Beltring 2002 - An English view.
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Nobody goes to Beltring for the weather. Add a typically British July downpour to Kentish clay, mix vigorously with some tracked armour, several Deuce and a halfs and too many quarter-tonners, and you have a recipe for the world's biggest mud pie. But not this year. Despite some pretty atrocious rain and damp in the weeks before, we were blessed with some steady sunshine.

This year, the third of the new five day format, the crowd numbers were evenly spread thanks to the longer duration. Grubbing up the adjoining hop fields for the 2000 show created much more parking space and this eased the flow of people, even on the weekend.
Every year there is something more for the crowds to see and for the collectors and enthusiasts to marvel at. Since the Iron Curtain came down fifteen years ago there has been a steady stream of ex-Soviet vehicles coming over, including armour.


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This BTR 152 wheeled APC shows just how varied the Soviet stuff that's coming over can be. Power is from a ZIL-123 110hp 6-pot petrol engine, and armamaent is an SGMB 7.62cal mg.

Star of the show for many a couple of years ago was huge, the beautifully restored SdKfz 9 half track, but even this has been overshadowed by Cold War Russian and Czech vehicles.


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A fully amphibious Czech OT-64 APC of 1960's vintage. A 180bhp Tatra air-cooled V8 diesel pushes this baby long at up to 94k/hr on land or 9k/hr in water.

And how can you get blasť about seeing Kettenkraftrads or Schwimmwagens running about? Or finding seven Humvees? Maybe we've been spoiled. However, for me the star was a single Saladin, the first I've seen there. There are always a few Saracens and Stollies, and Steve Shirley from the Manston Fire Museum promises to get his Salamander running one day, but I've got a soft spot for FV600's since writing a book on the subject. (And I'm sure, Doug, you won't mind me giving a plug for it as it and my other book on the Humvee are due out at the end of the year. Nor for the one I'm now working on the Centurion-thanks, mate!)


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Saracen owner Colin Smy gets his hands dirty (while his mate doesn't) as he ponders the wisdom of fitting a new carburettor a day before a major event.

Special events outside of the arena concentrated on the golden jubilees of the Ferret and the Champ. The bigger of the two was the Champ Camp. Organisers Dale Johnson and Eddie Smith aimed for 100 Champs there, and printed up that number of yellow stickers for the bridging plate. Over the five days 84 were given out, including one each for the Nuffield Gutty, Wolseley Mudlark prototypes, a civilian Champ and a cutaway chassis. The Ferret Field was less populated but even so there were at least a dozen of the 'garage-size armour' vehicles on display.


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The Ferret Field commemorated 50 years of the vehicle in British Army Service. The little beasties are almost as common at Beltring as jeeps.

Two of the visitors to the Champ Camp were Australian, Malcolm Hayes, who runs the Champ website and the original Australian Champ Camp, and Martin Dasler.


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Australian visitors to the Champ Camp Malcolm Hayes, right, and Martin Dasler pose by the last surviving Wolseley Mudlark prototype.

Armour was the big thing, with, on the Allied or NATO side, a Churchill, two Centurions, a couple of Chieftains, a Patton and much more WW2 stuff.


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The sticker on this privately owned Cheiftain says 'drive defensively - buy a tank'.


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This Centurion AVRE was rebuilt by a Channel 4 TV programme, Salvage Squad. As a gun tank it was actually the first ashore at Suez, and served in its present guise in the Gulf War, coping with Iraqi sand when the M1 Abrams were sinking in.


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FV103 Spartan APC. Modern British armour is coming into private hands now.

The arena shows were primarily aimed at pleasing the crowd, with Saving Private Ryan, Good Morning Vietnam and Big Boys Toys. This last event was to me the most impressive, not simply for the sheer scale of it, but I came across some of the entrants waiting to go into the arena. Lined up were three M8's followed by an M3 Stuart and two M4A3 Shermans.


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Very impressive line-up of three M8's followed by a Stuart and an M4A3 Sherman .

