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With the upcoming D-Day anniversary celebrations, Ripon Men’s Shed got in touch to share the challenge they took on. 

One of our members, Richard Thomson, was asked by an extremely persuasive local resident, we’ll call her “Hazel”, who had been his neighbour for 32 years and knew he was a member of Ripon Men’s Shed, if he could come to a meeting with Ripon Community Poppy Project to discuss building a model army tank for a project they were considering doing.  The model was to be a wooden frame which would then be covered in knitted woollen squares.

At the prospect of a room full of knitters, Richard thought he might need a bit of moral support from a fellow ex-forces Shedder, Gordon Woods.  So along with Stuart Martin, another of the project organisers, Richard and Gordon went to a meeting with “Hazel”. It was at this point that Richard and Gordon recalled the old military adage – “Never volunteer for ANYTHING”.

In the intervening days since the meeting was suggested, the idea had grown from a model into a full scale replica of a Churchill MK3 AVRE (Bunker Buster) * –  24ft (L) x 11ft (W) x 8ft (H). Trying to look and sound as nonchalant as possible, Richard and Gordon uttered those fateful words “Not a problem”. What was said in the car on the way back to the Shed shall remain in the car!

Gordon took the original plans from Stuart and went about modifying them to something we could actually build.  The first issue was WHERE could it be built? Certainly not in our cramped workshop on the first floor of a 150-year-old building. So we were lucky and very thankful to be given a space in our local Army Barracks (Claro Barracks) courtesy of 21 Engineer Regiment and the build started at the beginning of January. Gordon designed the tank to be built in 9 sections, mounted on pallets and bolted together, but easily split for a tele-handler to lift onto a trailer for transportation.

Despite several on-the-fly changes, fettling, whatever you call it, their work was completed on budget and on time. Mind you, a March deadline date with a local surgeon to swap Richard’s knackered hip for a new one did help to focus minds!

The exterior of the tank has now been covered in 1842 x 9″ woollen sections which have been knitted by an army of local ladies.  As well as covering the tank, the ladies have knitted a multitude of other items which will also be used in the planned celebrations.

In all, Gordon and Richard will have put in almost 450 hours since January – much of it outside normal Shed hours – including spreading the word to friends in other Sheds as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the USA.

Despite Richard and Gordon being more at home dealing with engines and heavy equipment in their army days, and wood being a somewhat alien material, the rest of us at Ripon Men’s Shed have to admit they have done a brilliant job.

And if the building of the tank were not enough, Gordon has also built two sentry boxes to house two guards who will be guarding the tank at various display sites around Ripon during the summer to commemorate:

  • 80th Anniversary of the D Day landings
  • 75th Anniversary of the granting of the Freedom of the City of Ripon to the Corp of Royal Engineers
  • 75th Anniversary of the forming of 21 Engineer Regiment (current regiment)

The Tank is going to be on display at various locations around Ripon, including:

  • 05/06/24 to 06/06/24 Ripon Cathedral
  • 08/06/24 to 09/06/24 – Newby Hall Tractorfest

More venues will be listed on the Ripon Community Poppy Project website as they become known.

The project would also like to thank MKM Ripon for generously supplying the timber and fastenings free of charge.

Gordon and Richard are away for a lie down in a dark room, but have thrown down the gauntlet and asked if any other UK Shed has built a bigger project? And, if any Shed IN THE WORLD has done a larger knitted tank, we’d like to see a picture with a Shedder standing next to it for scale!

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