Keeping the wheels of military history rolling - in Fiordland!
A New Zealand flag proudly flying on a 9 metre pole at the bottom of Gorge Hill on SH94 between Te Anau and Mossburn is hard to miss. It marks the entrance to the property of Tina & Duncan McGregor. Tina is a professional photographer and Duncan runs the McGregor Concrete, a family business set up 48 years ago by his father Duncan and uncle Donald McGregor. Screened from the road by a row of tall poplars their unpretentious house looks somewhat incongruous with its carefully maintained, park-like grounds, fit enough for a mansion.
Two large sheds add to the pastoral appearance of the 10 acre property looking out on the Takitimu Mountains. But rather than tractors and farm machinery, these buildings hold a surprise for an unprepared visitor.
With a combined floor area of over 800 square metres, the sheds are home to the Fiordland Military Vehicles Museum set up and fully owned by Duncan and Tina. As you step into these buildings you are transported back in time to the first half of last century. War-time trucks, jeeps and tanks, all lovingly restored, fill the space in neat rows. Visual displays portraying bunkers and sandbagged trenches add to the atmosphere of World War II.
When you start talking to Tina and Duncan it becomes immediately apparent where the McGregors’ hearts are. Their eyes light up as they talk about WWII history, of which Duncan in particular is very knowledgeable. With all five of their children gone from the nest, the museum is now their baby that consumes a lot of time, attention and love.
Duncan’s interest in history dates back to ANZAC Day celebrations he used to go to as a young boy.
"I have always liked the look of GMC trucks, since I was a boy, the fact that they were a war truck and had good off-road ability. Tina and I were discussing hobbies, and I decided that I would look out for a GMC. One turned up at an auction in Luggate, in May 2006, so I bought it," he says. "Later that year we purchased a Jeep. Then an avalanche started,” his wife adds. She admits that her interest in war memorabilia developed initially because of Duncan, but over time became a passion of her own.
Today their impressive collection includes 25 military vehicles, 6 trailers, 2 bulldozers, one dragline (crane/excavator) and numerous other historic military items. “A few people have large private collections, but ours is unique for several reasons – the number and range of styles of the vehicles, the way they have been restored, the fact they are all in running order, the way they are displayed and the environment in which they are presented,” Tina says.
The most prized items in their collection are a White M3A1 armoured scout 4x4 and a Dodge Command car. Part of their collection is also a M113 armoured personnel carrier on loan from the National Army Museum in Waiouru.
Mr McGregor said he has restored or done some work on about 80% of his vehicles. “It means a lot of cold nights in the shed,” he says, “but only when Tina is away. I don’t like taking time away from my family for this,” he adds.
He has five trucks under restoration at the moment, but his latest project is a 1942 D8 Caterpillar Bulldozer that has been donated to the museum recently. Duncan admits that it needs a lot of work, but is a welcome addition to the collection, as at 18 tonnes it’s a lot bigger than the 3-tonne bulldozer they already had.
The McGregors are members of the nationwide New Zealand Military Vehicle Collectors Club (NZMVCC), whose 200 members are committed to restoring, preserving, operating and displaying ex-military wheeled, tracked and stationary machines. Their annual rally is held each year in different New Zealand locations.
Duncan and Tina are happy to make their collection available to the public, but they like to share it in a controlled way. Their museum is open to groups by appointment only. According to Tina, since the museum opening in 2009, over a thousand people have come through. “We have hosted war veterans, scout groups, various vintage car clubs, Probus & Rotary groups,” says Duncan. “The biggest group we’ve had here was 55 people.”
The McGregors use every opportunity to show their vehicles to the public, taking them to the ANZAC parades and the Armistice Day celebrations every year. They are also present at the War Birds over Wanaka events. Their massive anti-aircraft reflector light swept the sky with its powerful bright beam at Te Anau’s Winter Illumination Night.
They went to Normandy, France for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. This was not their first trip, as they were present at the 65th anniversary. They also visited other places of significance for New Zealand war history, including Gallipoli in Turkey and Arnhem in Holland.
The McGregors’ dedication to New Zealand’s military history was recognised in 2013 when they received NZMVCC Merit Award for their leadership and initiative in preserving a part of NZ military history and making it available to the public.
“They have collected an extensive range of military vehicles and memorabilia and have set up a museum for display to enthusiasts, veterans and general public,” the encryption on the award says.
Article by Alina Suchanski, Te Anau-based freelance journalist