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Berkshire Volkswagen Beetle Rally celebrates VW saviour
by Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire Reporter

A replica VW car
A replica VW Beetle was given to Major Ivan

A huge Volkswagon Beetle rally was held on Sunday at Arborfield's REME museum near Reading, in memory of a gifted engineer.

In 1945 Major Ivan Hirst of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) was sent to Germany to rebuild a ruined Volkswagon factory.

Major Hirst managed to get a contract to build 20,000 Beetles and restored the bomb-shattered factory.

Volkswagen went on to be part of the post war German economic miracle.

The Wolfsberg plant's chances of survival were regarded as low in 1945.

By the time Major Hirst departed in 1949 it had become the biggest automobile maker in Germany.

An exhibition in the REME Museum in Arborfield called The Major and the Beetle, is now on display, together with a new permanent exhibit of Ivan Hirst's 1949 Model Beetle.

Beetle origins

The Volkswagen Beetle began life with the engineer Ferdinand Porsche in 1931.

He believed that cars would be owned by everyone and designed the "Project 12" practical car for the mass market.

In May 1934 Hitler invited Porsche to Berlin.

The Nazis wanted to extend the Autobahns and raise car ownership using Porsche's design.

VW Beetle
VW production was carried out by concentration camp inmates

The manufacturers signed a contract with the German Society of Automobile Manufacturers to build 50,000 Volkswagens or 'people's cars' .

Early prototypes included a V1 saloon and the V2 cabriolet.

Hitler became impatient and, in 1937, an organisation called Kraft durch Freude or KdF (Strength through Joy) took over production.

Hitler renamed the car known as the Volkswagen the KdF Wagen.

In 1939 Hitler ordered Porsche to design a military vehicle similar to the Allied Jeep.

A military version of the Beetle, called the Type 82E, and an amphibious car, the Schwimmwagen, were also produced.

After 1939, the German workforce was replaced by concentration camp inmates, foreign workers forced to stay in Germany and prisoners of war, mainly Russians and Poles.

Camper van

Following the war, Major Hirst took charge of the bomb damaged VW factory in Wolfsberg and developed early prototypes of Volkswagen favourites such as the Camper Van, first called the Plattenwagen.

On leaving the factory he was presented with a scale model of a VW Beetle, which is to go on display at the REME Museum.

Tim Jennings, event organiser for the Beetle Rally, said that the response from the Vintage Volkswagen community had been "amazing and touching".

Soldiers sit in a VW Car at the Reme Museum in Arborfield

"I've even had owners' clubs cancelling their own events to attend today. There is a huge amount of love and respect out there for Ivan Hirst.

"Two people have driven their early 1950s VWs from Scotland to be here at the show today," he said.

Judy Booth, Senior Curator at the REME Museum of Technology said: "Without Major Ivan Hirst (REME), there may have been no Volkswagen as we know it today.

"Ivan Hirst was a hero in his own quiet unassuming way; a man who not only saved a fledgling car company but a man whose humanity found a path through the problems left behind by the war."

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