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Bren Carrier No.2 Mk.I - A Rare Example

The first lightweight tracked carrier vehicles built by Vickers-Armstrong in 1934 were designed to carry a machine gun and its crew, or for towing light field guns. Subsequently the design was modified to suit the British Army’s changing infantry requirements as they devised new uses for the vehicle, such as carrying mortars and their crew, as an observation post vehicle, and as a support vehicle carrying supplies.

This Bren Carrier was one of the first armoured military vehicles imported into New Zealand in the late 1930's.  Photo: © Historical Aviation Film Unit

Because the early tracked carriers were designed to carry the new Bren light machine gun and crew, the term 'Bren Gun Carrier' is often used to describe any carrier, however technically, this is not correct. Many carriers were armed with Vickers machine guns, and some with Boys anti-tank rifles, and the ‘Bren’ carrier is merely one variant of the type. By the mid-1930’s half a dozen British companies including Bedford Vehicles, Morris Motors Ltd and the British branch of the Ford Motor Company were building carriers. Even Ford in the USA produced several thousand 'improved' carrier variants whcih was called the T-16.

The example seen here (T2691) is part of the National Army Museum (New Zealand) collection and it's a riveted Bren Carrier built by Thornycroft in the UK in 1938, which was one of six carriers purchased by New Zealand in 1939.

The Museum’s vehicle is one of only two British-built Bren Carriers known to exist worldwide. The other survivor is another of the six brought to New Zealand in 1939, and is currently in Canterbury with a private owner.  

Following the British Army’s retreat at Dunkirk in June 1940, one of these was disassembled and used as a pattern for more carriers to be built in the NZ Railway Workshops in Wellington. This enabled New Zealand to produce its own carriers once imported supplies from the UK had become unavailable. An order for 40 riveted Bren Carriers was placed in August 1940. In late 1941 General Motors started building welded Machine Gun Carriers based on a modified Australian design, and 1170 of these were produced—at one point they were being built in the Lower Hutt factory at the rate of five per day.

At the (New Zealand) National Army Museum (then) Assistant Curator of Technology, George Pycraft discussed the museum's carrier. While George refers to the vehicle as a 'Universal Scout Carrier', it is more accurately a 'Bren Carrier No.2 Mk.I'.

In Robin Neillands book "The Desert Rats", he recounts a story about the peculiar use of one Bren carrier in the North African campaign:

"One of the soldiers, a South African, had a pet lion cub which he had brought up from infancy. The cub, now almost fully grown, had been given the run of the divisional transport area and was a favourite with all the troops. When the time came for the division to move up to the front, the South African soldier was determined to take his pet with him. The cub was too big for the soldier to carry and too heavy to go in a truck, so he put it in the passenger seat of his Bren carrier and drove it up to the front line, the lion sitting beside him all the way. Thereafter, the lion travelled in the carrier everywhere with the soldier and became something of a mascot for the whole division."
In all over 113,000 carriers of all variants were built in Commonwealth countries during the Second World War. Powered by a Ford Flathead 85hp V-8 petrol engine these carriers could reach a top speed of 48km/h and had an operation range of 250 km

Bruce Cameron, a member of the New Zealand Military Vehicle Club talks about his Thornycroft-built Bren Gun Carrier. which is the second New Zealand example of the original six (from 1939) that is still in existence.

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