Museum brings out the big guns

A HISTORIC new exhibit has pride of place at the Manx Aviation and Military Museum.

After years of searching, the Manx Aviation Preservation Society has acquired a rare Morris-Commercial self-propelled Bofors gun of the type that was used by the Manx Regiment in the final year of the Second World War.

The vehicle is now on public display in a specially-built extension to the Museum of the Manx Regiment which is part of the main museum at Ronaldsway. A special preview evening was held recently for representatives of the Manx Lottery Trust and the Manx Heritage Foundation, organisations that both helped to fund the purchase of the vehicle, its restoration, and the construction of the new display building.

Museum director Ivor Ramsden said: 'Fewer than 1,700 of these vehicles were built and only four are known to survive, one of which is in the Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich.

'They were designed to replace the original version of the Bofors gun which was mounted on a trailer and towed behind a lorry.

'The self-propelled gun was quicker to be put into action and was more manoeuvrable than the trailer-mounted version.'

These vehicles were driven onto the Normandy beaches by Manxmen as part of the D-Day invasion and then through France, Belgium and Holland and into Germany.

It is not known whether the museum's new exhibit was one of those used in D-Day. Mr Ramsden said: 'It's possible to say, but the Manx Regiment used about 50 of the 1,700 built so the odds are slim.'

They were regularly used in action and contributed to the regiment being the highest-scoring anti-aircraft unit in the British Army. The vehicle at the museum was found in Northamptonshire and its 10,000 price was funded by the Manx Lottery Trust.

Mr Ramsden said: 'The price might seem expensive but considering the fact that a wartime Jeep can cost up to 15,000 these days it is not at all excessive for a restored historic vehicle of this rarity. The Steam Packet Company provided a free passage for the vehicle and the Manx Heritage Foundation and the Gough Ritchie Charitable Trust helped to fund the repainting of the vehicle and the construction of a new building in which to display it.

'Museum member Mike Corlett and I did most of the building work on the new extension and I did some mechanical repairs on the Morris and repainted it in the authentic wartime markings of the Manx Regiment. It also carries the famous Desert Rat insignia of the famous 7th Armoured Division.'

The museum is open at weekends and on bank holidays from 10am to 4.30pm. Admission is free for everyone.

Mr Ramsden said the museum was always grateful for donations of photographs and artefacts connected with the military and aviation history of the Island and its people.

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