To begin with, all military equipment gets a designation – an official name if you like. Without getting into experimental models, there were a number of carrier types in production in the United Kingdom (UK) prior to WWII. These were:
- Carrier, Armoured MG – No known survivors
- Carrier, Cavalry – No known survivors
- Carrier, Bren – Two Mk I models survived; both reside in New Zealand
- Carrier, AOP – One Mk II survived in Australia; two Mk IIIs survived in NZ
- Carrier, Scout – One survives, now in the UK
- Carrier, Universal – Many survive worldwide
As the carriers evolved, their designation became more specific. Take ‘Carrier, AOP No 2 Mk I’ for example. The name describes the basic version (Carrier), its designed use (AOP or Armoured Observation Post), the type of power unit (No 2) and the model of that particular carrier type (Mk I).
All power units were Ford V8 – either No 1, No 2, or No 3; the numbers referring to the horsepower output (65, 85 or 95 hp). The Mk I model was the first standardised design for that particular carrier type. This might describe the first hull type where a subsequent model e.g. Mk II might describe a major hull design change, a major stowage change or both changes combined.
Between WWI and WWII, Vickers-Carden-Loyd was developing carriers. With the threat of war looming, the colonies looked to mother England for supply of equipment.
During 1938, Australia, Canada and New Zealand (NZ) ordered carriers. Australia and Canada ordered one each (perhaps for patterns?) while NZ ordered six. I guess there was no plan to build them at that stage? “Heck! We get everything from mother England. Even our vehicle number plates are made there!”
For reasons unknown to me, Australia’s order for one carrier went to Nuffield (Morris) and they received a Carrier, Armoured MG (Machine Gun) No 2 Mk I. It was the first of a batch of 150. Its War Department (W.D.) census number was T2831 and its British Registration number was HMH384 according to Nigel Watson’s Universal Carriers Volume 1. This is at odds with Mike Cecil’s early (but wonderful) Australian Military Equipment Profiles Volume 2 book which described T2831 as a Bren No 2 Mk I and was corrected in a later publication. T2831 carried its ‘genetics’ over to the Australian LP 1; many of which are easily recognised.
The singular carrier ordered by Canada and the six ordered by New Zealand were sequential.
These seven carriers were designated Carrier, Bren No 2 Mk I which was a slightly later development than the Armoured MG that went to Australia and was built to carry the recently adopted Bren gun. HMH243 and HMH244 (T2690 and T2691) survive today, both in NZ and are the only known British Bren carriers left on the planet. (Note: Only Britain and NZ built Bren carriers).
With the outbreak of war, England virtually lost all her early carriers in Dunkirk (there were some already in North Africa and a few others at home. (later, any that happened to survive into 1942 were ordered to disposals for recycling- ref. Army council instructions)
As a result of losses in Europe, no further supply of equipment from England was forthcoming. New Zealand turned to Australia for carriers, with the same result.
With reference to Jeff Plowman’s book, Armoured Fighting Vehicles of New Zealand. The public demanded action and the New Zealand Railways Workshops at Woburn in The Hutt valley were tasked with building 40 carriers.
One of the six British Brens was stripped to use as a pattern (I know not which one)
Due to a shortage of steel plate (no available armour plate) salvaged steel from a ship (The Port Bowen built in 1916) that had run aground at Wanganui, was used. The plan was to strip and re-plate these carriers when armour plate became available. This never happened and within two years they were obsolete.
The Australians built 158 Carrier Machine Gun (Aust) No1. Theirs was called a “Local Pattern Carrier No. 1” or LP1. The New Zealand Bren was not designated any differently than its British counterpart. The incorrect tagging with an ”LP1” title was retro slang that naturally fell into place after the adoption of the Australian LP2 / 2a as our standard carrier.
For whatever reason, I suspect supply was a problem, NZR decided to cast their own brake drums and backing plates. They opted to use the CMP Ford brake system, but for some reason it was necessary to shave one side off the brake shoes. I haven’t quite figured this out yet, but assume it has something to do with the hull width, axle width etc. The system is the common Wagner Lockheed design found in lots of vehicles of that era. These include the WWII Jeep and WWII military Dodges.
The wheel cylinders are a 1 1/2” bore and the master cylinder is of a 1 ¼” bore. There being one for each side of the carrier.
In 1938 the carriers in the U.K. were being built with a floor that had “returns” on it. In other words, the floors had a piece that was bent up on each side and each end. This return was directly riveted to the hull sides, front and rear. This method of construction required perfect sizing and constituted a difficult construction method. By 1939 this method of construction had given way to a simpler method. Around the inside of Ben Hawkins Scout carrier there are short lengths of angle iron riveted to the hull. In turn, the flat floor was riveted to the angle iron.
