Friday, 28 December 2018

Shetland and the Wheatcroft Collection



Preserving the past & protecting the future

You may have seen this article that I wrote on Kevin Wheatcroft (Wheatcroft Collection) and his connection to Shetland in the Shetland Times published today
One error in the Shetland Times, Kevin never stayed at Park Hall

Over this past year I have been in contact with Kevin Wheatcroft helping him to find information on his early Shetland visits and in return has provided me with lots of new unpublished information.
Steyr 1500A Kommandeurwagen

Kevin Wheatcroft, the world’s largest private collector of WW2 military vehicles and artefacts started his collection with a vehicle bought in Shetland. Kevin first visited Shetland in 1971 as one of his eldest sisters had recently married Henry Anderton and had moved up from their Leicestershire home when he inherited Vaila Hall in 1969. 

Photo: Barry Broadbent

Kevin fell in love with the islands and came up several times in the school holidays, until the late 1980’s, helping to run the hall and estate. His last trip to Shetland was in fact his first long distance drive after passing his driving test. When he wasn’t helping out working on the estate he researched local stories of military interest.

Photo: Barry Broadbent

One such story led him to meet the team that were diving and lifting items from the wreckage of RMS Oceanic, which ran aground and broke up off the Isle of Foula. He purchased many items such as portholes, propeller nuts etc, which he still owns to this day.

Kevin developed an interest in WW2 items through his father, Tom Wheatcroft who had been a tank driver, experiencing many theatres of war including Madagascar, Middle East and India and was part of the Italian invasion force and also through his mother who was German and married Tom shortly after the end of the war. He gained a good understand of the War from listening to both side

Collecting started when his father bought him a stormtroopers helmet at the age of 5, an unusual request from someone that young, since then he has been collecting all assorts of WW2 memorabilia. He was often asked by his parents what he wanted for Christmas and the answer was always more items from WW2. During the 1960‘s and 1970’s he watched every WW2 that came out.

He was on holiday at Vaila when he was 14 years old, his sister, who was married to Henry Anderton, told him that a WW2 Willy’s jeep was for sale close by. Having received £100 for his birthday, his father took him to have a look, making the short journey over to Walls and then down to Park Hall at Bixter.

Park Hall, just outside Bixter- This is the location where Kevin bought his first military vehicle, a jeep and has since grown his collection to include many other vehicles and tanks

Hugh Bowie, who was the owner of the hall sold the WW2 Willy’s jeep to Kevin for £50 (YHP 434 which was registered in Birmingham, England) and was so impressed with his knowledge and enthusiasm for World War 2 that he also gave him lots of other jeep parts enough to rebuild another two jeeps, he couldn’t believe that he had been dealing with a 14-year-old boy.  Sadly, Kevin had to sell the original jeep in the early 1990’s to raise money to buy his first house, he has since tried buying back the jeep several times but as yet has not been successful.
The Famo, is an 18-ton SS vehicle, found in Southampton. It was used to pull broken down tanks, this one was captured just after D-day and brought back to England for evaluation. It was later sold to a scrap man but he didn’t use. It was in a shocking state when the collection acquired it and it was so rusty you could put your fingers through main frame

He restored another jeep, which was displayed at the Wheatcroft Collection at Donington Park, using the instrument panel, gear box, distributor and radiator, parts bought from Park Hall. The other remaining parts were sold off but then was able to raise sufficient funds to buy his second military vehicle at the age of 15 years old, this put him on the road to amassing what would become the world’s largest private military vehicle collection.

On the 8 January 1982 he made an offer on another operational Willy’s Jeep owned by Jim Abernethy who owned a croft at Bayview Tresta. Jim had already turned down a couple of offers on the jeep but accepted Kevin’s, the money allowed Jim to buy a tractor which is still running today.

Jim had seen the jeep in a field down at Reawick which seemed abandoned, but he tracked down the owner, Mr Priest, then restored the Jeep to running condition. YRW 143 was then painted blue and gold, he even added a hard top which was supplied by Willie Peterson of Vidlin and he used the jeep for about 13 years bring back peats from the hill. Every year he undersealed and serviced the vehicle

I am sure that if Kevin had known about another two Jeeps at Sandsound around this time he would have also made offers

At the same time as buying this jeep Kevin discovered that Leslie Jamieson at the Station Garage in Lerwick was selling many old jeep parts and these were purchased and used to restore other jeeps that came into the collection.


