Downton brings trenches of Somme to field in...Ipswich!

IPSWICH: Last night millions of costume drama fans tuned into the new series of Downton Abbey which featured the killing fields of the Battle of the Somme.

However the realistic World War I battle scenes were not filmed in Flanders or northern France...but in a field on the edge of Ipswich.

And the expert called in to advise and arrange the WWI battle scenes was local man Taff Gillingham, whose khaki-clad chums have become a familiar sight at special events in the town.

Mr Gillingham, 45, of Colchester Road, created replica World War One trenches in the field outside the town a few years ago and they have been featured in a number of other TV productions, as well as being a popular location for school trips.

He said the scenes for Downton Abbey were filmed during a week in March this year – and he took part in some of the battle shots as he marshalled the extras he had supplied to the production team.

He said: “I was contacted by the production team at the beginning of the year who said they understood I might be able to advise them on creating trenches, they were planning to make their own.

“I got them to come up here and see what we had and they decided to use them. At first I didn’t know what they were filming, but then they arrived with Donal Woods as production designer and I knew it must be something big.

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“I’ve worked with Donal before and he is a top man. When we were talking about this he suddenly said: ‘this is a big production – you know it’s the second series of Downton, don’t you?’

“From then on it was all very exciting.”

Mr Gillingham has a group which he can call on to work as extras for World War I productions, and as an expert in that period he donned a costume to help organise them.

He said: “It is easier to get them to do the right things if you are in among them, and for that you have to be in costume. I don’t know whether you can see me or not on screen – but that isn’t the point. I am pleased we were able to recreate the period of the war.”

The second series of the ITV hit starts in the middle of the war and there are shots from the trenches peppered throughout the run.

Mr Gillingham, who also led a campaign to erect plaques dedicated to Ipswich’s fallen war heroes at Christchurch Park’s cenotaph, said: “I’ve only seen the roughcuts at this stage but it looks really impressive. The trouble they’ve taken to make it look as authentic as possible is great.

“I was able to advise them a bit about the Battle of Amiens which was one of the last really decisive battles – and you have to remember who won the war. The German Imperial Army was shattered.”

Mr Gillingham has become a regular expert for television and film production companies keen to recreate the war.

And he supplied 200 extras to film an award-winning Hovis bread commercial two years ago. “They asked if I could find 100 first world war soldiers, and I got 200 to go up to Liverpool for the filming!” he added.

n What do you think of a hit TV series being filmed near Ipswich? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or alternatively you can send an e-mail to