Wartime Food Van Gets Ready For Display

January 15, 2009 by Adam Day

It’s not all that easy to restore a 67-year-old truck.

Just ask Jim Whitham, the collections manager at the Canadian War Museum, as he’s just spent many, many months working on—and trying to find parts for—a 1941 Fordson model E83 that was used in England during the Second World War as an emergency food van.

But now he’s almost done. They’re still waiting on a few parts to arrive from England in order to get the old girl running again, but at least the cosmetic restoration is done.

And quite a restoration it was, as The Royal Canadian Legion donated $5,000 to the Friends of the Canadian War Museum—approved by Dominion Executive Council in 2008—to help out with the costs of the project.

“We bought the van in 1999 for $10, 000,” said Angus Brown, president of the Friends of the Canadian War Museum. “Last year we approved another $15,000 for the restoration.

“The work was done mainly by staff and volunteers with some outside help here in the (war museum’s) garage. The van was completely stripped and put back together. The colour scheme will reflect its original wartime colours,” explained Brown.

The emergency food vehicles were employed to feed rescue workers and the general public during the dark days of the Blitz, when German bombs and rockets were raining down all over London in such numbers that it made even the relatively simple task of finding food into something of a logistical nightmare.

So this van, and many others like it, would act as a delivery service, bringing hot tea and sandwiches and other refreshments to those who otherwise would have gone without.

This van in particular has a special little bit of provenance. On Sept. 16, 1941, it was inspected by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. A little plaque mounted on the van proudly proclaims its royal lineage.

“I believe that a total of 27 vans were presented to various organizations,” said Brown. “Money to buy them was raised by charities, commercial businesses and the general public. They were maintained by Ford dealers in the area in which they were deployed. This van was one of those and was inspected by the King upon receipt.”

The vans, which were built in England, were pressed into service for a wide variety of organizations such as the Salvation Army or the Home Guard. They were quite small for a reason: the driver was also intended to be the food dispenser, so he or she would stop the van, walk into the back and presto, be operating an instant kitchen.

While it’s hard to be exactly sure when she’ll be officially unveiled—as the date has been pushed back already—the rough idea is to present the van to the public early this year.

If you have any interest in helping out with projects like this, the Friends of the Canadian War Museum are always looking for volunteers. They can be contacted at 819-776-8618 or send an email to fcwm-amcg@magma.ca.

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