Two giant flags that survived the eight-month siege of Tobruk in North Africa feature in a major new exhibition at the Tank Museum in Bovington, which reopened to the public on May 17.
They include the Union Flag flown defiantly by a skeleton Allied force after it was cut off in the Libyan port by German and Italian troops from April 1941.
Relief operations were carried out by the RAF and Royal Navy but it wasn’t until November 1941 that the 8th Army’s Operation Crusader finally freed the so-called ‘Rats of Tobruk’.
In the exhibition, the giant Union Flag is displayed above a German swastika flag that was captured during the relief operation.
Tank Museum curator David Willey told the digital Blackmore Vale: ‘Flags are so important in conflict as symbols and rallying points. For many they are an expression of what you are fighting for, or trying to defend.
‘The swastika flag was probably used to help identify the German gun position to their own Luftwaffe pilots.’
The Bovington attraction dates back to the 1920s and is the world’s biggest tank museum with more than 300 vehicles.
In normal times it attracts 250,000 visitors a year, peaking at 3,000 a day on wet days in summer.
Staff have used the lockdown to create the World War Two: War Stories exhibition, which not only features 60 vehicles but tells many of the human stories behind the official history.
One story centres on the museum’s only mascot and one of its smallest exhibits, a china doll called Little Audrey, Abbess of Chantry, who was given to tank commander Bill Bellamy by his girlfriend Audrey before he left for war.
Little Audrey was attached to the turret searchlight on Bellamy’s tank, the Abbot of Chantry, and became a good luck symbol to the whole troop.
The tanks were about to go into battle in Holland following D-Day when Little Audrey was knocked off her perch.
Bellamy was about to give the signal to move when Sgt Bill Pritchard leapt from his tank, rushed back to rescue Little Audrey from a hedgerow and handed her to the commander.
‘I’m not going without her!’ said Pritchard.
• The museum is now open 9am-5pm daily but numbers are limited due to the pandemic and visitors are advised to book via the website tankmuseum.org.
By: Roger Guttridge