Tanks, dust and bread pudding. This year’s Capel Military Vehicle Show had it all. Mark Barnes describes his day in the Surrey hills.
This summer saw the ninth edition of the Capel Military Vehicle Show, an event regular attendees rank as a ‘must do’ on their calendar and one which I admit to being very late to the party. This was my first visit.
The fun took place on farmland near Dorking in Surrey during the first weekend in July. I only planned to attend one day, but many of my mates had set up camp and brought along a lot of kit to look at. I gave up owning military vehicles a while ago, but I was pleased to see my dear old M151 ‘Muttley’ going strong, and I even managed a ride around the site in it. This was just one highlight from a thoroughly enjoyable day.
There was a lot for armour lovers to look at, including a posse of Shermans, a T34, an M10 and a very tidy M47 Patton. I had never seen one of these running before, so it was a real bonus on top of all the M4s. The British Army were kind enough to send along an AS90 self-propelled gun. It did a few laps of the arena and a few other tricks. The sheer size of the thing is something to behold. The above-mentioned armour made a carousel around the arena and gave an impressed public a memorable line-up. Some of the Shermans were loaded onto Diamond T transporters pulling Rogers trailers. There was sunshine, clouds of dust and plenty of noise. What more could one want?
A Second World War themed battle in the woods provided much entertainment and the 360 History group put on their homage to Blackhawk Down. I caught the end of a US Civil War group making their own bit of noise and I was fortunate to spend time snapping the chaps from 8e Battaillon Parachutiste de Choc, representing French forces in Indo-China during their descent to disaster at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. My day ended sitting on a sofa discussing the merits of Arnold Wilkins and his place in the birth of radar. What’s not to like?
Show reports are funny things to read. Do you want a dry run down of all the stuff you missed or accounts of silliness you can subscribe to? I’m not sure, either way. What I can tell you is I had a thoroughly acceptable time. I got to catch up with friends old and new. I had a beer with some of the people I liberated Dorchester with back in June and I left with some decent photographs. As a senior, my advance ticket cost £7.25p and I spent a massive £3 on a cup of tea and a chunk of bread pudding from the NAAFI tea van. Perfection. This doesn’t take into account the small fortune I spent on unleaded just to get there and back or the soulless half hour I spent fighting a zombie apocalypse in the food hall at Cobham services on the M25.
Let’s get down to it, then. For a while now I’ve been drip fed comparisons with another big regional show that didn’t take place this year. The consensus was that Capel is like the other show used to be before it got too big – yadda, yadda, yadda. Now, there are coincidences in the shape of well-known figures from that other show performing roles at Capel, but this is just a matter of geography. Kent and Surrey are neighbours.
The organisers of Capel only have so many acres to play with and, again, the consensus is the show “cannot” get any bigger and that this is a “good” thing. I have no clue. I’ve never met the farmers who put on the Capel show. In real terms they remind me of the Eavis family inasmuch as they have created their own Glastonbury, but with tanks.
What the cows make of all this is a moot point. Apologies to Lizzie Ware for nicking her timeless description of an event which is finally on point over twenty odd years since I started out in this weird business.
The show does not welcome the swastika flag or encourage those who like to wear particular Nazi uniforms. Only very few people appear to object to this ruling. There isn’t a huge traders area and the atmosphere is relaxed and more family orientated than many events I’ve witnessed.
They set aside a field just for helicopters and this year saw a Chinook, a Gazelle and other visitors. How cool is that? I really like the way the organisers engage with their visitors and exhibitors through all the modern digital conduits. Positivity is everywhere. All in all, the event feels more compact, more cohesive and generally more conducive to having a good time.
I saw a friend driving a staff car and on saying hello I found he had the singer and actress Anita Harris on board. She was due to perform later in the day. I’m not sure where she stands on the scientific contributions of Arnold Wilkins.
I had a great time at Capel. I liked the scale, the vibe, the armour and the bread pudding.
Parking up was a bit fiddly and I could have been impatient after a long drive. But I saw a lot of smiling faces and did not hear a single gripe I’d rank as meaningful.
Catching up with long lost pals from the salad days of the Historic Military Vehicle Forum was fantastic. There are no negatives. Getting into your car at the end of the day, feeling tired but still smiling is the hallmark of a good show. Capel is a very good show.
Put this one in your diary for 2023. I certainly will.
Mark Barnes has written for various publications, including The Times and a number of magazines and websites. His The Times branded books If War Should Come (2021) and The Liberation of Europe (2016) are available from the usual outlets. You can follow Mark’s archive military photography work on Twitter @mbarnesn16.