IF you should hear the mighty roar and rattle of a massive military vehicle in the heart of Parramatta, don’t be alarmed, it is just one of the beautifully restored tanks and other vehicles housed at the Lancer Museum and Barracks.
Just a short walk from Parramatta Station at 2 Smith St is Lancer Barracks, headquarters to a fully operational Australian Army regiment known officially known as1st/15th Royal NSW Lancers Regiment.
Today the Regiment operates as light cavalry scouts equipped with light skin scout vehicles and the Regiment’s mission is to support the 51st Battalion, the Far North Queensland Regiment.
At the base is historic Linden House, the best collection of Military hardware outside the Australian War Memorial, which is fitting because the 1st/15th Royal NSW Lancers is Australia’s oldest and most highly decorated Regiment.
The Museum is far more than just guns and tanks. It tells the story of the Lancers’ joys and sorrows and the men who fought for Australia in all the major conflicts since their formation in 1885 as a Light Horse Regiment.
Indeed, the museum’s collection is heritage-listed, having been added to the NSW State Heritage Register in May 2010.
It was established at the Parramatta Lancer Barracks in 1958 and its main purpose is to collect and preserve relics, artefacts and records that tell the story of the Royal NSW Lancers, their predecessors and their successors.
The museum also collects and preserves relics, artefacts and records of other Light Horse Regiments and the Royal Australian Armored Corps.
Now, it is hard to tell your about it in a few short words because the collection comprises more than 7000 items, including many of international or national heritage significance.
It is committed to restoring and maintaining its fleet of heritage military vehicles in full running order. These include a working example of the first armored fighting vehicle used by the Regiment in WWII, the Bren Gun Carrier.
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Most young Australian volunteers who were destined to join the new armored regiments, hurriedly being formed in Australia as the Japanese entered the war and moved to threaten the country, trained on these carriers while waiting for the arrival of new Matilda Tanks from England.
The heritage vehicle fleet also includes the internationally acclaimed Matilda Tank named ACE, the first tank off the landing craft at Australia’s largest ever armored assault, carried out by the Lancers at Balikpapan on Borneo in July 1945.
It was left to rot in a paddock in the Southern Highlands for half a century and was eventually recovered by museum volunteers and many said it could never be restored.
But it was and after six years, the expenditure of $100,000 and 30,000 volunteer hours, ACE is back to the condition in which its wartime crew would have fought in it, on permanent public display at Lancer Barracks.
It can sometimes be heard and seen starting its engines and driving around and available for public events.
It is the only British or Commonwealth armored fighting vehicle to have seen active service in any theatre of World War II, to have been restored to full mobility and returned to its wartime fighting unit, let alone restored by retired volunteers from that unit.
Until the creation of the regular Australian Army in 1948, the Regiment was the Vice-Regal Escort, providing the mounted escort for the Governors of NSW and, after Federation, the Governors-General of Australia, on all major public events, such as the opening of the first Parliament of Australia and of the opening of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
The whole collection therefore traces the active, ceremonial and peacetime service history, both at home and overseas, of the 1st/15th Royal NSW Lancers Regiment, from its inception in 1885 through to present day.
On the last Sunday of every month, you can take a unique opportunity to visit and experience one of their heritage fleet of armored fighting vehicles start its engines and drive around the Barracks.
It could be the world-famous Matilda Tank, their 50 ton Centurion Main Battle Tank or their WW2 Bren Gun Carrier, the Regiment’s first ever armored fighting vehicle.
You can get up close and experience the world of a “Tankie” by looking inside the tank. To watch, hear and smell a large tank fire its engines and drive around, is like watching, hearing and smelling a large steam train moving – a very different experience from looking at a “dead” item in a display shed.
The Lancer Barracks Museum web site is a great place to learn more: www.lancers.org.au