Everyone, we’d like you to meet Bertie.
Bertie is the last remaining WW2 Austin 8 NAAFI Van. He once provided refreshments to service personnel on our airfields. Today he is one of the most popular exhibits in the collection of the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum in Aultbea, Scotland. Bertie is still active out and about. He plays an important role as our ambassador attending local events and visiting nearby schools and care homes. Needless to say, he is much loved in the local community and brings a huge smile to faces when he is seen out on the road.
What’s the problem?
While Bertie is still happy to be out and about, he is getting on in years now and as he is one of a kind it’s hugely important that we safeguard him for the future. There is a lot of demand out there to see Bertie. He has interest from WWII re-enactors, vintage car clubs, and more recently fulfilled his role as a wedding car. The local community are keen for him to appear at events, schools, and care homes, and all this adds up to a lot of mileage. As he is 80 years old and has a top speed of 35 mph, it is not possible for him to attend all the requests he receives. Add into the equation that the British weather is not always co-operative, and this adds a further risk to Bertie’s well-being as his cloth roof is vulnerable to damage.
While it is fantastic that Bertie is able to visit people locally, we appreciate that his base is in a remote part of the country. Aultbea is in the North West Scottish Highlands, and access by public transport is minimal. The journey here can be long along single track roads, and we realise that this may be restricting the audience that Bertie can reach. We want as many people as possible to be able to see and enjoy Bertie up close, so we need a way to get Bertie to them safely and securely.
The solution is easy. Bertie needs a trailer and a weather-proof cover! If it’s too far for him to travel himself then he can get a lift to the destination without straining his own vintage parts and with no risk of getting wet.
Another great thing about Bertie is the fact that he can transport parts of our museum collection to different locations. In effect he makes a travelling exhibit.
Our region has limited public transport with two bus journeys available per week to Inverness. Villages are reached via single track roads and being a crofting area, houses are set apart. It is difficult for young people to meet outside school hours and elderly people have limited opportunities to socialise without help from friends, family or the community car scheme. We’d just love it if Bertie could bring some of our collection to those members of the community who cannot physically attend the museum.
Bertie is a big hit with the local care homes and we have future plans to help local school children learn about the wartime heritage of the local area, with Bertie’s help of course. He has replica wartime ephemera so that children can try on a gas mask and tin hat, play with toys of the era, hear the sound effects of air raid sirens and bombing raids, learn about evacuees, old money and food rationing. He distributes wartime recipes to educate about healthy eating and promotes "digging for victory" (growing vegetables). When visiting care homes, Bertie provides rock buns and tea, making him a very welcome visitor.
What support do we have from the local community?
The local community have shown great support to Bertie in recent years. When his attendance was requested at the Austin 8 @ 80 anniversary celebrations in Longbridge in 2019, we had a dilemma as we had no way to get him there. A local builder came forward and allowed us to use his trailer so Bertie was able to take part in this memorable occasion. Later that year we had a request for Bertie to appear as a wedding car in Edinburgh. Again it was a local who kindly offered the use of their trailer that made this possible. Just recently a large garage has been completed for Bertie and painted in wartime camouflage with the work carried out by local volunteers. We have also received local donations of original wartime items such as cigarette packets, a petrol cannister and NAAFI till box to help fit him out authentically. It’s safe to say the locals have embraced Bertie as one of the community, and he would clearly benefit from a trailer of his own.
Who will benefit from your project?
Although Bertie has a broad appeal across all age groups, he is particularly targeted at schools, care homes, the disabled and those who might otherwise not be able to visit our museum to see him in his garage. We intend to expand our reach throughout the Highlands and Islands and ultimately as far afield as Orkney to visit colleagues working on a similar projects at Scapa Flow and the Outer Hebrides. Of course, with a trailer Bertie would be able to travel throughout the UK should any special requests be made.
So please help us take care of this special piece of history and help us take Bertie to wider audiences. Bertie brings a smile to everyone’s face. He’s been handing out tea and treats for 80 years and has no intention of stopping any time soon.
Find out more about the museum that houses Bertie here. He’d be delighted to see you one day.