This change required a different rivet layout and with two types of floor listed in parts books has led at least one carrier book author to conclude that Brens were built in two hull lengths.
I make the assumption that the MkII Bren carriers were built with flat floors and the angle iron join. None have survived to my knowledge. The parts book lists them with the same floor as the Scout.
Restoration of NZR 6 – a team effort!
In June 1988 I visited a guy in National park, a very small settlement beside Tongariro National park. I don’t recall why but I asked if there were any carriers in the area. He pointed me at the school which had a hull in the playground. At that time the world was changing and kids weren’t allowed to have fun anymore. Tanks and tractors and old fighter planes were being removed from playgrounds. I made a $100.00 donation to the school and then owned a rotten hull. I had no clue what it was and knew nothin’ about carriers.
Meanwhile a friend, Peter Savonjie introduced me to a Jeff Plowman.
Jeff will be known to a few of you as an author of books relating to New Zealand’s armoured fighting vehicles. Jeff asked a few questions and we settled on sending him some photos. He identified the hull as that of a New Zealand “ LP1” The hull number was there, NZR6. That’s rare! Who else had one? No one! A few years went by and my efforts to round up bits for it were not too successful. It was pretty hard because everyone who had parts was hanging on to them. I swapped a trailer load of LP2 bits for Riveted carrier bits in Christchurch, Scored some good track and bought some bogie wheels.
Time went by. We extended our house, I pulled the floor from the hull and had another one folded up. Life was busy, three growing kids, a good-sized mortgage, and other interests. The carrier floor leaned against the wall in the garage for quite a while. I bought kept and sold a ¾ ton Dodge ambulance, then did the same with a Unimog.
During his time I found another bare hull. It turned out to be a British Armoured O.P No1 MkIIIW. Another oddball. This is riveted carrier shape (a U.C) but a welded hull. l Dragged it to work and with my bosses, permission was allowed to have it at work to work on it, in my own time. Looking back, I can’t believe it!
I did a lot of work on it, new upper armour, both side, rear upper, div plate etc. (the front was still there and good), replaced parts of the track guards, tool board, rear deck, lots of bits, sandblast and paint and took it home. Shortly after a switch clicked in our heads and we sold our home.
Chris and I bought a small piece of land in the country. We loaded our house stuff on a trailer and shifted to a rental. We bought seven shipping containers and shifted the shite from my shed out onto our bit of dirt. We built a building (small house, large shed) (house not finished) and seven years later, we opened the seven containers to see what was there.
I’d heard about another carrier hull in the south island, rumoured to be another oddball hull. A timely trip with a diversion had me on site. Andy thought it was worth more than I did, but I bought it anyhow.
What else could I do?
This one was about the same as the first one, but nowhere near the rust. It came with a few special bits that I needed.
These are important bits. I had one. Now I have the two I need…… and a spare!
This hull from the Greta valley turned out to be no. 21. The serial number disappeared when the top of the Division plate was cut away, but as it happened the serial number appears in other places as well. The major components were individually fitted and numbered to each carrier, so the 2 rear bogie frames, the speedo drive housing, (gearbox to diff) and the brake backing plates are all numbered. 21 stamped in 5 places. Early on when I borrowed the I.D plate, from Paul Burr, I traded a Stewart tank part for a complete rear axle assembly from Carrier number 29.
With a plan in my head, I made a lifting frame and took the floor out of the 21 hull. I used the lower hull sides (having straightened them) the lower rear plate. I used the division plate from NZR 6 and the front lower plate from an English U.C. I had folded up new engine bed rails and new track guards. The upper armour is all new except for the gun mantlet and the steering box armour. The division plate was missing the upper left corner and the bottom was badly rusted so I replaced 100mm at the bottom
At this time (2010) I have become friends with Ben Hawkins in England. Ben is younger but has good skills and he sets off on a course to build a Bren carrier from about the same start as me
By this time, I’d had a couple of trips to Australia. I spent a week in Pukapunyal camp and visited the museum there. The major interest being the LP1. Then later we did a family trip through the Canning stock route (a 4wd trip from Darwin to Perth) I tried to catch up with Jared Archibald to see his LP1 but the timing was no good. We did however manage to stay a night at Nungarin hosted by Philip Hastings. I was able to crawl all over his rare British Scout carrier.
Ben and I need each other. I need his skills and he needs me to round up details from the two Brens in N.Z. This entailed me tripping to Waiouru and Christchurch, armed with a plan from Ben. I send him chicken scratchings and he sends me CAD drawings. A win-win I hope?
