Finding Bertha for Croome

We were in a bit of a pickle; an outdoor catering outlet was needed for the busy season and years of failed marquees and temporary solutions weren't up to the job. This was when Bob Shaw and Dennis Williams stepped in from the Defford Airfield Heritage Group, a supporter group of the National Trust committed to sharing the history of the secret wartime airbase of RAF Defford.

A wartime memory

We were shown a rare photograph showing service men and women being served tea at the airbase in the 1940s. The tea car had toured the airfield where ground crews were working, bringing welcome relief to the team.
 
 

Serving the nation

Outdoor catering cars have a proud history of serving the military and civilians during the Second World War and were much appreciated by troops particularly near battlefields, RAF personnel on airfields and by civilian survivors in bomb-damaged streets.
 
Such vehicles were provided and staffed by organisations such as NAAFI (Navy, Army and Airforce Institution), YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) and parish church groups. There were over 4000 'tea cars', as the YMCA called them, with many serving the RAF alongside catering cars from other organisations.
 

Our inspiration

The Defford Airfield Heritage Group set about scouring the country for a suitable vehicle and they luckily found someone on Croome's doorstep who might be able to help – Ali Adlkish, based at Avonside Motors in Evesham and who imports classic and vintage cars.
 
Ali was briefed and the search was widened, which eventually led to the Netherlands where he set eyes on 'Bertha' for the first time:
 
"As soon as I saw her, I thought, what a find! It had become very apparent after many telephone calls and hours of research that there weren’t many left still in working order and I knew that trying to track down this type of rare vehicle was going to be very challenging.
 
"We were delighted and relieved when we located a lady in the Netherlands who had a 1941 Austin K2 YMCA tea car. We flew over to view it, found the van to be in excellent order and drove it all the way home!"
 
 

Restored and ready for service

Ali drove the tea car all the way back to his Evesham garage where he serviced Bertha and restored her paintwork. Inside were many original features which we kept and the rest of the interior was fitted out with a tea urn and electricity so it could be used as a catering outlet for our visitors.
 
The van, affectionately called Bertha from the name written on its side, is now an atmospheric addition to the visitor centre. The buildings which Bertha sits next to have been restored from derelict Second World War buildings, which were once Sick Quarters for RAF Defford.