Suffolk: First World War hut saved for posterity

Taff Gillingham in the WW1 hut at Ipswich Labour Club. Taff Gillingham in the WW1 hut at Ipswich Labour Club.

Saturday, May 3, 2014
6:00 AM

To generations of members of the Ipswich Labour Club it is the club room used for functions and rehearsals.

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But when military historian Taff Gillingham visited the wooden extension to the club in Silent Street he knew exactly what it was – a genuine First World War barracks hut.

And it was facing demolition before a new clubroom is built.

Now Mr Gillingham and his band of Khaki Devils are set to dismantle the hut (or more accurately huts) to form the centrepiece of a new First World War experience they are creating at Hawstead near Bury St Edmunds.

His team is creating a series of First World War trenches and will have 11 replica huts at the site to tell the story of the conflict and show visitors what life was like for the soldiers.

However having a genuine building from the era on site will be a major attraction.

Mr Gillingham said: “We’d been looking for a genuine building to recreate there and I heard saw in an Ipswich Society newsletter that the Labour Club was building a new extension and starting by demolishing a wooden building on their site.

“I came here to look at it and couldn’t believe what was here – it was just what we wanted!”

He contacted the club, and officials who were planning to demolish the building were happy to allow the team to dismantle it.

Work is likely to start next month – Mr Gillingham hopes the Hawstead centre will be ready to open by early next summer.

During the First World War huts were built to a standard design, but were often built alongside another to make a building twice the size – that is a feature of the Ipswich building.

It was originally built at a barracks in Colchester somewhere between 1915 and 1918 and used by troops during their basic training before being sent to the front line.

Its exact use at that time is not known – it could have been a dormitory or it could have been used as a hall for other activities.

What is known is that the building was re-erected at the club in 1938 after it was not needed by the army. Over the last 76 years it has been at the heart of social events at the club – from bingo nights to Sunday afternoon performances by variety stars.

Its condition is surprisingly good, said Mr Gillingham: “It has been repaired, but much of the original is still here and actually if you look at it, it’s not too bad at all – there is no sign of damp or rot.

“One of our group knows how to dismantle and re-build things like this. That’s a great benefit for us. We’ll have 11 replica buildings but it’s not the same as having a genuine First World War building.”

Labour Club Secretary Barry Fulcher said, “We are delighted that these huts are going to be saved.

“They have been an important part of Ipswich Labour Club since 1938 and many, many people have enjoyed taking part in meetings, parties and events here.”

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