A delicate porcelain doll that served as the lucky mascot of a British tank crew and miraculously survived the war in one piece was discovered 76 years later.
The little doll, called Little Audrey, had been given to Captain Lionel ‘Bill’ Bellamy by his then girlfriend Audrey before departing with the Royal Armored Corps for Normandy in 1944.
She was adopted by the troop and attached to the searchlight of Capt Bellamy’s Cromwell tank to the right of the turret and became a good luck charm – and they needed her.
Fierce fighting ensued in countless battles as the tank crew fought through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
Captain Bellamy survived being shot through the beret and nearly got blown up when his tank drove through a minefield.
In an attack in the Netherlands, the 5-inch doll was knocked off its position by a tree branch.
This delicate porcelain doll called Little Audrey that served as the lucky mascot of a British tank crew and miraculously survived the war in one piece was discovered 76 years later.
The doll was given to Captain Bill Bellamy by his lover and accompanied him throughout the war, attached to his tank. Pictured: Bellamy, left and right, receives his Military Cross
Amazingly, Audrey was so beloved that the troop of three tanks stopped and another tank leader jumped into the open area at great risk to retrieve her.
Captain Bellamy later wrote, “ As I was about to give the signal to leave, I saw Sergeant Bill Pritchard jump out of his tank, he ran back to the hedge, picked up Audrey, climbed the back of my tank, gave her to me and shouted, “I’m not going without her!”
“I knew she had become a much-loved mascot, but until then I hadn’t realized he was reaching out to her role to the fullest!”
Captain Bellamy, who received the Military Cross for rescuing wounded colleagues while under heavy fire, split with Audrey after the war, but kept the china doll.
He died in 2009 and Little Audrey has been donated by his family to the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, for a new exhibition.
David Willey, curator of the Tank Museum, said: “Sometimes it doesn’t take an object the size of a tank to tell a powerful story.
Pictured: David Willey, curator of The Tank Museum, with Little Audrey now on display
Pictured: A Cromwell tank of the same type that Little Audrey went to battle with
‘Here we have a small delicate object, it is amazing that she survived it at all because she is made of porcelain and could have broken so easily.
Bill’s family has been amazingly generous in lending her to us for our exhibit, World War Two: War Stories.
It might be a bit unexpected to see the doll next to the huge tanks, but the purpose of our new displays is to bring veterans’ stories to the public, humanize and personalize the stories. Audrey does exactly that.
Bill visited the museum a number of times and submitted to us an account of his incredible war service. He later published his Troop Leader war memorandum with wide acclaim.
After Normandy, Bill fought the dangerous but retreating Germans via France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He even arrived in Berlin, where he wandered through the Reichstag and took some souvenirs.
A Cromwell tank in Europe after D-Day – the same type of Little Audrey was the mascot for the crew
During the fighting, with Audrey by his side, Bill was injured in the head, but remained at his post after a few stitches.
He also managed to drag a number of survivors from two armored cars he saw hit by enemy fire right under the noses of the Germans.
He thought the Germans could see him and knowing that he was trying to save wounded men, he let him go unchanged.
Then in November 1944 he came under fire from small arms, mortars and artillery fire, so he attacked the enemy posts and eliminated three.
Machine gun bullets hitting his tank caused molten lead to splash in his face.
He became aware that there was something different with his tank – it wasn’t made of the correct armor plate and was just a mild steel training tank.
The Royal Armored Corps of the British Army. Bill Bellamy is depicted second left in the front row
He was offered a new one, but because it was lighter, his tank was fast – and he got lucky with Audrey, so he stuck with it.
Later he drove across a minefield, miraculously missing all lethal ammunition and on another occasion he almost burned to death when gasoline ignited and set his bedding on fire, but he managed to get himself and his crew to safety.
He then discovered that his beret had two bullet holes. Perhaps proof that Little Audrey prevented him from meeting his maker. Bill had a strong faith and said it was a great comfort to him.
Bellamy himself received the Military Cross from Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery in a ceremony in March 1945 and remained in the military until 1955 and then had a successful business career.
He broke up with his girlfriend Audrey, but kept his lucky doll Audrey. He got married and had four children, with son Andrew who succeeded him in the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars.
His memoirs are one of the best books to come from someone who served in tanks.
“Audrey was present throughout all of his remarkable military service and the fact that Bill held her until he died in 2009 shows how much he loved her.”
The exhibition is now open and will run until further notice.