Making tracks

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Not long ago, on the anniversary of D-Day, somebody drew my attention to a photo of one of the beaches. A couple of people were discussing it. I was brought into the conversation because in the photo was an armoured tractor, landed to help pull stuff up the beach, or just to get it out of the way.

As an aside, the mate who brought the picture to my attention and sort of provoked this blog was Will Macmillan Jones. If you enjoy space opera, then you’ll probably enjoy his Space Scout series.


Now I was born not all that long after the Second World War. Not only that but I’ve lived all my life on farms and farmers are notorious at not throwing anything out. I remember we used to have a British Steel Helmet, of First World War vintage, which was used to keep nails and bolts in.

On other farms they had a SMLE tucked behind a beam in a hay loft. The SMLE is the Short, Magazine Lee–Enfield, the standard military rifle for two world wars. Whether the home guard never got round to handing them back, or it ended up in the farmer’s hands through other, doubtless nefarious means, the rifle did sterling work shooting foxes; and occasionally rabbits for the pot. Eventually the small stockpile of ammunition was used up, or the rifle got put back in the wrong place and forgotten.

All sorts of stuff ended up on farms. Clothing for example. The army had a serge lined leather jerkin. It was probably developed for the trenches, keeping you as warm as a greatcoat without trailing in the mud. That sort of thing makes it equally valuable on farms and I can remember seeing men wearing them, some from their time in the army in the First World War.

WWI Arifacts


And of course there was the machinery. The war was when agriculture in the UK finally turned from the horse to the tractor. Driven by a shortage of men, (and probably horses) because the men had been taken into the army, the end of the war didn’t mean the process stopped. Few men who left the army on demobilisation wanted to go back to farm work. There were jobs in town which paid better, for fewer hours. So mechanisation continued apace.

One of the ironies was that it was the horsemen who were promoted to being tractor drivers. Given that horsemen were often the least mechanically minded people on a farm, this didn’t always work as well as it might have done. But the horse was replaced by the tractor and the horseman had to change. So they did. But I can remember my father’s generation reminiscing about horses they’d worked with thirty or more years ago.

Still tractors were in short supply. Industry had been switched over to tank production, and a lot of civilian tractors had to be imported from the USA. Where was the money to come from?
So farmers being farmers, we just used what was out there. Not just in the UK but all over the world, farmers picked up what was left lying about. And frankly there were an awful lot of tanks out there that nobody had a use for any more. This picture is of an American built M22 Locust light tank. I guess that the picture is taken in the US but I’m only guessing.

M22 locust

But in Australia they also needed the power of the tank. Here is a British build Matilda II tank, converted to be a bulldozer for clearing scrub, so they could bring land into cultivation.

converted Matilda 2 in Australia


From the UK I found this video. A Sherman tank, knocked out at El Alamein, was shipped back to Britain. The armour and armament was stripped off and it was put to work.


Apparently they did it with First World War tanks as well. Personally I have my doubts as to how effective they would be, they were notoriously mechanically unreliable. On the other hand they would be travelling across level ground and wouldn’t be overloaded with crew and ammunition so perhaps they were OK


I remember hearing a farmer who was doing up a Sherman tank. He was born well after the war, so didn’t see the tanks in action. But in one of their big arable fields there was a bit of a bump that was a nuisance when they were ploughing. So he went in with the digger to level it. He was doing it properly. Put the topsoil to one side first. Dig out the subsoil and put the topsoil back, so it’s level and you’ve still got topsoil on top.

Except he’d not got down to level when he hit something metal. At about that time his father wandered out to see what he was up to. Dad explained that it had always been a hole and a damned nuisance. After the war they’d bought two cheap Sherman tanks (with armour and armament still on them) and had used them to plough for a year or two until they couldn’t keep them running. So they drove them both into the hole and covered it up.

So the son dug them both out and looked at them as they sat there. But as his father pointed out, this left a hole that would be a damned nuisance. So they kept the one that was in best condition, pushed the other back into the hole, and it levelled up beautifully.