The 1942 Ford GP Jeep built with many Shetland parts

Rather than buy jeeps from down in England, he preferred to deal with Shetland folk because he loved Shetland and the people and said `I have always been deliberately different ‘

Even though around 640,000 Willy’s jeeps were produced in WW2 you would have to pay between £14,000- £23,000 today for one in good condition, recently a rare model went for nearly £33,000 in Yorkshire

His first tank arrived in 1985, a Canadian `Grizzly’ Sherman and this was the turning point in the collection which now houses over 100 tanks of WW2 vintage ((this is more than the current Belgium and Danish armies combined)''.

Churchill Crocodile was a British flame- throwing tank. It was introduced as one of the specialised armoured vehicles developed under Major- General Percy Hobart (known as a `Hobart’s Funnies’ ) and was produced from 1943 in time for D-day


The last tank to come into the collection is a very rare German King Tiger 2 which was found in central Germany, this is the second one in the collection. He also owns 4 German Panther and two Tiger 1 tanks which will be restore with as many genuine parts as possible and then aims sell one Tiger 1 & King Tiger 2.

Kevin’s knowledge of collecting and restoring Military vehicles is all self-taught which makes him and the other two in the team as rare as the machines they work on. The aim of any restoration is to include as many genuine parts as possible using original drawings so Kevin works with a number of people who search the world to help him find vehicles and parts.

Last month Kevin and his team travelled over 6,000 miles visiting 6 countries buying, arranging and collecting numerous rare WW2 items which had been identified by his team. His own team of restorers are supplemented with chosen restorers in a number of other countries who specialise in certain vehicles. It’s incredible that items can still be found 70 years after the end of World War 2, on his last trip 8 Sherman tank radial engines were found in an old barn In France. After completing the purchase, the engines were transported to the collection’s restoration partner Military Classic Vehicles, where on closer inspection they were found to be early C2 radials.

There is now a restoration programme in place for all 8 engines plus a number of other engines in stock. The restoration team, MCV will then embark on restoring 10 Sherman tanks utilising the correct engines for each machine. Once complete they will form part of a 15 strong Sherman collection with an example of all the major variants. If you want to but a Sherman tank then expect to spend at least £350,000

From 2009 – last month Donington Park on the Derby / Leicester border was a great place to see a small part of his military collection and was the place to find many rare WW2 vehicles. Those on show included both petrol and electric Goliath track mines, the new petrol addition was dug up in Germany and has been fully restored.
Goliath tracked mine. The earlier battery powered Goliath on the left and the petrol driven one on the right, which was cheaper to produce and in greater numbers than the other

Around 10% of the Wheatcroft collection was on display at Donnington Park, where Military machines met Formula F1 cars. His father Tom Wheatcroft made his fortune from the construction industry, building a thriving business just after the war and he used his money to collect cars, eventually starting a grand prix collection and even building his own racing team in 1970. Then he purchased a large part of the Donington hall estate, including Donington race circuit for £100,000 in 1971. In 1993 Tom achieved his dream in holding a European Grand Prix at Donington race circuit but he continued to build his collection of racing cars eventually this became the largest showcase of Grand prix cars in the world with 130 vehicles on show. Tom died in 2009 and his entire estate was inherited by his son Kevin who continued to show the grand prix car collection and adding further buildings to house some of his military collection.
VW Beetle, is a type 82e, Germany’s equivalent to the Jeep. Recently a fully restored type 60 (1942) VW was returned to the collection and is the second oldest production vehicle to survive 

It was a hard decision but Kevin closed the museum and moved the last of the military collection down to Dorset at the end of November this year, to his new home a 13th century manor house. The collection is now only viewable by appointment, it is estimated that his current collection is worth more than £120 million.

