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Pepa Saunders

"So when I bought it, I thought, 'I really don’t want to frighten my mum.' If you imagine your daughter comes home with this Nazi replica blade, you’re going to have an intervention, or—I just really didn’t want to scare her."

A Few Of My Favourite Things follows five individuals and the personal anecdotes behind their wonderful collections. With each telling, the knick-knacks and memorabilia are brought to life with many a laugh to be had. It’s true what they say—one person’s rubbish may be another’s treasure.Pepa Saunders works full-time as an actress, part-time at a stockbroking firm, and is an all-time enthusiast of WWII tanks. She shares the fun stories behind how she started collecting WWII memorabilia, and imagines where it will take her later on down the road.

Click play to hear Pepa’s story, or read a written version below.My name is Pepa Saunders and I am a theatre actor. I work in a theatre troupe called Cludunnit which is a murder mystery theatre troupe. What we do is put on dinner-party-murder-themed performances where we get a bunch of guests to sit down at tables, and we perform a murder and they have to figure out the murder—it’s like a game of Clue but it’s live. So that’s my job. I occasionally work at a stockbroking firm in the city, just for an extra bit of money, but acting’s my main sort of income.

Photo of a young woman holding a WWII helmet in front of a red brick wall

It started off, I think, with a healthy interest in World War II history in general. I wasn’t focused on military history too much at first—I think a lot of times when you go through high school, a lot of people start to get interested in WWII because when you’re studying modern history, people find it the most interesting because so much happened, and there was so much darkness. So, that was sort of my first gateway into enjoying history and military and that sort of thing. My father as well, he is sort of an expert on WWII and he keeps a lot of books in his study, and I used to go and steal the books and just read them and put them back, and take another one. And from that, my interest just grew and grew, and I think into my late teens, that’s when I started to become more interested in the military side of WWII, and that’s when I took a look at tanks. And it’s hard to say when it happened—when my sole interest became tanks—but I think it was around two years ago, I just started focussing solely on tanks, and now that’s all I look at. I mean, I will always find WWII interesting, but tanks are the apple of my eye at the moment.

I also collect memorabilia, so any memorabilia I can find at vintage stores or online, I try to get. I’m very specific with my tastes, so it’s not as if I’ll see anything from the WWII era or the WWI era and just buy it. I’m very, as I said, specific. I love helmets, and head gear. I collect a lot of the hats and the badges that go with the hats.

I sometimes swap around the badges. If I have a hat that’s from Russia, sometimes I’ll stick a British badge on it, which some would say would be blasphemy. But I like to do it, I just think it looks cool.

It’s also an aesthetic thing as well, I love the look of military uniforms and it’s always hard when you find one of the enemy’s or the enemy of your country’s uniform and you really like it. I always have a sort of bias, where I want to favour the Allied uniforms and stuff.

I didn’t go in planning to love tanks. It sort of crept up on me. And I wish I could pinpoint a point where I was just like, ‘Yes, tanks, this is my life now!’ But no, it was a slow sort of process. There’s so much to unpack with tanks as well, even just the battle configurations, and there’s something called Blitzkrieg, where the famous German battle tactics where you have to learn all of that as well, and how they put tanks into play, and yeah, it’s so interesting. Also, even the beginning of how tanks started getting popular within the different countries like Britain and France, how a lot of people thought there was no use for them, but now they’re one of our greatest military weapons. Obviously we use tanks today—and some of the old models we still use—but we’ve just upgraded upon. Even the name ‘tank’—this is quite funny—was brought about because they thought they looked like water tanks, and they thought the enemy, if they hear the name ‘tank’, would think of a water tank, which is not scary at all. So let’s name them tanks. But now, when you hear the name ‘tank’, I always think of a big metal beast.

A collection of WWII memorabilia displayed on a table, including model tanks, books and a helmet

I definitely have my tastes—and certain tanks—with the models. I won’t buy some just because I don’t like the tank. I sometimes try to say to myself, ‘You should just be a bit more broad and branch out and try get a few models that you might not favour as much.’ But I mean, when picking them out, I don’t usually plan. A lot of people would look up the model they want online and then go out and buy it, or they’ll order it online. It’s far more popular to order them online because you can get a bigger range. But I go to a shop in Perth city called Tactics and I used to go there when I was really little with my father because we used to play Dungeons & Dragons, and to buy the little D&D figurines that’s the only shop that really sells the best.

So I remembered from when I was really small, seeing tank models in that shop, and from that memory, I went back and saw that they had a really nice selection. So I go there now to buy my tank models. That’s my main tank model ‘fix’. I usually go in and I’ll sit down in the aisle and spend half an hour looking through every model they have and then I’ll get out a few and select the ones I want. I’ve taken a lot of people to the shop, like, dragged them along while I’m doing my tank shopping—it’s like grocery shopping!

