Tank Testing on the Common
At the start of World War II, the main manufacturer of Churchill tanks was Vauxhall Motors, Luton. Mr HS Broom (founder, Chairman and Managing Director of BroomWade Ltd, High Wycombe) was also a director of Vauxhall Motors. This is the likely reason that the second tank-manufacturing facility was established at the company’s Bellfield site.
In 1940 two large buildings were erected on the Bellfield site and these handled a total of 1366 Churchill tanks. Under the initial contract 219 of this number were completely assembled from the bare hull to the finished and fully-armed vehicle. Apart from assembling new tanks, the company also refurbished numbers of damaged ones, which were returned from the battlefront in various states of repair.
Testing of new tanks initially took place on a concrete test track that was built around the hill at the rear of the factory. There were no houses in that area at the time. The tanks, being a tracked vehicle churned up large amounts of concrete dust which got into everything, including the engines, and the test track was abandoned. Testing of both new and refurbished tanks was then conducted on public land at Naphill and Downley Commons. The route selected was along the Hughenden Valley, up Coombe Lane and Hunts Hill Lane onto Naphill Common, and then onto Downley Common, the latter being chosen because of its more ‘hilly’ nature with its preponderance of large dells. Mr John Broom-Smith, who at the time lived at Naphill Farm, recalls that as a 10/11-year-old being picked up and given a ride!! A further contract was later placed with BroomWade for fitting of improvements in accordance with the latest specification and standards for overseas warfare including making the vehicles watertight. In all 1147 tanks were completely dismantled, ‘reworked’, and tested under this program.