The Mystery of the Cippenham Duck

In the late 1960s when I was a small boy, I was playing one day on Cippenham village green with two other local boys when they announced that they were going to play on the “duck”. I didn’t know what they meant but followed them with some trepidation to the south-west corner of the green where they crossed through a gap in the hedgerow into Greg’s farm.

The Cippenham duck quietly rusting away on Greg’s farm.

Instead of an encounter with a large feathered creature as I was half-expecting, on the other side of the hedgerow there stood a heavily rusted hulk of a six-wheeled vehicle that I had never seen the like of. It was around the length of three cars and had tall vertical sides. The boys told me that the duck was from the war and that it had been able to travel on water like a boat. Although uncertain whether my leg was being pulled, I could see that it did resemble a boat with a front that sloped up like a bow. The boys also pointed out a large propeller which could be glimpsed under the body from the rear end between the thick clumps of nettles. It was difficult to climb-up on board but with some encouragement I managed it. There I found an open cockpit with seats, faced by a split windscreen. There was a dashboard with many meters and switches, a steering wheel and several gear levers. From that day on, I spent many happy hours playing games of war on the duck with other local children.

Probably taken in northern France not long after D-Day: a DUKW rolls along a dirt track.

The colloquial name “duck” comes from the acronym DUKW, It designates a 2½ ton, amphibious truck which was designed for a specific role of maintaining lines of supply to troops making assaults from sea. The General Motors Corporation manufactured over 21,000 DUKWs for the US army between 1943 and the end of the war. It played a vital role in the Normandy landings as well as many other sea attacks and invasions in the European and Pacific theatres. The DUKW was highly versatile, being able to travel at 50 mph by land and 6 mph by sea. Its capability of being able to make its way from of the sea up onto a beach was a central feature to its great utility. To deal with different terrains, it was the first vehicle where the tyre pressures could be altered whilst the vehicle was being driven.

The Cippenham duck remained where I first encountered it, crumbling away year after year. It probably finally disappeared around 1995 when the new Cippenham housing estate was extended to cover the whole of Gregory’s field. By that time, the duck could have hardly been recognisable any more.

If the Cippenham duck could have spoken I’m sure it could have told some interesting stories. Although some DUKWs were in the hands of the British, the Cippenham DUCK was much more likely to have been in the service of the US army. It probably took part in the D Day landings and would have crossed the channel at least twice. It may travelled deep into France and perhaps even through Germany. It’s very unlikely that we could ever find out.

The mystery I would love to know the answer to is how a DUKW came to be left, derelict, in a Cippenham field. It happens that it was far from the only unusual vehicle in the field. Near to where the duck stood there was an open-sided corrugated iron barn. Under and around this barn, there were all manner of interesting vehicles and contraptions. Most were agricultural, but there were other military vehicles. There were two wooden threshing machines which had the appearance of old caravans on wood-spoked wheels. It was possible for us small boys to crawl through the innards and turn the shafts by hand to make the machinery move. There were several long abandoned tractors, one of which could have dated back to around 1920. I remember vividly that there was an American troop lorry, probably a Ford. The still-visible olive drab on the curvy bonnet and doors was supplanted by large white stars. The rear had bench seating running down each side. The cab had become impossibly overgrown with brambles which came up through where floorboards once would have been. There were some military half-track vehicles. I have had little luck in matching up my recollection of these to pictures of any allied vehicles. I don’t really want to complicate this story further by saying that these may have been German. One of these half-tracks was heavily corroded away and totally overgrown. I seem to remember another one being much further in towards the middle of the field which was armoured and seemed to be in quite good condition. I believe this one was taken away not long after I had first ventured into Greg’s farm. There were various other items such as a Dakota aircraft tyre, and the water wheel that had previously belonged to the Haymill mill.

