-Day, 6th of June 1944, was the beginning of the Allies' landing, and was the start of the largest invasion fleet which ever set sail in the English Channel. Many people, ships, landing crafts, planes and war machines were involved, many of which had come from Coventry. One of the many hundreds of thousand items I would like to highlight is Field Marshal Montgomery's Humber staff car.
Known as the "Victory car", this car was used by Monty from the beaches of Normandy all the way to Berlin. Monty liked this type of high speed staff car as he had used one in the North African campaign. It was very reliable and it got the nickname of "Old Faithful". The vehicle is a military version of the Humber Super Snipe open tourer. With its large 4.5 litre engine it could happily cruise at a steady 70 miles an hour. It was a completely standard Humber except for the special WD (War Department) tyres, reinforced running board and bumpers, and a special second fold-down windscreen for the rear seats. Monty liked its large engine bonnet and he would use it like a table to lay out maps and plans from which he would explain the next troop movements. One thing that did surprise many people was it not having any armour plating or bullet proof windows anywhere!
There was a story that when the Humber car was being unloaded from the ship on to the Mulberry Harbour it fell into forty feet of water. It was pulled out of the sea and quickly dried off, was made ready for Monty, and it ran OK for the rest of the war. In the 1990s when the vehicle was having some restoration done to it, it was discovered that there were traces of sea salt up high under parts of the bodywork, which had caused some corrosion.
This Humber Staff Car No. M239485 was used by
FIELD MARSHAL THE RT. HON. THE VISCOUNT
MONTGOMERY OF ALAMEIN, K.G., G.C.B., D.S.O.
From NORMANDY to BERLIN
June 6th 1944 - August 25th 1945.
After the war, in 1945, the car was handed over to the Humber Company by the War Office. Later on in the 1970s the Humber / Rootes company was taken over by Chrysler UK Ltd. The chairman, Mr. Gilbert Hunt, placed the car under the control of Coventry Museums.
The car still has its five-star general plates, and on the doors are brass plates explaining what and whom the car was used for. It says:
In May 1994 the "Victory Car" was invited to travel with fifty English cars and fifty French cars on the very first Channel Tunnel train. The cavalcade of cars departed from Hyde Park in London and arrived at le Place de la Concorde in Paris, having been on the first official trip through the Channel Tunnel. While the Victory Car was travelling through Paris in the parade, the car developed a blown gasket. The two drivers, Malcolm Oliver and Chris Boyce, soon changed the gasket as they had made sure they had spare parts for the journey. Within no time it was repaired and the crowd who were watching thought it was part of the display of how easy it was to work on the vehicle, and clapped. The next hard part was to find water to fill up the radiator! The crowd started to help them by taking cups and buckets of water from the nearby ornate fountain display.
In a year's time it will be the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, so hopefully the car will be able to take part in the commemorations. The vehicle has become a symbol of Coventry contribution to the war effort. The factory where it was made, and the people like my granddad who worked there, have all gone now, and we need to remember them. It was because we had all these factories that we were bombed in one of the first heavy bombing Blitz raids. We hope that nothing like this ever needs to happen again to stop fascist tyranny.
To many this may not seem very historic, and to others it truly is history that we should remember.
Paul Maddocks, 2023
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