Amongst the Harley Davidson motorcycle collection, Kevin now owns 6 of the 12 XA models left in the world

Kevin wants to preserve as many things as possible from WW2 and can tell a story for each item in his collection. Eventually he wants to show his collection again but for now he is still collecting with items coming in daily. At a later date Kevin and his wife hope to return to Shetland and especially want to visit Park Hall and to see how it has changed since his last visit nearly 40 years ago

© Richard Ashbee December 2018. All photos other than the ones noted are by Richard Ashbee

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Yell Post office WW2 attack

Its surprising how many Shetland civilians were targeted by the Luftwaffe during WW2. One such occasion happened in June 1941 when a Luftwaffe plane (possibly a ME110) made an attack on Yell Post Office at Gutcher.

One man, Daniel J Spence was seriously wounded and several others had a narrow escape when the German plane opened fire on the isolated village at Gutcher, in the north of Yell.

The Post Office to the left, now a B&B

On this occasion the plane made a rapid dive before being seen and then at a low altitude opened up with machine gun fire. Mr Spence was just coming out of the back of his house, as he heard the sound of an aircraft, when firing commenced and was wounded in both arms.

The Post Office where Mr Spence worked as a sub-postmaster was hit by machine gun fire and evidence of this can still be seen today.

Mr Spence staggered back into the house, seriously bleeding and in severe shock before sitting down. He noticed that his right arm had been severely wounded and was bleeding profusely while his left arm was also injured.

When his daughter, Irene arrived at the house and she noticed blood streaming out from under the door and called for medical attention straight away. When they took his jacket off they found his arms shattered and pieces of bone fell to the floor

He was transferred to the Gilbert Bain Hospital in the evening and received a blood transfusion. Later the following day his condition improved and he was transferred up to Tingwall (Manse) Hospital for convalescence.

Tingwall Manse Hospital to the left

Tingwall (Manse) Hospital

Later he spent time back home, at Gilbert Bain Hospital, Lerwick and Tingwall Hospital before eventually dying on 5 June 1946, when he buried at Cullivoe, Yell

Photo Bertie Tait

During the same attack, Jean Inkster and her boys Colin and Willie, who were outside when the plane attacked, very narrowly escaped injury. The woman was painting a boat at the time while the two bairns were out playing and they managed to find shelter just in time.

Later, the same plane made a low level attack on a neighbouring island, opening up again with machine gun fire on a motor boat which set on fire and then continued onto to a house which it machine gunned. A women was stood in the doorway at the time and had a miraculous escape with bullets going up the hallway and lodged into the stairway just inside the door.

Two men who were in a nearby field attending to livestock also came under fire but escaped injury , another man close by was also attack but he managed to find cover but the plane came back for a second attack but again he was lucky not to be injured.

Many thanks to Bertie Tait who provided some of this information and a photo (as acknowledged).

If you have a Shetland WW2 story you would like to share please contact me. The aim of this blog is to collect as many Shetland WW2 stories in one place.

Next, Shetland provided the ideal opportunity to start collecting  WW2 military vehicles

To all our readers, have a very good Christmas 

 

Monday, 15 October 2018

WW2 Collectors

People have always collected interesting items bring the past to life. During the war those involve in the conflict brought back many `souvenirs ' mainly from Europe while post war collectors relied on these items being sold or passed on within the family or donated to a museum.


WW2 Orkney and Shetland defences 

The military garrison of Shetland and Orkney, known as Osdef, was composed mainly of Anti- Aircraft and coastal defence Gunners and Infantry and adopted as its badge the navy fouled anchor on a dark blue background.

The price of these WW2 souvenirs are constantly increasing in price and reproductions have become a common problem to collectors as the quality improves. Many experienced collectors are even mislead some spending thousands on one item.

WW2-Merchant-Navy-Seamans-MN-On-War-Service-Lapel-Badge-British-Naval-QC46
WW2 Merchant Navy badge

One collector in Shetland was Andy Robertson who eventually opened the Cabin museum (see earlier blog). Many years ago he told me that he started to collect cap badges during WW2, after all Shetland had several different regiments stationed in the isles and he often had badges pass onto him when word got out.

