Creating memories at The Tank Museum Bovington along the Jurassic Coast of Dorset with my friend Paddy who served with the 9th/12th Lancers.
Since moving to the Devon and the seaside town of Dawlish over ten years ago there has been both much change and many constants. Among those constants has not only been the founding of the Fossil Coast brand but also our family friendship with Paddy and his lovely wife Angie our neighbours.
This friendship has included numerous rounds of golf, many evenings playing darts and of course enjoying our weekly catch ups over the kitchen table with a glass or two of gin and tonic.
Paddy is an army veteran who served for 22 years in the 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’) an armoured regiment formed in 1960 and whose regimental origins go back to the 9th and 12th Dragoons (later Light Dragoons) which were first raised in 1715 at the time of the Jacobite rebellion against King George I.
During Paddy's service he was deployed to security duties to the Aden Protectorate (modern day Yemen) and the Trucial Oman States, Aden Protectorate, UN duty in Cyprus in scout cars and Northern Ireland.
Among his proudest military achievements was his selection for the successful ascent of the 4,478-meter-high Matterhorn. During his service Paddy would lose his "pinkie finger" in a accident whilst repairing an armoured car - but that did not stop him becoming a very good golfer and a master of the short game.
For as long as I have known Paddy he loves to reminisce about his time in the Army and on more than one occasion he has wished that he could go back and re-enlist. Now at nearly 85 years of age unfortunately his memory is beginning to become problematic.
This made me think about what I could do to celebrate his cherished service. It was time to create some new memories and also evoke some old memories for this British Army Veteran. The only requirements were that tanks and armoured vehicles needed to be involved!
It just so happens that along the Jurassic Coast of Dorset is The Tank Museum in Bovington that houses over 300 military machines and tells a story going back over 100 years from “Little Willie” the first working tank in the world to modern day tanks. A few emails later to the wonderful Team at The Tank Museum they kindly helped me to arrange a guided visit.
This part of Dorset and the Jurassic Coast has had a long and important role in supporting the training activities for the British military from learning to drive armoured vehicles at the home of the Royal Armoured Corps at Bovington Camp.
Unbelievably for over 100 years the British military have learnt to live fire weapons effectively at the nearby Lulworth Ranges an area covering 7,500 acres and more than 10Km of coast described as “arguably, the best moving target facility in Western Europe”.
We were met by Peter at reception who was himself a former Sapper from the Royal Engineers and he would be our guide for the morning. Over the course of the next hour and a half we were immersed in the history and capability of the tank collections from the Cold War and Second World War.
Peter was wonderfully knowledgeable and Paddy let us know what it was like to actually run these vehicles as well as introducing us to colourful characters that he once served alongside.
Of particular interest during our guided tour was the Ferret Mk 2 Scout Car an armoured fighting vehicle built by Daimler. The Ferret was Paddy’s first vehicle to command. Also, the 55-ton FV4201 Chieftain Mark 11C Main Battle Tank which Paddy was able to enter. In fact, this experience brought the memories flooding back and something he has wanted to do for a number of years.
What a wonderful day and what a meaningful activity to share. From the moment we drove into Bovington Camp the mood of my friend Paddy changed, his memory sharpened and the smile returned to his face, in all intense and purpose he was home. This was a familiar place and the tanks that we drove past triggered many positive memories of his military service. The drive home was spent chatting about the day and listening to him reminisce. This was a moment in time that we will both remember for some time yet.
If you want find out more information about how you can help a friend of relative with dementia you can get life-changing support from the following specialist charities. Dementia UK, Alzheimers Society, Age UK, NHS