More great stuff on the saga of tank testing in Shire Oak Quarry. Hot on the heels of contributor David Oakley, Steve Hickman has obtained another great account from Ron Harris, a member of his family. A big thank you to Steve, whose contributions are always wonderful and informative.
This still leaves me with lots of questions – not least who was testing the vehicles and why at Shire Oak Quarry, but it just goes to show that there’s a lot of fascinating recollections out there, and I’m thankful to all for the excellent information supplied.
Steve had this to say:
I spoke to a family member, Ron Harris, recently and asked him what he knew about tanks being tested in the sand pits off the Chester Road. Ron lived with his parent at Prospect House at the bottom of Castle Hill. In 1940 he would have been twelve and together with his cousin Ray Platt who was ten at the time spent all their free time playing in and around Castle Hill and the land behind. Having seen David Evans information this is what he had to say.
‘The area behind prospect house was split it a small sand pit immediately at the end of the garden. It was quite small and only two or three men worked there. A lorry collected the sand once or twice a day. I think it was going for sand bags. beyond the sand pit was a rough ground and some gravel quarries. About 200 yrds up the Chester Road from the bottom of Castle Hill was a small house occupied by a family called Yates, a 100yrds further on was a track that led off the main road onto the land. One day Ray and me watched a small convoy of three or Bren carriers come up the Chester Road from the Birmingham direction and turn up the little track. We rushed up the road to see what they were doing. This became quite regular, several time a week. Ray and me would wave to drivers as they turned up the track. One day one stopped and let us climb in. We only went about a 100yrds then he told us to jump out and make ourselves scarce. We managed to get one other ride on another day. In addition to the Brens there were Crusader tanks. Again they arrived in small convoys of three always from the Birmingham direction. They came under their own power not on transporters. I can only ever remember seeing ‘normal’ tanks none ever had any attachments, cranes, flails ,that sort of thing. After a day driving round ground they would be in a real muddy state and were hosed down before they set off back down the Chester Road. I always assumed they had come from somewhere like Witton.’
There is a postscript that Ron made having seen the photograph of the Rushton Bucyrus Crane.
‘When I left school I served an apprenticeship with Charles Jones who had their business up Birch Lane. I worked for them for some years. I did a lot of work on those cranes. The one in the picture descibed as a Dragline excavator is a model 22RB with pendent suspension, a type that replaced earlier models. There used to be a model 10RB that operated in the gravel pits on the Chester Road we were talking about. One day the wall of the gravel pit collapsed and crushed the cab killing the driver. It was a chap called Jimmy Horten (my spelling) he was a mate and had the same birthday as me. The crane was taken to Charley Jones yard for repair and I had the job of putting it straight’
I hope Ron’s vivid memories help with the mystery of the tanks. Ron went on to run his own garage business and in another odd connection Ray became Garnet Burtons farm manager.
The Photo is of Ron, Beryl (my Mom) her sister Magaret, yongest brother Bill and Jock the dog. Taken in 1950 in the garden of Prosect House. In the background you can just see the bottom of the Castles and Wordsley House.
many thanks to Ron, via Steve, please.
I have sent Bob a copy of Bovington Tank Museum’s kind e-mail which I have just received. Very interesting ! I hope that it can be put on to this page for all to read.