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WWII tank found at Denbies

English wine estate Denbies discovered a rather more unusual element of its terroir recently in the shape of an old tank from the Second World War.

Photo: Denbies

An exploratory dig at the Surrey vineyard in January had revealed the location of the long-buried armoured vehicle and the whole thing was excavated on 23 May.

It took the whole day to bring the tank out of its chalky tomb and it will now be left in situ at the Denbies vineyard for the next two months for members of the public to view.

It will then be taken taken away to be fully restored by a team led by WW2 enthusiast Rick Wedlock.

The tank’s discovery and excavation will also be shown in a new series being shot for History Channel, which will air in the UK this autumn.

The tank itself is a ‘Covenanter’, a type of light cruiser tank that was the mainstay of the British army in the early years of the war.

A poor design, the relatively lightly armed and undergunned Covenanters were almost obsolete as soon as they were introduced in 1938 and certainly were by 1940. They saw little active service outside of the UK and were largely used to re-equip British units as the army rebuilt after Dunkirk and for training purposes by British and Commonwealth armoured units before they were replaced by newer British designs such as the ‘Churchill’ and ‘Cromwell’ and the famous American ‘Sherman’.

Relegated to defensive roles, including with the Home Guard, it is thought this particular Covenanter suffered the fate of many out-of-date tank designs – being used as a ‘hard target’ on gunnery ranges.

The tank was likely used as target practice by Canadian gunners who were stationed in at nearby Headley Court prior to the invasion of France in 1944.

The Covenanter as it would have looked during the war. It was largely used for training (here with 2nd [armoured] battalion Irish Guards in 1942) and sometimes target practice
One shot appears to have blown the turret clean off because it was not recovered with the main chassis of the tank. A little further digging, however, uncovered it and it has been reunited with its parent body.

At least one other tank was buried in the area and excavated in 1983. Restored to its former glory it is now housed at Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset.

In the intervening years the English wine industry took off and what was once pastureland is now home to the biggest vineyard in the UK.

Twenty Pinot Noir vines had to be sacrificed to get the tank out but the effort was worth it. Despite suffering some severe damage at the hands of the Canadian gunners, not only were the wheels still capable of turning but the suspension hadn’t gone either.

Chris White, Denbies CEO, said: “The tank is in surprisingly good conditions with some paint and marking still visible. In spite of a large hole on one side of the tank, the chalk has proved to be an excellent preservative. The amount of interest in the WW2 history of the estate and Dorking has been overwhelming and we look forward to the tank being fully restored.”

Who knows, perhaps Denbies may decide to name the vineyard or a wine after the tank, which has been contributing to its soil make-up for so long. Speaking to the drinks business a spokeswoman from Denbies said there were no plans to do so – yet, but there was a hint that the idea was not entirely out of the question.

The irony being (as one reader added in the comments below) that the original Covenanters were an extremely strict sect of Scottish Presbyterians who were extremely severe in their attitudes towards alcohol. There is though something poetic about an object bearing their name being found in a vineyard.

Further pictures of the tank and various bits and pieces found in and around it can be seen on Denbies Twitter page, here.

It is also at the vineyard for people to see, for free, for the next few months.

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