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Wheatcroft helping him to find information on his early Shetland visits and in return has provided me with lots of new unpublished information.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