IT NEVER ceases to amaze me what you good people can dig up when it comes to the history of the Thames in Surrey and Middlesex.
As you know, I’ve devoted a number of columns this year to the wartime activities around here that included the building of amphibious Walrus aircraft and high-speed motor launches for the RAF and the Royal Navy respectively.
But just when I thought we’d exhausted the subject of wartime exploits, along comes my good friend Peter Bailey from the Sunbury and Shepperton Historical Society to point out that the area was also supplying the needs of the army – albeit briefly.
Peter tells me: “I found out from the Tank Museum at Bovington that Vickers had a plant in Chertsey which they acquired when they took over the Carden–Loyd company in the late 1920s – and they made amphibious tanks.”
Further research by Peter revealed that although the majority of the tanks were built at Elswick, on the Tyne, the Chertsey office was retained as a design centre and for the production of prototypes.
To cap it all, Peter than produced a number of pictures – courtesy of the Tank Museum – of one of the Carden-Loyd light amphibious tanks being tested in the river at Chertsey.
From the photographs, it seems that the tank was driven into the river from Chertsey Meads and possibly drove up the opposite bank onto Dumsey Meadow – somehow I don’t think the Environment Agency would allow that these days!
And I’m not at all sure that I’d have fancied being among the crew of one of these vehicles which appeared to have precious little freeboard when it was in the water – I wonder how many of them ended at the bottom of lakes and rivers…? I’m told that there was quite a lot of balsa wood (a very light type of timber that floated well) used in the construction.
But that raises another question because I’m not at all convinced that balsa wood would have been terribly effective in stopping shells and bullets!
Historians at the Tank Museum report that the British army did, in fact, buy two of these units and that several were sold overseas.
Do any of you remember seeing this unusual sight on the Thames?
PERHAPS it’s appropriate to include this piece to round off our current Second World War reminiscences since today (Thursday) is Remembrance Day. I hope everyone is sporting a poppy with pride and that at 11am you’ll all join me in a few minutes’ silence to remember all those who gave their lives representing this country in conflicts around the world. We owe them more than we can ever repay.