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Gallery: Ipswich launches official Great War centenary commemorations

PUBLISHED: 13:30 20 February 2014 | UPDATED: 13:30 20 February 2014

Taff Gillingham, mayor Hamil Clarke, mayoress Daisy Weekes and Robin Vickery at the trenches near Ipswich.

Taff Gillingham, mayor Hamil Clarke, mayoress Daisy Weekes and Robin Vickery at the trenches near Ipswich.

Archant

The harrowing war tales that have been passed through generations are being brought together as part of the official First World War centenary commemorations in Ipswich.

Yesterday, Ipswich mayor Hamil Clarke got a taste of what a First World War trench was like as he and fellow councillor Robin Vickery, who is chairman of the town’s Royal British Legion, visited the replica trenches that have been created at a farm just outside Ipswich.

They were helping launch the borough’s project to mark the 100th anniversary of the war, and hope to bring together family stories about the war as part of the national remembrance effort over the next five years.

The borough will be working with UCS from the autumn when the next students start their course to produce an archive of Ipswich memories – and the town will mark the centenary of the start of the war in August with special ceremonies here and in the twin town of Arras in northern France which was devastated during the war.

They were shown the trenches by Taff Gillingham. He created them and they are now used regularly by film and television companies making wartime dramas or documentaries.

Mr Clarke said almost every family in the town would be able to find relations who were affected by the war, and said a new website was being set up to collect these memories.

Mr Vickery felt it was important to remember the importance of the war – and to understand that times were very different to today.

He said: “For most men this was the first time they had been abroad and during the war there were major changes in this country. For instance women entered the workforce in huge numbers for the first time.

“It was a period during which the country changed completely and it is important to remember that when the troops returned they had to get used to a very different world.”

Mr Gillingham has done a great deal of research into the First World War, and said many people’s perceptions were very inaccurate.

Life in trenches could be tough, but most British soldiers spent only a few days at the front at a time before returning to billets in reasonable safety some distance from the trenches.

“They said you spent 80% of your time bored stiff, 19% of your time frozen stiff, and 1% of your time scared stiff!”

Of the 6.5 million British soldiers sent to France, 89% survived. 60% suffered no injuries whatsoever and for many the wartime years were the best of their lives.

Mr Gillingham had met one veteran who told him that many of those at the front felt they would rather die at 26 having had a wartime adventure than live for decades in the kind of drudgery they had known before the war.

Read Suffolk’s war stories here.

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