Curator’s Pick: The BARV
As REME Museum prepares to open its doors to visitors, Curator Jennifer Allison has compiled ten of her personal favourite objects from the Museum that sum up the story and spirit of REME.
The Museum has over 100 vehicles in its collection, the majority of which are REME specific variants. On display will be one of the oldest vehicles from this collection, the Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle (BARV), used during World War II.
The BARV was used on the D-Day Landings in June 1944. A lot of people assume that the BARV was meant to help stranded crews, but it wasn’t – it was used to clear those vehicles that had become stuck in the sand and water. Part of the success of D-Day was the momentum with which vehicles could disembark from the landing crafts and get to the beaches. The BARV kept the routes clear so that this could be achieved.
It was one of the first vehicles which was modified to be REME specific – the lower part is a Sherman tank and the turret was removed to allow for recovery equipment.
The BARV would have a crew of three – the driver, the commander and the diver. The diver would have one of those old fashioned diving suits with the large helmets and would have to go into the water to attach the hook to the stranded vehicle so it could be pulled out of the way. To me it just seems incredible that they were able to do this when you think about all the fighting happening and the noise and low visibility. It would be so easy to get disorientated.
After the initial landings and once fighting had moved away from the beaches, there were still vehicles to be cleared. The diving suits weren’t the most flexible of things to wear, so at this point, the diver was known to take it off and hold his breath when he needed to go into the water. That just shows the REME spirit of getting the job done in the best way possible.
I think one of the things which makes this vehicle stand out for me is because of an interview we did with one of the first members of REME who was transferred in when it was formed in 1942. His job was as the driver, and he gave such a vivid description of what it was like to be involved in D-Day and to drive this vehicle that you can’t help but see it in a different light.
A big part of the new Museum is to bring out the stories which are related to the objects we have on display. We really want the public to not just see them as static collection items, but to realise that a lot of them were used by men and women involved in Operations since World War II and have seen battle.
Visitors will be able to see the BARV and a number of other vehicles on display.