I’ve actually said to someone before, ‘I’ve gotta go do my tank shopping now, we’ve just got to stop and do a tank shop. I promise I’ll be quick!’ And they have to hang around while I’m squatting, going through the shelves. And I’ve had comments going, ‘Oh these are expensive.’ I mean, the ones that are the best in terms of quality are more expensive, and I’m happy to throw cash at the expensive models if they’re good.

I remember when I first started my memorabilia collection, my mum was—I sort of hid it from my mum, because I didn’t want to scare her. We were talking about this before and I was telling you about the weaponry that I also collect, which I couldn’t bring for obvious reasons, the law, the city. And I remember when I first started buying—if you remember, I think it was on Wellington Street, Army Surplus used to exist. It really sadly doesn’t exist now, rest in peace. But I used to go and get a lot of the replicas. I got a German Luftwaffe hunting blade from there and that was one of the first pieces of weaponry I bought, and it’s a scary looking blade. It’s black with a black handle and the Germans—they love their scary looking uniforms. They had the skulls—they liked their scary looking stuff.

So when I bought it, I thought, ‘I really don’t want to frighten my mum.’ If you imagine your daughter comes home with this Nazi replica blade, you’re going to have an intervention, or—I just really didn’t want to scare her.

But then I started bringing in more and more things, and they grew in size, it was hard to hide, so I sort of just—I’d gotten to an age where I wasn’t in high school anymore. ‘Cause when you’re in high school, that’s a bit young to indulge in this sort of thing. So, when I left high school, I started to just say, ‘Look, here’s the stuff, there’s nothing weird about it, it’s just collectibles, I’m obviously not doing anything sinister. I’m not planning for WWIII, the Apocalypse, anything like that.’ And then I think she got used to it—my mum got used to it—and now she’s just so used to it that she straight up buys me the stuff because yeah, I’ve sort of eased the family into the whole thing. My father, he’s always been down for it. His brother is into war memorabilia as well. He has a WWI shot gun, which I’ve seen. It’s pretty scary as well. It’s got the bayonet and we got to see that so, he’s always been really interested in this sort of stuff too.

A photo of three WWII tank models displayed on a table

I have this ongoing thing with my father, where he recently decided to go all out and purchase a farm down south. He has a sort of dream to live off the land, escape the world, almost Doomsday sort of idea, but I wouldn’t like to describe it like that! But it is like that.

So we always joke about, or not even joke – we always discuss how we want to get a tank down there because—like a real tank—we’re always looking on Gumtree to see if there’s any old vets that have just decided to put their old Shermans or whatever, their old Abrahams, up on Gumtree and get it down there, because you can use them to move logs and it wouldn’t just be our fun times. I mean, we’ve discussed a sort of games down there. Building melon people and shooting them with the tank and we were going to have—we invented an Olympic Games where you would have a selection of weapons. I have a bow as well, like a long bow, and everyone has to draw a short end of the straw and see who gets what. And someone would get a tank, and someone would get a butter knife, and you would have to go and hunt down these fake melon people everywhere and get points. And that’s a whole different story.

Photo of a WWII tank model

Getting back to the original story—he is interested in getting a tank for the farm because when he was a boy, his father owned a farm and they had an old Sherman tank which is an American WWI. It’s the most popular and most produced American tank in WWII. I think I said WWI, oh dear. WWII! Because he had that as a boy where they had the Sherman tank down at the farm, he’s open to getting one for our farm. And the story is that, they had this tank because a lot of people, a lot of army vets after WWII, they didn’t want a reminder of the war. So they were selling the tanks for really cheap. And these days they’re worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you have a Sherman tank, that’s amazing. And they’re getting rarer and rarer. They had a Sherman tank down at their old farm and they used it to clear logs and clear trees and do a lot of heavy lifting. But the sad part is, I think they got raided. I’m not sure who did it, but people jumped the fence and then stole – ripped the tank apart and stole the metal. And they just left it in a disaster. So there’s still the remanence of the tank at the farm today, but I always think it’s such a cool story that once upon a time, we used to have a proper American WWII tank just hanging around the farm.

I remember asking someone how would they like to die if they could choose any way to die, and I’m not talking like I’m old, surrounded by everyone I love, in bed. None of that lovey-dovey stuff. I’m talking like, if you could choose anything, like jumping out of an aircraft or into a volcano, that sort of thing, and I’ve always said that I would love to die in a tank battle. I’m really old, I’ve reached my peak. The doctors are like, ‘Any day now!’ and I get to hop in my favourite tank, and then go head to head with the beast of a German tank on the battle field, and we would fight it out. And then in the end they’d blow me up and that would be the end. And it would all be filmed, broadcast live! Invite the whole family along to see of course.

Photo of two WWII tank models displayed on a tableCopyright © 2019 Pepa Saunders

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

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