Pigs Might Fly
Let me introduce you to FV1611.
It – or rather she – is a truck and she is sitting at the back of the yard, surrounded by scrap metal and other vehicle parts. FV means that it is a fighting vehicle, and you can tell that her shabbiness is not just caused by her abandonment in this junk end of the vehicle park. This is a vehicle that has done some serious work in her time.
FV1611 is a Humber 1 ton (Brit, not metric tonne) payload, wheeled, armoured vehicle designed for the British Army. Her primary role is troop-carrying and can carry eight blokes: one driver, one corporal/section commander as front passenger and six in the back, three each side. You need to be really friendly with your oppo ‘cos the back of FV16ll is somewhat bijou. And no windows, just little slits, so to make the most of the limited daylight somebody has painted the inside silver all over. That’s got rubbed and shabby too.
The first of these vehicles, designated FV1600, were built in 1952 and the last models, the 1611 Mark 2s came out in 1955 and they were still in service forty years later, latterly on the streets of Northern Ireland in support of the police. I did say she had done some serious work in her time.
She was built solid, but today’s elf’n’safety bods would have a heart attack if they went over her! Headroom? That’s a laugh, for a start! Bench seats at the back, no backs to them, no safety belts – not in the front either. If you have to deploy out of her fast you don’t want your feet getting tangled up in your mate’s safety belt. It’s bad enough with your own webbing. And you have to hold your rifle; only the driver has a place to stash his weapon. Cushions as hard as seasoned oak; but less comfortable. But you don’t want comfort – you want alert. And there’s only one way out.
The best thing about her was the Rolls Royce engine, but don’t get the idea that she gave a Roll-Royce ride, oh no! Her suspension was as hard as the bench seats and – to get technical – the power : weight ratio was abysmal. No power steering, either, which meant that drivers got pretty sticky in the summer.
No, on the whole there’s not a lot to remember with delight about FV1611, but as I scramble over the junk to investigate further, a lot of memories come creeping in slowly. I remember some good mates, some no longer with us, some in different worlds of their own, some happy with families. We had unspoken rules for living together in cramped and Spartan places. What, for example, was in your ration pack was yours, but if you got any extras, beer, sweets, fags they were shared. You looked after your buddy and he looked out for you. You were a team.
I felt a prickle at the back of my eyes as I remembered some of those days, days which should not have been but were, and I could not feel regret at being there. Those were the days when I was young and fit and invincible and the whole world was open to me.
And now my son says, “Careful Dad, that junk doesn’t look secure”, but I am now beside her, opening the driver’s door. Some vandal has pulled out the speedo and smashed the other instrument glasses, but all the rest is still there. She’s sad, and shabby, abandoned and forlorn. Carefully I slip into the driver’s seat and hold the wheel again. I look around the cab and get a shock – there are my initials just as I scratched them in the paint alongside the windscreen all those years ago. This I do not believe!
“Dad, Dad, come out of there – you’ll get caught!” But I sit still for a few moments more, not exactly re-living the past but recalling ghosts, and especially the ghost of this machine FV1611 series, Mark 2, modified with bull-bars to take down barricades and extended anti-riot screens, and so heavy to drive and with such a lumbering performance they were nicknamed Flying Pigs.
© Alan F. Jesson 2018