “I also think that it would be really great if there was a real tank that children could clamber into and pretend to drive.”

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