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The Register for Morris Minors once used by the Government. Affiliated to the Morris Minor Owners Club
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MINORS ON HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE

Taken from Minor Matters magazine, March/April 1993

Morris Minors have served the Ministry of Defence at home and abroad for many years. Gerry Cambridge continues the story …

It was in 1965 that my wife and I bought our first Minor. This was a fairly dilapidated 1953 2 door saloon which conveyed us, together with our infant daughter (who now runs her own Trafalgar Blue saloon), complete with cot and pram on the roof and a day’s supply of baby food, etc., on our first holiday to Bournemouth. Apart from the fact that the exhaust pipe fell off half way there, it carried out its duties with flying colours.
After our return we sold it and soon after bought a Series 2 Traveller which took us safely and reliably all over the country for about ten years. This was eventually changed for a 1000 Traveller which, in turn, was replaced by an ex-RAF Traveller from a military vehicle dealer in Manchester in 1985.

Our ex RAF Traveller restored as far as possible to its original condition at the Northern Rally at Harewood House

It was Bryan Gostling’s article in Minor Matters which aroused our interest in ex-Forces Minors. Having read Bryan’s article I began to do some research, firstly on our own vehicle and then more generally. Recently we have bought an ex-Army Traveller which is also being restored and the idea is to work on one and use the other. The starting point for tracing the history of a vehicle is the military registration number. The MOD uses a distinctive system of registration numbers, started in the early 50s, which is basically the same as the original civilian series of two letters followed by four numbers, except that the letters are placed in the middle of the numbers to avoid confusion, e.g. 39 FJ 39. Morris Minors were all in the FG, FH, FJ, FK, AM and RN series. Unfortunately RAF vehicles do not always have this marked on the Identification Plate. I found the Local Motor Tax Office very helpful here as they gave me a copy of the auction release note giving the registration number and this enabled me eventually to trace the car’s history, via the RAF Museum, Hendon.

The Morris Minor was one of a long succession of civilian type vehicles used by H.M. Forces as Utility cars or ‘Tillys’. Examples are pre-war Standards, Morris 10, Hillman Minx, Austin 10 and Hillman Husky. They were succeeded by Ford Escorts and more recently the Vauxhall Chevette. It was officially known as “Car Utility 4x2 Morris 1000”. Its purpose was to “carry 4 persons or 2 persons and a full load of stores”. The body was described as a “Commercially produced utility with full width double rear doors, having a folding rear seat to provide a flat loading platform for the carriage of light stores.” The mechanical specification is as for the civilian version, except for having a low compression engine.
Morris Travellers were supplied in bulk to the Ministry of Supply as a result of contracts placed between 1966 and 1971. About 2000 were supplied altogether and they were used by all arms of the Services, but the Army was by far the largest user. They were originally finished in Army bronze green, RAF blue/grey or Navy blue, though subsequently they were repainted in the current drab green in the late seventies. Some were painted white for service in tropical regions. Some had yellow roofs, Navy vehicles remained blue. The internal finish was fairly basic (qv the article by Bryan Gostling in Minor Matters Vol. 7 No. 4) e.g. no boot lining, rubber floor mats and plain door panels. A fire extinguisher was fitted either to the front nearside scuttle or on the gearbox tunnel in front of the gear lever. The upholstery and trim was originally porcelain green or light blue but later black or autumn leaf brown was used. The last batch, supplied in 1971 for use by the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) in Germany were in standard deluxe finish except for an unlined boot floor. Many of these were used for the Royal Corps of Transport Welfare Pool by civilians and soldiers and their families at BAOR bases.

Data Plate
Identification plate
The Data Plate on the glove locker of an RAF Traveller
Details of the Identification Plate from an Army Traveller

They were distributed from Central Vehicle Depots at Hilton, near Derby, Ashchurch, Irvine and Antwerp and were sent to various locations in Great Britain, Germany, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Malta.

The duties undertaken were mainly of a technical/administrative nature such as Careers Information, Chaplain’s Department, District HQs, Education Service, Cadet Forces, Driver Training and Stationery Distribution and carriage of light goods and as general runabouts and personal transport as well as more specialist roles by Military Police, Bomb Disposal, Mobile Display Teams, various engineering units and Regimental duties and on Airfields. Those used on airfields and other places where visibility is important had a bright yellow band painted round the middle. Many had military formation plates and arm of service plates attached to the front bumper and rear doors.