Image result for original WW2 shetland territorial army badge
WW2 Territorial Army badge


His collection grew after he was called up in 1943, joining the Royal Navy and being posted to locations in southern England. Here he had opportunities to collect different military badges and posted them back to Shetland. Andy' s story is no different to mine, i started collecting after my Dad passed his collection onto me and since then i have collected many more, but not enough to open a museum.

Do you have a WW2 collection, if so i would love to hear from you

Soon i will be sharing a story of collecting that was inspired by a purchase of a WW2 military vehicle in Shetland. This led the person to spend millions of pounds on his collection which is growing day by day. Any Ideas who this is?

You will find out in the next blog

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Shetland Bus Buildings (West)

Scalloway is the ancient capital of Shetland but for most people they remember it for the Shetland Bus operation, which moved here in 1940. The whole village was a restricted area and was heaving with Army and Navy personnel both British and Norwegian

        Dinapore House , Shetland Bus HQ. A very impressive building

in the 1940's, apart from a repaint not much has changed

               Walter & Joan Gray (Now) was a hotel before and used during WW2 as an extension of the  Shetland Bus HQ

Norway House, used by the Shetland Bus men

1940's photos
originally known as the Net Loft- used by the Pioneer Corps

Not really changed much since the war, it was used as a gym for a while

  The new plaque

                         This was taken around the 1990's, don't know what happened to the boat plaque. May have been removed when the memorial plaque was replaced

 Prince Olav slip way today




 A Subchaser coming up towards the slipway


One of the winches still present today

          The slipway is still in reasonably good condition but is not used today

If you want to Share your WW2 Shetland story or photographs please send me a message

All the colour photos are copyright R Ashbee

Friday, 14 September 2018

WW2 Shetland Sea Hurricane

The Sea Hurricane below was based for a short while at Sumburgh and can be seen still flying today


It was down in Orkney at RAF Twatt with No.880 Squadron from the 14 August 1941 to 15 September 1941.

It was then transferred to Shetland on the 15 September 1941 and was based at RAF Sumburgh until 7 October 1941.

It was supposed to be transferred to HMS Indomitable but never arrived.

It was put into storage prior to joining No.801 Squadron at Skeabrae from 8 November 1941 to 15 February 1942

Originally this was listed as Hurricane IB Z7015 built by the Canadian Car & Foundry Company in Ontario in the winter of 1940-41

It was shipped to the UK and was taken on charge at RAF Henlow on 18 March 1941. It was converted to a Sea Hurricane 29 July 1941

The early history, including Shetland is shown above, but after this it joined No.759 Squadron 1942-43. At the end of 1943 it was used as an instructional aircraft at Loughborough College before joining the Shuttleworth collection in 1961.


It was used in the film ` Battle of Britain' as a taxying aircraft before being fully restored at Duxford. It flew for the first time since its rebuild on the 16 September 1995.

This Hurricane with its Merlin 111 engine are the earliest airworthy example anywhere.

I have seen the plane flying several times at Old Warden in Bedfordshire and if you get chance i would highly recommend that you attend an air show on this grass runway.



Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Cabin - a WW2 gem

The cabin is a must for anyone interested in either World War 1 or 2. It was started by the late Andy Robertson (below) back in 1978 when he opened his `shed' museum, to a wide range of visitors who came to look at his medals and badges.


Andy was always keen to welcome parties of schoolchildren to share his knowledge


We first visited the old cabin in 1987 and spent many an hour talking to Andy who always wanted to extend his small museum.
The Old Cabin
The new Cabin

With more room in the new cabin the collection has been extended and includes uniforms, helmets, lots of interesting stories of locals and their part in the War. 














Down in the bottom corner the local History society has lots of books , photos and stories on the people and events in the Vidlin area.

inside the new bigger cabin

I can highly recommend a visit to the cabin and you can easily spend a good few hours looking round the exhibits

Andy opened the new Cabin in 2007 and was in when the flag was flying, now

It is open
Tuesday , Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 1-5pm

It is run by volunteers and a lot of credit has to go to Venetta Johnson and the local History group

Shetland and the Wheatcroft Collection

Preserving the past & protecting the future You may have seen this article that I wrote on Kevin Wheatcroft (Wheatcroft Collectio...