“Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler?”
David Morse, UK Sales Manager of local firm Helipebs Controls, has used his long experience of engineering and hydraulics to good use in following his interest of World War II military vehicles and re-enacting. David can be found most weekends during the summer months either at military or motorcycle shows being the proud owner of both a 1939 Austin 8 saloon and a 1942 Royal Enfield WD/CO/B military despatch rider’s bike.Churchill Mk VII Crocodile T252204 in early 1980's
David’s interest in military vehicles started around 1989 when he contacted the local owner of a 1944 Churchill MkVII Crocodile tank that was being restored, offering his services which were gladly taken up!
“The years went by with both the vehicle and parts being stripped down to bare metal before being replaced or repaired.
The engine that was in the tank was a complete wreck and was replaced by a refurbished “new” one. The gear box was in such poor condition that it was replaced by a brand new one. When you got tired of paint stripping or just painting you gave up for a few weeks to gather your thoughts, hence it took about 14 years to get the tank to its first show.”
The tank was a Crocodile, a flame thrower version of the Mark VII Churchill. The flamethrower was mounted at the front of the hull, fed by a pipe that ran under the tank from a trailer towed at the rear. These were hideous weapons used for encouraging and forcing stubborn defenders out of pill boxes and defences but were small in numbers on D-Day. They came into their own when it came to attacking the defended places like LeHavre later on in the war.
In 2004, the culmination of all those hours that the owner and David toiled came to a climax with the tank and the two of them being transported across the channel by British Army landing craft and being deposited on Arramanche beach for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Arromanches Beach 2004
Dave says “It was fantastic driving the tank onto that beach where so much equipment and men had landed during those momentous days. I also was lucky enough to drive a Sherman along the beach for a mile or so.
We met many people those few days both young and old but one memorable gentleman came down to the beach to thank us! Thank us? But what he said made all those hours of work worth it because he thanked us for keeping history alive for all these youngsters!”
Could that event be beaten? Well almost, that same year they were asked to take the tank over to France for the 60Th anniversary of the relief of LeHavre. And so found themselves leading a convey of 60 vehicles and many “British” infantry soldiers, down from the village of Fontaine-la-Mallet where the battle for LeHavre had started with the attack of flame throwers on a fortified farmhouse, which is still there.
“It was both loud and exhilarating” Since those heady days the tank has sadly been sold, the owner fulfilling all his dreams and allowing David to live his dreams without the costs.
However it has not stopped there for David as he has now started a “collection” of his own with a 1939 Austin 8 painted as a seconded junior staff car and a Royal Enfield 350 WD/CO/B despatch riders bike which he takes to shows around the country.
"These I can both manage and afford and with their rarity value get to talk to lots of people who love to tell me tales of “when I was young and in the army I used to ride one of those”.
Also with attending some of the biggest re-enacting shows David still helps crew some of the most interesting and formidable historical tanks, as the pictures below show.