March 8 is International Women's Day, with the U.S., U.K., and Australia declaring the whole month Women's History Month. It's a great opportunity to honor and recognize the contributions of all women—past and present.
Let us introduce Ashley Moynes, tank driver and volunteer at the Ontario Regiment Museum, who was kind enough to answer some questions about her involvement and commitment to armored vehicles. Let's meet her!
Note: A 2019 video interview with Ashley is at the end of the article.
How did you join the Ontario museum team and become a tank driver?
I have volunteered at the Ontario Regiment Museum for eight years. Throughout the week I work in the investment industry, and on free weekends I volunteer at the museum.
My start in the museum was not planned—my spouse is very interested in tanks and military history, and is an avid World of Tanks player, so I began searching for a place in Canada to see some tanks in action. I found the Ontario Regiment Museum in Oshawa, Ontario and we went to the last Tank Saturday event of the season. My spouse was in his glory, and I suggested he apply to work there. We soon found out the museum’s membership is made up of volunteers! Next season he went to the volunteer sign-up day and I went along for moral support. Before the day was out I also signed up.
For the first year, I volunteered inside the museum—learning about the artifacts and the regiment’s history and giving guided tours. I moved into the vehicle side after that, helping with a restoration project on one of the Shermans. The first vehicle I learned to drive was a M113.
One of the museum’s founding members took us under his wing and introduced us to the M60 Patton. After teaching us about the machine and its history, he trained me how to drive, and then one day he handed over the reins.
I didn’t initially go to the museum intending to volunteer, but I couldn’t be happier to be a member of this family!
How long it takes to learn to drive the tank?
Learning how to drive a tank and use the controls doesn’t take very long; it’s learning the way the tank drives, how moves and how it feels, however, that takes time. The weight and size affects the vehicle’s speed and how it moves and turns. Learning the nuances of the machine, listening for how it should sound, and knowing if something isn’t right, is one of the most important parts of driving a tank. Each vehicle is unique. I am most comfortable and confident with the M60: I’ve been driving it for a number of years, but there is always more to learn.
What was your first tank ride impression?
The first time I rode in a tank I was just a passenger. I was already volunteering with the museum at that point but had only been guiding tours through the artifact and display portion of the museum and had not become part of the vehicle section yet. The tank ride was a fun break one day and it was so incredible! Until you’re in a tank, you don’t truly grasp the power and might of the machine. They look big and heavy but being in one while it’s moving takes it to another level—it’s a rough ride when you’re standing on a seat with your upper body out of the top hatch and I felt pretty badass.
What is your favorite tank in the museum collection?
I may be a bit biased because I’m the driver in the crew, but I would have to say the M60 Patton. I have spent so much time with the machine and since I’ve been driving it for so long I feel like I know the machine very well. I will go through the winter and not drive it but when I get back in it a few months later I feel like I’m home. The M60 holds a special place for me because when I became the primary driver I felt like I had “made it” in the museum, and being one of the only female drivers I feel very grateful to be accepted among members who have been driving for years and decades longer than I have.
If you could drive any tank what would it be and why?
I am very eager to drive the Sheridan! I think it would be a very interesting change from the M60—a significantly lighter and faster tank. It also has one of the cooler camo patterns of the tanks in the museum collection, which just makes me like it more.
What is the most fascinating thing about tanks you can think of?
Every tank has a different personality. Even between tanks of the same model, each vehicle can drive and behave differently. The Ontario Regiment Museum has the largest collection of running military vehicles in Canada. Several of these vehicles are more current but many of them are more than half a century old. Some of the older vehicles are not in peak condition, so they require a lot of care and precision to operate. I think it’s fascinating how each vehicle moves and reacts in its own way.
Do you play World of Tanks? If yes, what is your favorite tank?
I started playing World of Tanks shortly after it launched. I wasn’t great, but persisted until I reached a Tier VI tank. I’ve never been a gamer, so I didn’t stick with it for very long and only played periodically over the next couple of years. In 2019, I went with a few other Ontario Regiment Museum members to the D-Day event in Conneaut, Ohio. We ran into some WOT staff we had met before at their booth. There were many stations set up for the public to play so I logged on for the first time in a while and had a lot of fun playing knowing I was surrounded by a lot of other tank fans! Since then I’ve gone back to playing WoT more frequently and I like bombing around in the T34.
How does it feel to be a woman tank driver? Are people often surprised by your choice of hobby?
I love driving tanks—there’s nothing like it! I think every person I’ve told has been surprised I drive a tank in my spare time, especially considering I have an office job. I’m a quiet person and I think it’s unexpected I like being around loud, heavy, and dirty machines. At the museum I also love meeting visiting female tank fans and hope when they see a woman driving a tank it can show them we can all have unexpected and nontraditional hobbies.
Do you have other women volunteering in museum? If so, what are their roles/duties?
There are other women volunteers in the museum, and their numbers continue to grow! Some of our female members spend time in the artifact and display portion of the museum and help run the show on that side. We have several women volunteering with a focus on the vehicle section, working in teams to perform maintenance, and work on restoration projects. More women are also learning to drive the vehicles! The museum also has a very close relationship with our neighbors, the RCAF 420 Wing, and so many women there help us out wherever they can.
Any advice you can give all the awesome ladies interested in tanks?
I encourage women to be confident in themselves and their interests. Don’t be reluctant to take part in something considered a mainly male-dominated area. If you have the passion and the willingness, go for it! For me, volunteering at the tank museum has been one of the most rewarding experiences, and I’ve always been supported and felt a sense of belonging with this community.
If you have a local tank museum or organization, volunteer. If you’re not keen on being in or around the vehicles, there’s so much to learn about tanks—keeping the history alive is one of the most important parts.
If you don’t have access to something local, consider planning a visit to the Ontario Regiment Museum! You would love our annual Aquino tank event, and I would love to meet you and talk tanks!