Entering the National Army Museum’s storage facility in Stevenage, I immediately notice a pink vehicle, not a homage to the latest Barbie movie, I hope? ‘The pink panther Land Rover was used by the SAS in north Africa in the sixties, but is the wrong kind of pink,’ explains head of collections Care, Terri Dendy. ‘Someone did a restoration job on it and painted it the wrong colour before coming to us.’ It’s supposed to be more of salmon pink. I query why when the SAS want to operate under the radar they should to choose to be ... well so conspicuous. ‘It was because the sand in that area was pink. A plane that was painted in this colour, Montgomery pink, got lost in the desert, so the SAS decided was the perfect camouflage colour.’

The collection is the world’s largest, and most significant, accumulation of objects and archives relating to the British Army and other land forces of the British Crown, including the former Indian Army up until 1947. It’s vast with over one million items, spanning a 600-year period.

The museum was originally formed at Sandhurst in 1960 to provide a home for the collections from the former British Indian Army and Irish Regiments and relocated to Chelsea in 1971. The Stevenage storage facility was opened in 2008 and originally used as a site for vehicles, it has expanded to include an eclectic mix of artefacts.

Great British Life: Hertfordshire Regiment's officer's full dress coatee, 1854 worn by Lieutenant Arthur Savory Armstrong: Photo: National Army MuseumHertfordshire Regiment's officer's full dress coatee, 1854 worn by Lieutenant Arthur Savory Armstrong: Photo: National Army Museum

Towering above me are pieces of the Berlin wall – the museum has five of them. One is currently on display in London and had to be craned out. ‘At the moment we are doing a gallery refresh programme at the museum, so we are getting more objects on display or interpreting them in a different way. It gives people a fresh look,’ explains Terri. We walk past a search light, one of the few bits of equipment that relates to women's history; part of the collection includes the Women's Royal Army Corps. During the Second World War, women weren’t allowed to fight in combat or be seen to kill. But they we're permitted to use searchlights. ‘However, you can kill someone with one of these if you shine it at a plane,’ adds Terri.

Old trunks sit alongside a dog kennel that was used in Afghanistan and a horse from the war horse exhibition held in 2008. The striking sculpture made from barbed wire represented the story of the war horses.

A motorbike that wouldn’t look out of place in The Great Escape sits alongside a scooter. ‘It’s actually also a motorbike,’ says Terri. It was used by the Parachute Regiment; they would carry it in a bag as they dropped out of the planes.’ I learn that the Parachute Regiment also used folded down full-size bikes, so as well as grappling with a parachute they were hanging on to a bike!

Great British Life: Chocolate tin produced for the army by Frys still containing the chocolate. Photo: Julie LucasChocolate tin produced for the army by Frys still containing the chocolate. Photo: Julie Lucas

Nearby is the chassis that the Queen worked on when she trained as a mechanic. The young Princess Elizabeth was the first female member of the Royal Family to join the armed services as an active member ‘In the Second World War when training this was her instruction model’ explains Terri. It’s fascinating.

Terri rolls off facts like a human Wikipedia. When a new item arrives, she searches for provenance and ensures it is looked after properly for generations to come. She works alongside several full-time colleagues, four are conservators that make sure objects are stored and looked after properly. Sometimes it’s a bit of hoovering and brushing but other times it can be more intensive. Dust is the enemy. When I visit they are working on chocolate tins dating back to the 1900, some still containing the chocolate from Fry’s but not looking quite such a delight. I obviously look surprised. ‘When we acquired a NAAFI van, it came with a very old sausage roll.’ says Terri nonchalantly.

There are 80,000 uniforms in the collection dating back to the civil war to present day – thought to be the largest collection of male workwear in the world. The uniforms all need specialist packing, it is one of the jobs that they rely on volunteers for - sewers are particularly welcomed. ‘People with an interest in history can volunteer here and help us look after the collection. We’ve had people here when they are transitioning out of the army, it can be quite a challenging time and they do a couple of days here to get back into work/civilian life.’

Great British Life: The Pink Panther Land Rover used by the SAS. Photo: Julie LucasThe Pink Panther Land Rover used by the SAS. Photo: Julie Lucas

Terri’s favourite things at present include some waxwork figures, in the First World War these wax figures showed the effect of gas poisoning. She also likes the NAAFI piano. ‘What's lovely about it is that there are ring stains from where people put pints down – you can imagine people singing around it.’

She shows me some beautiful colours they have in the collection. Colours are sacred flags. ‘Trooping of the Colour is when regiments parade their colours. Each regiment has two colours (the regimental and the King’s colour), colours are retired and laid in churches or consecrated grounds when they wear out or there is a new monarch. The Queen’s colours will therefore now become the King’s colours. Tradition states they are hung in a church until completely gone textiles disintegrate over time. In some instances, they have ended up with us, but many have been lost.’

The eclectic mix also includes Zulu spears, one which belonged to Baden Powell, Laurence of Arabia’s robes and dagger and Napoleon’s horse Marengo – the latter two are currently on display in London. Terri never knows what is going to turn up. This morning someone has found a pigeon trough used in the First World War.

Great British Life: Terri with one of the many uniforms. Photo Julie LucasTerri with one of the many uniforms. Photo Julie Lucas

For those wanting to trace their lineage, the National Army Museum has a useful guide and online portals where people can search the museum archives for anything have anything related to a regiment. The Stevenage site is closed to the public, but individuals can view objects for research by appointment.

Ensuring the history of the armed services is preserved for generations, they are continually adding to the collection. ‘One of our most recent items is a lunch box that was used at the Coronation by one of the soldiers. They had these lovely cardboard lunch boxes with the insignia on the front,’ adds Terri.

‘We can’t take everything, but we try and take things that relate to a soldier’s story. That's what we're here to do, to tell those soldier’s stories.’