Saturday, 7 June 2014

Improving The Little Willies

Everybody else yesterday seemed to be remembering D-Day, but I was busy thinking back to WW1, and building tanks! The first WW1 tanks were named ‘Little Willie’ after the German crown prince

little willie

The holiday club theme this year is ‘Megamakers’ so there will be lots of construction type crafts. The Scripture Union programme book suggests for one morning that you buy a load of remote control vehicles [yeah, right – what kind of budget do they think I’m operating with???] I decided rather than that, we would go back to the sort of construction toys and vehicles made a by children century ago…and by children after WW2 as well. Before battery operated toys became the norm – when toys were constructed using stuff that was lying around the house.


My [pacifist] dad taught me to make these tanks. The important thing about them was that they could traverse different terrain and climb over things. I have spent a while playing about with cotton reels, matchsticks, elastic bands, pencil stubs and candles.  Bob The Engineer felt obliged to put in his two penn’orth, talking about the integrity of the elastic band, and the importance of the wax washer!


This one kept settling into the grouting between the tiles, and happily ran round the octagon shape a few times before the elastic band unwound itself.

I decorated a strip of ‘funky foam’ and added it to Prototype #2


prinzwilhelmYou can find tank instructions here, here and here. Above is a picture of my two tanks doing battle [one tipped the other over after this shot was taken!] When the instructions say ‘thread the band through the hole’ they mostly omit the helpful tip “use a  paperclip straightened out, with a hook bend at the end”

Ones made with pencils are easier to wind than ones with two matchsticks, and I think they climb better too!

Here’s the original Little Willie – his Dad was ‘Kaiser Bill’ and his greatgrandmama was Queen Victoria.

[Wooden cotton reels are available to buy, at a price – but plastic ones from educational suppliers are very cheap – less than 3p each]


  1. Should I start saving my cotton reels for you?
    I remember my Dad making these!

  2. Thank you for the kind offer Sandie - but I have just collected 100 from ESPO for less than a fiver - it was quicker and easier.

  3. We used to make them with wooden cotton reels and my dad cut grooves out of the raised edges of the cotton reel so the tank would have good traction.
    Love from Mum

  4. I wanted to make these with Cubs - years and years ago, but there was no easy way to find cotton reels back then so we never got round to it. It doesn't seem 5 minutes since you were doing last summers holiday club. Time flies when you're having fun!


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