Ballcarry man lovingly restores rare World War One wagon in ‘lockdown project’

One of the last surviving First World War artefacts of its type has been lovingly and painstakingly restored to its former glory by an east Antrim man.

Friday, 8th January 2021, 2:58 pm

Ballycarry’s Derek Beattie is referring to the restoration of the First World War ammunition wagon as his ‘Covid Lockdown Project’, and the time and effort which has gone into the unique project is clear to see.

Photographs show the old wagon in a dilapidated stage at its former home on the south coast of England.

But after months of hard work the vehicle has been restored to the point of being hardly recognisable from the rusting wreck which Derek and a friend travelled to Chichester to bring home on a trailer.

Derek Beattie with the restored wagon.

The wagon was for 4.5” shells and would have carried 32 rounds of ammunition as well as engineer’s tools. Three men would have sat on the horse-drawn wagon, which was used to supply Ordnance QF 4.5 inch howitzers.

The detail of restoration is highlighted by replacement leather straps (fashioned at the Oldmill Saddlery in Ballycarry) which were located for the men to hold on to as they sat on the wagon seat as it was pulled by horses to the howitzers.

Some of the wagons, such as this one, ended up being purchased after the First World War by the Irish Defence Forces and many of them were used as ‘gate guards’ at army camps as time went on. As the years went on some of the wagons, which were adapted for motorised vehicles, were sold off and the one which Derek has restored ended up in the south of England.

A few years ago Derek and a team of helpers managed to restore one of the howitzers which he had purchased from a private dealer. In 1925 the howitzer had been one of those bought by the government of the Irish Free State.

The wagon would have carried 32 rounds of ammunition.

The extensive work included having a new set of wheels made to replace the rubber tyres which had been part of the adaptations of the vehicles when they went to the Irish Defence Forces. From that point Derek says he was keeping a watchful eye on the ammunition wagon, which he was aware enthusiast Clive Hughes had among his collection.

However, Clive had never got to restore the wagon and, now in his 80s, he decided to sell the unique wartime artefact.

“Clive was in his 80s and he would never sell the ammunition wagon but after I restored the howitzer I got a phone call from him to see was I interested in it,” Derek explained.

“I had to get two new wheels made from the same company in Kent that made wheels for the howitzer and I also had to make a lot of the parts which were needed. I studied photographs of these wagons and that helped what is a very authentic restoration. The late Willie Marsden helped me with the braking system,” Derek explained.

The ammunition wagon as it was before being brought to Northern Ireland.

He believes that only a very small number of the ammunition wagons are in the hands of private collectors, but the odds become even shorter for collectors who have an ammunition wagon and the howitzer that it supplied.

Derek says he enjoys the challenge of working on old vehicles such as these, and seeing the transformation which can be affected.

And now that he has completed the work on the ammunition wagon and it is appropriately located with the howitzer, Derek might be expected to put his feet up, job done. But that is certainly not the case! He has a 1963 dumper truck which he is now working on.

The vehicle was lying rusting in a field, where it had been for around a decade, when Derek approached the owner about taking it off his hands. Now it has been disassembled in Derek’s workshop and he is working on the engine and the gear box, both of which show signs of poor maintenance over the years of the vehicle’s working life. All that is likely to change, however, now that it has arrived at the restoration shed…

Detailed restoration over many months.

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