The Tank Museum, Bovington...
The Tank Museum at Bovington is an amazing and thought-provoking attraction.
To say this is the World’s biggest and most important collection of historic tanks and armoured vehicles understates its value and appeal.
As you’d expect, boys and their Dad’s are agog to see so many different tanks in one place and could spend hours just wandering through the collection dragging each other from one awesome vehicle to the next. But there’s much more to this collection than boys’ toys and that’s what makes it a gripping visit for every member of the family.
Yes, the museum tells the story of the development of the “tank”. From its birth as a potential solution to the deadlock of trench warfare on the Western Front during the First World War to its use in modern, fast moving conflicts like those in Iraq. Yes, it looks at how the tank has changed warfare and how warfare has changed the tank.
But to tell the story of tanks is to tell the story of human conflict throughout the world in the 20th and 21st Centuries, making the history of the tank as much a history of people as a history of machines.
Whether it be the people who designed them or built them, fought in them or against them, or simply the stories of those for whom they were fighting, this magnificent collection and exhibition unearths and brings to life the often brutal reality of the tanks’ place in shaping the modern world.
There’s more information than anyone could hope to absorb in a single visit told through magnificent modern multi-media displays and simple information boards telling amazing stories. From the histories of entire wars and battles to the histories of individual machines and the men who fought, lived and sometimes died in them.
So often in explaining the big picture, it is the minute detail that brings stories to life. Little snippets like the likelihood of dying from carbon monoxide poisoning rather than enemy fire in the earliest tanks. Or being able to see and touch the holes where bullets and shells have bounced off or pierced this tank or that. There’s something for tank buffs and enthusiasts to school kids and their parents (yep, it even fits in with bits of the national curriculum!)
There are special exhibitions and displays covering the trenches and their squalor; the D-Day landings and the role played by “Hobart’s Funnies”; and there are snapshots of life on the home-front in 1940s Dorset. There are tanks of all sizes from all around the world each with a story to tell of the part they played in the development of armoured fighting vehicles or the role they played in this conflict or that. And there are pictures of young men perched on or beside their machines, battle weary in defeat or jubilant in victory and some simply sitting around sleeping or drinking tea.
These are real tanks and armoured cars with real stories of real men and real lives. Some famous, like the legendary “Lawrence of Arabia”, but many more just ordinary people and ordinary soldiers. It is this, more than anything else, that makes this museum not just fascinating and educational, but to those who take the time, a moving and inspirational record, monument and work of art.
Of course there’s movement and noise - these can be had aplenty during the summer season at the “Tanks in Action” displays, which are amazing.
But take a moment too, to stand in silence, with your children if you have them, beside the massive Tiger 2. Almost 70 tonnes of Nazi Germany’s finest engineering, designed with one purpose, to help impose Adolf Hitler’s will on the whole of Europe.
And whilst you stand in quiet contemplation, just imagine the earth-shaking terror it held for the civilians who saw it and the infantrymen and tank-crews who were pitted against it. Think too of what it stood for and you will appreciate anew the debt our generations owe to the young men of generations past.
The Bovington collection is full of remarkable exhibits, but perhaps because of its size and what it stood for, the Tiger 2 is among its most striking and memorable. Taken as a whole the collection, perhaps unintentionally, may be one of the most substantial, tangible and at times touching memorials outside the cemeteries of Europe and Asia to those who died in conflict protecting the freedom of others. It is also a reminder of the reality of what we still ask of our servicemen and women today.
If art is something that stimulates thought through the transmission of ideas and emotions, then the Tank Museum at Bovington is a Dorset and international masterpiece. It is ironic that this work of accidental art has come about by bringing together in one place an unrivalled collection of uniquely important artefacts whose original purposes were as far from artistic endeavour as it is possible to be.
Go there because you’re interested in armoured vehicles or go there because you are interested in the people and history of the last century. But, for whatever reason, do go there at least once in your’s and your children’s lifetime.
And now the Tank Museum is even better! Thanks to a multi-million pound investment in the new exhibition hall and café. Check it out here!
The extra space is already being put to good use, with 2011 marking the launch of the new “Battle Group Afghanistan” exhibition, which looks at the way British forces and armoured vehicles live and are used in the World’s current conflicts.
Oh, and don’t forget Tankfest. An amazing annual tank-filled weekend of fun! If you want to go the whole hog, there’s also the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton and the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford!
To say this is the World’s biggest and most important collection of historic tanks and armoured vehicles understates its value and appeal"