This wasn’t the first scattering of military vehicles over a Cippenham farm, see the the story of Cippenham and the Slough dump. The assortment of vehicles and objects that could be found on Greg’s farm seem to point to the work of an eccentric collector, who made purchases of army-surplus vehicles, probably in the late 1940’s, perhaps with some intention to create a museum or to use them as farm vehicles. He must have subsequently lost interest and left them to rust away. There was certainly some form of military vehicle depot on the Trading Estate during WW2 and perhaps after the war vehicles could have been auctioned off from it. After the war, there were certainly many DUKWs sold off into private hands in the UK and US. Today, many are in the hands of private collectors and some are still used in use as ferries and or to provide amphibious city tours. There is currently one such tour operating in Windsor.

It would be very interesting to hear from anyone that knows the story the Cippenham duck or can remember additional things about it or the other vehicles.

Further information

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7 Responses to The Mystery of the Cippenham Duck

  1. Phil says:

    I remember the duck and played in it extensively as a kid. As I remember, it was just behind the Scout Hut, or thereabouts. Never knew how it got there. For us kids it was gold, as playing ‘war games’ was the thing in the early 70’s. WW2 ended just 25 years before 1970, so it was still relatively recent history at the time. By comparison, the first Gulf War was 28 years ago (in 2018!). There was also what was reputed to be a ‘bomb crater’ in the same field as the duck, on the far side nearer the M4.

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    • Dreadnaught says:

      I remember the ‘bomb-crater’ as a hole around 10 feet deep. In the bottom there was a manhole cover with a concrete surround. I think it was to do with a sewage pipeline that went to the works in Wood Lane. The 1932-38 OS map shows a sewage pumping station roughly where the scout hut now is. In the war, a V1 exploded on the other side of the green in an orchard where Frencham Gardens is now. Houses in Millstream Lane were damaged. See here

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  2. Dave Hill says:

    Lord St Levan (the present Lord’s uncle) I think had a DUKW which they used for going over to St Michael’s Mount (where he lived) I’m not sure it was still there when we moved down to Cornwall in 1993. Then they had the Drake built (play on words!) now its the St Michael, its huge! I think you could buy them after the war. I once asked to look at Bob Gregory’s old cars, he had a loada Bentley saloons which he kept as spares for his Bentley tourer. he also had an old lorry out in the field which we played on, wasn’t the Darracq in the film Genevieve his?

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  3. Raak P says:

    Any further info or photos of Gregs farm would be appreciated! I grew up in Warner Close and with my brother and 2 friends we spent hours in the farm, playing in the ‘terrible tunnel’ which runs from where the barn was to Mercian park , nearest to the trees of warner close and fence. We use to play in the Barn and yes I remember the caravan very well, as it was in the back side of the barn (thus closer to the Green ). It was rusty and quite frankly quite sharp and dangerous in parts. The Steel wheel was there and i recall an old WW looking truck or jeep in the field and I believe the DUCK was also there but in a state of ruin. That said my ‘childhood’ playing there was realistically 1980-1986 in those fields. Does anyone have more photos they can share please?

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  4. Tony Winzar says:

    Don’t recall the DUKW but behind the ‘old’ cricket pavilion, at the North of the green & just over the fence on Farmer Gregory’s field, there used to be a line of World War 2 ex service vehicles.
    I left Cippenham 01966 so my sighting would have been somewhat before then.

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  5. Andrew B says:

    Hello,
    Most kids from Westgate used to go back to Greggs field to play on the duck, i was one of them in the 60’s !
    I think the duck was used when the river Thames banks burst at Datchet in March 1947, it ferried people from The Rising Sun pub. I have a news paper clipping from August 2001 from The Express, which shows an image of this taking place. Maybe it was parked/abandoned in Greggs field after the flooding of Datchet?
    I think it was a dumping ground for derelict second world war vehicles, including two aeroplane tyres which me and my friends used to jump and play around on.

    I also think that the bomb crater mentioned above, was actually a well for the farm. I believe that the spring that fed the well, fed part of Sloughs water supply.

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