There again, there are still some jobs you get left with where armoured support might come in handy,


As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”

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20 thoughts on “Making tracks

  1. willmacmillanjones June 20, 2019 at 8:13 pm Reply

    Interesting thoughts, Jim. I particularly liked the tale of the Two Shermans!

    • jwebster2 June 20, 2019 at 8:29 pm Reply

      Yes I remember the chap telling it on one of the farming radio programmes
      You have to admit that ‘A tale of two Shermans’ has more ‘zing’ than ‘a tale of two cities’ 🙂

  2. M T McGuire June 20, 2019 at 9:03 pm Reply

    Love the tank story.

  3. M T McGuire June 20, 2019 at 9:04 pm Reply

    I hope he sold the other one and mad a stack.

    • jwebster2 June 21, 2019 at 5:21 am Reply

      I genuinely don’t know to be honest

  4. cindy knoke June 21, 2019 at 5:17 am Reply

    Amazing history told with such panache!

    • jwebster2 June 21, 2019 at 5:21 am Reply

      There are times I look back at the world I’ve lived through and where we were when I started 🙂

  5. Fascinating Jim thank you. and fair play to them in making do and mending what they could find. Tough enough job as it was and still is.

    • jwebster2 June 22, 2019 at 5:23 am Reply

      At one point I stopped and tried to work out how much of my life I’d spent clagging together worn out machinery to get another season out of it 🙂
      I have used engineering techniques they don’t teach in respectable places 😉

      • My father was the same and my husband is too. Both engineers as a career and hate to throw away anything without removing anything useful now or in the future… We have had quite a few ‘hybrid’ pieces of machinery, including my father’s old Volvo to keep it going. Thankfully 25 years ago when MOT’s were less stringent…fantastic post Jim.. thank you.

      • jwebster2 June 22, 2019 at 8:57 am

        I once built a cattle handling system from steel ‘I had lying about’ 🙂
        You never throw anything away because it always ‘comes in.’
        I once stripped the radiator out of an old car before we scrapped it and fifteen years later it rescued my brother-in-law’s car 🙂

  6. patriciaruthsusan June 23, 2019 at 9:55 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    First, Jim tells how farmers used leftover war tanks on the farm. Next, he has a book on offer about life on the farm using sheepdogs. A good review of the book follows.

    • jwebster2 June 23, 2019 at 1:48 pm Reply

      we’re farmers, we use any left over stuff 🙂

      • patriciaruthsusan June 23, 2019 at 2:26 pm

        That showing good sense. 🙂 — Suzanne

      • jwebster2 June 23, 2019 at 2:45 pm

        I once built a cattle handling facility from steel I had ‘just lying about’ 🙂

  7. patriciaruthsusan June 24, 2019 at 7:10 am Reply

    Good for you. I wish I was that handy. My husband was a hoarder. I just had to give it to the bungawalla (rubbish collector) for a small amount. He had to be selling it for more than he paid. He even buys old newspapers. —- Suzanne

    • jwebster2 June 24, 2019 at 8:23 am Reply

      I can remember the old Rag and Bone men in this country. There are still a few scrap collectors who do go round with a horse and cart. They actually made a popular TV sitcom, Steptoe and Son which is worth googling
      Here’s a short clip,

  8. patriciaruthsusan June 24, 2019 at 8:54 am Reply

    We used to have a similar show in the U.S. years ago. They probably got the idea from that show in the U.K. It was called “Sanford and Son” and was about two black men in a black neighborhood. The bungawalla here just has a four-wheeled hand cart. He must walk miles every day. —- Suzanne

  9. Jack Eason July 4, 2019 at 5:27 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Swords to ploughshares? No, tanks to tractors…

    • jwebster2 July 4, 2019 at 8:40 am Reply

      I suppose it’s appropriate because the first tank was developed from a tractor 🙂

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