Collections in Focus: Crankshaft Cap Badge
In July 1945, REME personnel, members of 30 Workshop Control Unit, arrived at a bombed car factory in Northern Germany, within the British Zone of Occupation. While setting up repair lines for damaged British and German vehicles, they uncover examples of vehicles built by the factories former owners: Volkswagen.
This blog explores an artefact that commemorates REME’s crucial role in the Volkswagen’s post-war development: a second pattern REME cap badge, cast from a crankshaft or crankcase from an early VW car.
REME badge, cast from an aluminium crankshaft or crankcase from an early VW car, after 1947. From the Museum’s collection, A:1979.2187. Photo © National Army Museum.
This item, not usually on display, is about 40cm long and cast in aluminium. It was probably made for a sign or might have been mounted to a vehicle. During the Second World War aluminium had been a key strategic resource, needed particularly for aircraft and vehicle manufacture. Ambitious public programmes in the UK appealed to the public to donate household aluminium. After VE Day aluminium was as readily available as the car-parts that littered the factory at Wolfsburg, then called Stadt des KdF-Wagens.
REME personnel like Colonel Michael McEvoy were among the first to see a future for the factory. He remembered early VWs like the KdF-Wagen from pre-war motor shows and others had seen Kübelwagens in North Africa. Chosen to kick start the company was REME Major Ivan Hirst who arrived in Wolfsburg in August 1945.
Hirst tackles leaking the leaking roof, struggles for materials and machinery and faces serious staff shortages. Just over a year later, in October 1946, 10,000 cars have rolled off the production line and into service, easing transport problems across the Allied Zones. When the Reichsmark is replaced with the Deutsmark a civilian market becomes feasible. The factory is flooded with orders. By the time control of the company was handed to the West German authorities, Volkswagen had emerged as important symbol of West German reconstruction and was on its way to becoming a global success.
This artefact was definitely cast after 1947, as this is when REME’s cap badge was changed to the horse and lightning bolt design used today. It was donated to the Museum by Major (Retired) E A Eastcott who served with REME at the Volkswagen works from 1946 to 1951.
Major Eastcott, then WO1, with a WO1 Bloom in front of a line of vehicles at Wolfsburg. Eastcott donated the cap badge to the Museum in the 1970s. From the Museum’s collection A:1970.1052.11. © Unknown.
REME’s work helping Volkswagen rise from the ashes of Nazi Germany was not REME or the British Army’s only contribution to the resurrection of German industry post-war, but it is a story that both REME and Volkswagen remain very proud of. In 2020 this item was loaned to the National Army Museum to be part of an exhibition called Foe to Friend: The British Army in Germany since 1945. The exhibition runs from 12 September 2020 to 1 July 2021.
Find out more
Volkswagen’s Corporate Archive online hosts comprehensive information on the history of the company, from its foundation, through the post-war period and beyond. This includes a number of in-depth English language publications.
On a trip to the REME Museum you can enjoy film and artefacts related to this subject, including a 1:10 scale model of a VW Beetle, presented to Major Hirst in 1949, one of only three produced. Why not today?
The Museum also maintains a travelling display titled The Ruined Factory that can be borrowed if you would like to share the REME-VW story at your motor show or another event. Please us for more information.
Kim, Assistant Curator