During our visit to the Bovington Tank Museum, we loved what we saw, but there is always someone who is working really hard for you so you can see all these tanks. But hardly do people notice him when he walks among the visitors. This man is Richard Smith, the director of the Bovington Tank Museum, he who is responsible for everything you see there these days. Of course, it didn’t start out this way. So we sat down with Richard and asked him about the museum and the tanks that are there to display these days.
Richard: It was 10 years ago but it feels like 5 minutes. It’s the kind of job you get a lingering feeling you are getting away with something.
Richard: Yes, ever since the WWI, since October 1916, Bovington has been home of the British army. They first started using the tanks at the secret base in the east of England and there they ran out of space so they came here October 1916. This was the secret base in the middle of nowhere, were no one would know what’s going on and then the brought in the tanks, they devolved them, trained the crews here and dispatched them to France and it’s been the centre of British Armour ever since If I remember correctly. The people who lived here had to close their shutters as the tanks drove by. They did this, afterall, it was a secret weapon. This was absolute leading edge technology. This was the highest sophisticated equipment in the world.
Richard: We are not entirely sure. The story we normally tell is that Rudyard Kipling, the writer, came here in 1923 and saw the tanks lined up from WWI. They came back after WWI and said; someone should make a museum. We are not sure what happened between then and when the museum started, but atleast, this is the story that we know and tell.
Richard: Well, 1923 is the date we use, but we also know that by 1919 some of the important ones where placed in a separated area. Anyway, if there is a real Kipling connection and if he did come here, we still are not sure about that. But the British army didn’t admit the public at all until the end of the 1940’s and since then up until now we are an independent charity. We run the collection and own the collection as well.
Richard: What happened in 1940 are several different things, to a certain degree some tanks were scrapped and other tanks survived because they used them for defence, because this stuff was only 20 years old. So If we got invaded everything that you could use was worth it. Some of the vehicles that survived were used at the beaches and at key sights.
Richard: We worked with Wargaming for a long time actually We worked with Wargaming since before they launched in Europe. They are important to us for 2 reasons. One is they are committed to authenticity and we think that is very important because the real thing really counts and perhaps that is one of the reason they are committed in supporting us restore our collection. They bring in resources that museums normally don’t have.
But the other most important thing they bring in is a huge worldwide global audience and they are introducing people to our subject who may never thought about this stuff. It doesn’t mean that when people play World of Tanks the learn everything there is too know about tanks, but all those people might get interested and our job is to tell the stories of tanks and the people who served with them and if Wargaming introducing the subject to millions of people then that makes our job at lot easier. It’s great!
Richard: We are doing some loans both ways, but I don’t want to steal thier news. But we think that there are a lot of oppertunities for museum across europe to work together. And the Wargaming guys, they open up the human audiences and I’ve known Viktor Kislyi (Wargaming CEO) for a long time now and we are both interested getting people to learn about war. The more people learn about war they look at the world in a different way. War is less glamorous the more you know about it and in this you get people interested and learn, than they will never make the journey.
Richard: The museum is a charity and the museum owns the vehicles. As a charity, like every other charity, we have to make sure we get people here and we make enough to cover the costs.
Richard: Last year we had 280.000 visitors but through Wargaming we get opportunities to reach people far behind that. We’ve got the biggest base audiences of any military museum in the world. We’ve got our Tiger tank that gets more viewings on Youtube than any museum of tanks in the world.
Richard: This year it’s all about the centenary of the tank, we’ve got a new exposition opening in march about the tank men, the people who operate the tanks about the 8 guys, 8 ordinary people. We’ve got another project where we got a lot of work to do on looking after our armour and we need facilities to do it. We are going to be putting up a new building next year with workshops so we can look after the stuff and of course every year at the last weekend of June we’ve got Tankfest which is the biggest display of moving historic armour in the world.
Richard: My favourite tank, my favourite tank is really obscure and no one loves it apart from me. It’s a first world war tank and it’s a model nine and it’s not really even a tank to today’s measure, but it’s the first armoured personnel carrier in the world.
The British came up with the tank in 1916 and the tank remains in every army throughout the world and in 1918 we come up with a second brand new weapon system the armoured personnel carrier . These two systems are the centre of every modern army.
Richard: I do! But I provided as a target.
Thank you for your time Richard, and we encourage everybody to visit the Bovington Tank Museum at least once in a lifetime.