Bradley Stoke ‘tank man’ makes national headlines

Jeff Woolmer with the Scorpion light tank he purchased via an online auction site.

A Bradley Stoke resident became the focus of national media attention in mid-October after an ex-army tank he purchased in an online auction was delivered to his Crofters Walk home.

Jeff Woolmer, 44, a stress engineer with the Bloodhound project in Avonmouth, placed a £9,000 bid on the Scorpion light tank back in May, following light-hearted conversations with work colleagues about military hardware. Believing he had set his bid too low to stand a realistic chance of winning the tank, he was surprised to receive a phone call four days after the auction closed telling him his bid had been successful and asking when he would like the tank delivered!

Jeff says: “I put in a low bid and thought ‘if I win, I win, and will figure out the next steps, if not, just move on!’. That phone call led to a lot of figuring out!”

At the time, Jeff was living in a two-bedroom flat in Clifton with his partner and three-year-old daughter. Although the family had been looking for a larger property for a while, the imminent arrival of a seven-tonne tank added a degree of urgency to their search for a new home!

As Jeff says, “Three or four bed houses with tank parking facilities are hard to come by in central Bristol,” so the search area was widened and the family eventually moved to their new home in Bradley Stoke at the end of September.

With four months having elapsed since Jeff bought the tank, the auction firm had been pressing Jeff to take delivery, so a heavy equipment transport specialist was quickly contacted.

Six days later, the tank duly arrived on a low loader, which also carried a powerful tractor that would be used to off load the tank and manoeuvre it into position on Jeff’s drive. The commotion caused quite a stir in the secluded cul-de-sac and Jeff says one neighbour’s seven-year-old son “thought all his Christmases had come at once” when he saw a tank, a trailer and a tractor all in one day and “couldn’t wait to tell his Dad when he came home”.

One youth living in the road later knocked at Jeff’s door with a friend, asking if he could “have a look at the tank” and Jeff was happy to let the pair help get some pieces of equipment our of the tank and show them the turret going round and the cannon going up and down. The youths later helped Jeff remove three of the four batteries from the vehicle, so that they can be charged up.

“It was a great way to break the ice with my new neighbours,” says Jeff, adding that he discovered that one neighbour had served in the army and another’s brother had been a tank driver in the army.

With the tank now safely parked on Jeff’s drive, word soon started to spread, and it wasn’t long before the local media were knocking on Jeff’s door, in the form of Catherine Ayers of Bradley Stoke Radio (BSR). However, Jeff’s media superstar status really began to take off when the BBC picked up the story a few days later, with Radio Bristol broadcasting a live interview from Jeff’s drive on Thursday 15th October.

Bradley Stoke 'tank man' story on the Daily Mail website.

By the end of Thursday, the BBC’s ‘Tank buyer has to move out of Bristol flat’ story had gone national, and ranked as the seventh most-read story on the BBC News website. Further media attention followed on Friday 16th, with Jeff being photographed by a regional picture agency and filmed by Made in Bristol. By the end of Friday, the ‘tank man’ story was figuring prominently on the websites of several national newspapers and was featured on the front page of CNN’s website.

According to the tank’s log book, which is in Jeff’s possession, the tank entered service in 1983 and was used at a British Army training base in Canada. It is fitted with a 75mm cannon and has a top speed of around 50mph. Officially designated a ‘combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked)’ or CVR(T), Jeff says its battlefield field role would have been to move forward in order to ascertain enemy positions before quickly retreating, its cannon being used mainly for self-defence.

Asked about his plans for the tank, Jeff says he has every intention of getting it mobile again, and, given that the vehicle is fitted with rubber pads on its tracks, he sees no reason why it shouldn’t be possible for it to be driven on public roads, subject to getting it registered with the DVLA. He will also need to get the ‘tracked vehicle’ category added to his licence before he can drive around Bradley Stoke in his new “Sunday afternoon toy”.

Jeff’s first task, once the demands of the media have died down, will be to power up the tank’s electrical system and see if he can get the engine started. Once that hurdle is cleared, he will need to search ex-army equipment suppliers for a gearbox, as his new toy is missing that essential component.

He plans to convert part of his garage into a ‘tank workshop’ and may create a ‘car (or tank) port’ to provide shelter for the vehicle, which in its present state is susceptible to the elements as some pieces of equipment, e.g. periscopes, have been removed, leaving holes through which water can get in. He is also conscious of the fact that he will need to have the use of lifting gear in order to be able to service the tank.

Jeff Woolmer, sitting in the commander's seat of the Scorpion tank he purchased through a online auction site.

Photos: (1) Jeff with tank on the drive of his Bradley Stoke home. (2) Jeff sitting in the tank commander’s seat.

• More photos on PicasaWeb and Flickr.

Media coverage of the Bradley Stoke ‘tank man’:

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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