Chris and I later had a wedding to attend in the U.K. We tied in a week at Bens, just missing the arrival of the Scout that Ben had bought from Phillip Hastings.
(It’s all riveting stuff!) Progress is made on the hull and the time for some riveting has come. I conned Chris. She held the dolly (bucking bar – she can hardly lift it!) and we riveted in the new bed rail ends.
To do riveting you need to have a helper. They are motivated by a similar disease, or by money. This apparently was not included in our marriage contract (I so lack foresight!) So!, in comes my local friend Rodney Lawrence. He is motivated by the rivet gun. He needs to re rivet 3 WWII Dodge chassis. (I have one that needs the same… as well as my carrier! I spend time at Rodney’s and he spends time in my shed. We get a lot of rivets done! Meantime Ben has sent me Cad drawings for upper armour and I have checked them and had the armour cut at Fik Laser.
Ross Williams in Canada, and I have become friends. I have “non-armoured” plates and headlight brackets cast up. The hull is starting to shape up (there is still no lining in the house) Our daughter Jodie comes home and marries Glenn. They live and work in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. They go back to Aussie after the wedding and five minutes later Jodie is homesick! “Can you come over Mum?” “Aarrgghh What!!” I said. Chris puts me in a “Half Nelson” and said… “Darling!”… I agree to go for 12 months. “But when we get home, I’m getting into that carrier! O.K!
While in Kalgoorlie Ben and I are still talking carriers. We talk about War and Peace. I talk to Rob Beale. He introduces me to Shaun Moloney. We form a plan to go to War and Peace 2014, with us 3 Kiwis. Ben talks to Shaun Hindle and Shaun H. invites us 3 kiwis to stay on his site at W&P. While there I get to meet some good friends I had made on MLU forum (Ross and Richard Harrison)
18 months after leaving N.Z., we come home. We have a quick trip to Dunedin for Brett and Marie’s graduations. I visit mum daily for months in a rest home. She has dementia. Six months after getting home, we have a funeral. Work on the house progresses. I get back into the carrier.
I have made many small parts with many to go. I have had help from others. Andrew Rowe loaned me the POL bin so that I could copy it. It is soon heading over to Ben as well. Ben has helped with parts, making some, finding some, being a depot for stuff I buy, buying and sending BSF fasteners etc.
He is also being a great help making up some of the difficult Bren specific parts. He has made up the folding flap at the left rear (this is a tricky bit of fabrication) and he is working on the air ducts (air boxes) which are very complicated. He has also moulded up a step rubber for me from a pattern I sent him.
Thank you so much Ben for all your help!
Every picture outside of the Railway workshops shows these carriers with a Mickey Mouse camo pattern. However, I believe that they rolled out of the Woburn workshops in a locomotive green. It is a gloss finish. (it make sense to me!) The horn above has the locomotive green (not unlike British racing Green) It then has a Khaki green over the top.
In typical army style, there appears to be minimal prep. and the Khaki comes off fairly easily. The closest I was able to get in a current paint, is a colour called Stewart green. Rightly or wrongly, I have chosen to paint my carrier to suit this time in history before the Mickey Mouse Camo went on, fresh out of the Hutt workshops.
The locomotive paint was found in a few places around NZR 6 where the sandblasting had missed, probably when it went into the school playground years before.
I re-bushed the bogie frames and honed them to fit the NOS cross tube. I re-bushed the bogie arms, bought an adjustable reamer, and reamed them to suit the new shafts. Rob Beale pointed me at aluminium rivets and I had to grovel to Andrew for a few suspension cups. I had already salvaged some good ones. (the cups are a pain to rivet in)
The cross tube roller brackets are no fun either. The early carriers used the same bolt pattern as the Australian LP2, however they needed to be relieved at the bottom to fit over the floor return. My cousin’s hubby Gary Garner has an engineering shop. He can’t get away. He’s a rellie! Gary has done a lot of jobs for me. Sorry mate! The brackets need to be loose to get the cross tube in, but more importantly, the gear change needs to be in first! I’m a learner!
The throttle pedal is made in England. The round pedal is likely a hangover from the M.G. carrier the Aust. LP2 being of the same style. The Kiwi Brens had a plain plate on the clutch and brake pedals.
Rodney made new bogie shaft seals. He made a small mould and used injection moulding.
Ford only supplied one size of gasket for between the two halves of the axle housing. It’s 0.010” (or ten thou. thick) In theory, with new bearings all round and the correct backlash, everything should be bang on.
This article first appeared in the NZMVC publication “BULLETIN” in November 2018. This publication is available exclusively to members of NZMVC. Find out more about joining NZ’s premier military vehicle club [here]