West Lynn military enthusiast with a tank in his garden

Spring is in the air and gardens all over Norfolk are set to bloom again – apart from the one in the west of the county packed full of military hardware.

While most people may be checking their crocus bulbs or primping the primroses, Shaun Mitchell is polishing his combat vehicle and trying not to run over the neighbour's car on his way out onto the highway.

If military history is your passion, and it certainly is Mr Mitchell's, then the garden becomes an extended workshop where pieces of kit more used to the theatre of war can be found – a place where humble lawn-mowers fear to tread.

Mr Mitchell is well-known in West Lynn, not least of all for his love of boys' toys, and it's a hobby which is taking over his life while leaving a huge dent in his bank balance.

'What else are gardens for?' he asked while cleaning dirt from his prized Sabre reconnaisance vehicle which is parked at the back of his cottage.

Running at just four miles to the gallon, it leaves a carbon footprint the size of a small country but beauty is all in the eye of the beholder and Mr Mitchell is smitten with the Sabre and it appears he may not be the only one – by a very long way.

'There's a lot of people in Norfolk who love old military vehicles – there are still a lot about and you can still get parts for them,' said Stuart Burgess, of Middleton, who shares Mr Mitchell's obsession.

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Mr Burgess, 42, at least has a valid excuse in that he served with the RAF for 22 years and taught people how to drive military vehicles – a skill which comes in useful for his hobby.

Mr Mitchell's love of all things old and military dates back about 18 years when he bought an Austin Champ jeep but it certainly didn't stop there and for the last five years his love has been tanks and tracked vehicles.

He even makes reproduction Carden-Lloyd machine gun carrier replicas (they look like little tanks) to order. The originals date from the 1920s and 30s but there is, apparently, a market for his machines.

Fortunately his long-suffering neighbour is a friendly aunt who doesn't bat an eyelid when another hulking great piece of machinery turns up. In fact she should count her blessings because she was very nearly living next to a Westland Whirlwind search and rescue helicopter that Mr Mitchell had his eye on.

'It was not in a very good state, but I'd love a helicopter,' he said.

The Sabre, which has seen service with the army, has been out and about – it costs �100 to insure – and is used to raise money for charity, including Help for Heroes. On the road it is kept to 40mph and can turn on a sixpence. The Sabre has been used all over the world by the armed forces and is only slowly being replaced with wheeled vehicles.

'We always have people waving at us – the kids love it and we go to shows,' said Mr Mitchell.

Worth in excess of �20,000 now it's complete, the Sabre is one of the more expensive pieces of ex-MoD equipment.

Kept in storage down the road from his home is a huge armoured personnel carrier which chugs along at a wallet-busting two miles to the gallon and is half-owned by Mr Mitchell. He also has an Abbott Self-Propelled Gun, Ferret Scout Car, Polstern anti-aircraft gun and a GMC truck among his collection.

Not to mention the ex-United States Airforce truck which will, one day, become a camper van.

Mr Mitchell works part-time with Marcus Glenn, in south Lincolnshire, who deals in ex-military equipment - particularly fighting vehicles. He also works part-time collecting and delivering newspapers – and the rest of the time his head is buried in an engine of some sort.

'I would really like to find a girl who likes tanks too,' he said wistfully.

For further information about his Carden-Lloyd replicas, contact: shaun@shaun40.wanadoo.co.uk

For information on ex-military equipment for sale see: www.marcusglenn.com