Watching them from behind the compound ropes was the crew of a replica PzKpfw V Panther. And that wasn't the only Panzer: there was an up-gunned PzKpfw IV and a Tiger (replica), but it wasn't the Bovington one.


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A late model PzKpfw IV, with a 75mm gun, minus the usual side armour. This was the real workhorse of the Panzer Divisions in the later years of WW2.
Comment from Doug: This vehicle belongs to Rex Cadman (the Beltring organiser).

Also for the crowd there were of course the jeep see-saw and tanks crushing old cars, but new displays included a parade of desert vehicles and another named 'Hookers' of British recovery vehicles, by Roger Jones of the REME Museum. There too was 'Maple Leaf Up!' a parade of Canadian made WW2 vehicles.


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You can always rely on Beltring to see something different, like this 1920's Citroen Kegresse.


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Mark Askew of Jeep Promotions always manages to come up with something rare for his trade stand. Last year it was a 4-wheel steer Ford GP. This year an even rarer 6x6 Tug. It was not adopted by the US Army, the 6x6 Dodge being the choice instead.

There an element of dissent present at the show, and I don't apologise for mentioning it. There were a small group of people going around with stickers that said, 'This used to be a club for vehicle enthusiasts, now itís a fashion show'. Its inevitable that different people get different things out of this hobby, and for some itís the pleasure of simply keeping and running the vehicle. For others it the 'Full Monty' (in its original idea, i. e. getting the whole outfit together, not taking it off!) of finding the uniform, the guns, the radios etc. and showing it off to the crowd. Obviously there are those who don't want to put on authentic displays for the paying public. For them it is the vehicle that they are interested. Perhaps it is the growing number of German WW2 uniforms and the presence of Nazi memorabilia in the trade stands that creates a sinister atmosphere that finally made them speak out. I for one sympathise with this particular point; I was born after WW2 but there is an element in the younger generation who take the Nazi business a little too far. They cannot realise just what that war was fought for. In my view there is plenty of room for both factions, bearing in mind my views on the 'Third Reich' element, and it is inevitable, and in my book desirable, that in a display, either static or in the arena, the best effect is created by the enthusiasts dressed in the right gear, rather than in civilian clothes, be that smart casual or shorts and T-shirt. It is a living history show and that is what the public pay to see. But if someone wants to take his Abbot along and just park it up and talk to people about it, then fine. He's invested the time and money and he has just as much right to be there. Beltring is not just about vehicles. More living history was reflected in a group of Womens' Land Army enthusiasts and, in the Glenn Miller tent, a 1940's fashion show, an ENSA-style variety show and a chance to learn to jive like a GI. And if you could dance, the Herb Miller Orchestra was playing for the big Saturday night hop.

And there was the wedding. Nick Crowhurst and Carena Loughlin got together in 1999 to restore a Dodge WC53, and fell in love. On Saturday morning, in the middle of the main arena, they got married. Ex-RN Nick wore a Chief Petty Officer's uniform and Carena looked fabulous in a genuine parachute silk wedding dress. So why did they chose Beltring? As they told the compilers of the War and Peace catalogue, "War and Peace is where all our friends are."


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Saturday lunchtime, and Nick and Carena Crowhurst arrive at their wedding reception in the Glenn Miller tent. Their wedding jeep led a convoy of similar vehicles from the ceremony in the main arena.

My books are:

Humvee, Crowood Press, 160 pages plus 8 pages full colour, UK price £19.95, due out November 2002. Covers all military models up to 2002 including overseas versions such as MOWAG Eagle and Otokar Cobra plus civilian version and Hummer H2

Alvis Saracen Series, Crowood Press, 200 pages, UK price £19.95, due out October 2002. covers Saracen, Saladin, Salamander and Stalwart.

Both have full history of development and service, full tech specs plus outlines of the campaigns in which the the vehicles were used.

Centurion will follow the same format. The ms is due in at the end 2003 so is scheduled for spring 2004 publication.

My thanks Bill.


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