The earlier batches had chassis numbers which ran in consecutive blocks which were pre-allocated, hence the discrepancy in some cases between the chassis number and year of manufacture. Those made at Adderley Park from 1970 onwards were numbered non-sequentially, interspersed with civilian vehicles. As we know, there are no records of the activities at Adderley Park, so it is not possible to find out why this happened except to guess that chassis numbers were allocated at random as the vehicle left the assembly line, or that a system of batch production was used as suggested by Paul Skilleter in the latest edition of his book “Morris Minor”. The first known vehicle was chassis number 1191002 and was supplied in January 1968 and the last was number 1293790, supplied in June 1971.

Ruddington Auctions
One of the vehicle parks at the Ruddington Auctions. Photo reproduced by kind permission of "Wheels and Tracks" magazine

It would appear from Order Ledgers at Beverley Military Transport Museum, that some cars were also ordered but no details as yet can be traced of any of these. It also appears that contracts were placed between 1959 and 1963 but again no details of any of these has emerged.
Military Minors were sold, together with other Government Surplus vehicles, at auctions at the Royal Army Ordnance Corps’ Ordnance Storage and Disposal Depot at Ruddington, near Nottingham, apparently when the vehicle fell below a certain Reliability Classification. These auctions were held about four times a year from 1947 till 1983 when the Ministry of Defence closed this part of the Depot down. It is remembered with fondness by many Dealers and members of the public who did business there. The last Minor taken out of service was in 1980 and the last sold to the public in about 1985/6. Until then military vehicle dealers were a source of often good quality vehicles.

Morris Minors (cars, Travellers and LCVs) were also used in large quantities by other Government Departments, e.g. Department of the Environment, Customs and Excise, Home Office, Royal Ordnance, D.H.S.S., Department of Employment. These were also disposed of at Ruddington.

Army Careers Office Traveller
A Traveller belonging to the Army Careers Information Office at Norwich Show. Note the grille and wheels painted in the body colour. Photo courtesy Robin Taylor.

 

Record cards giving details of service history for M.O.D. vehicles are kept at the Museum of Army Transport, Beverley, Humberside and the R.A.F. Museum at Hendon and copies will be provided on application and payment of a fee. Records for nearly all Minors, except Navy vehicles, are available. The fact that these cards have survived is a lucky chance as they were supposed to have been destroyed but for someone’s foresight in realising their potential value and deciding to keep them. Many researchers and owners of ex-Military vehicles are grateful for this.
There is still much to be done. I should like to trace the contracts for cars and also contracts placed before 1966. I also want information about Royal Navy Minors as no records for these have yet appeared, though some Navy records are slowly coming through to Beverley. If any member has a vehicle which falls into any of these categories I should be pleased to hear about it. Also, if anyone has any further information about Minors used by other Government Departments I should be glad to have it.

Royal Corps of Transport Traveller
This Traveller (01FK37) is still used by the Royal Corps of Transport and is pictured on show at Beverley Museum of Army Transport.

Robin Taylor of the Road Transport Fleet Data Society is interested in the existence and whereabouts of Morris Minor cars, Travellers and LCVs which were used or supplied by various Government Agencies and Public Services and Utilities, e.g. DHSS, GPO, Police and Electricity Boards, etc. He would like photos and details of such vehicles and can be contacted at 97 Thorpe Road, Norwich. We are hoping eventually to compile a list of all Government Service Minors. He may also have information of interest to our members.

I acknowledge information and/or photographs from the following:

  • Robin Taylor, Road Transport Fleet Data Society.
  • British Motor Industry Heritage Trust.
  • Museum of Army Transport, Flemingate, Beverley, Humberside.
  • Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd (Wheels and Tracks), Church House, Church Street, London.
  • Bryan Gostling, Minor Matters.
  • Various Club Members who responded to my request for information in a previous issue of ‘Minor Matters’.

Gerry Cambridge

Footnote:
We would like to create a Register for all ex-Government Service Minors, so that information and details about them can be gathered for research and mutual interest.

How can such a vehicle be identified? They usually have distinguishing features such as Identity or Government property plates, sometimes there are mysterious knobs and switches which have no purpose. In the case of ex-MOD vehicles, of course, the year suffix letter will be from M to Y or in a few cases Q as these were only given a civilian registration after “demob”. So if you have such a vehicle or know the whereabouts of one, please contact me with details at gerry.cambridge@morrisminoroc.co.uk

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