Gallery: Ambitious plans for Great War Experience - with trench system - at Hawstead

Left to right, Taff Gillingham, Kev Smith and Tracey Mackenzie at Hawstead.

Left to right, Taff Gillingham, Kev Smith and Tracey Mackenzie at Hawstead. - Credit: Archant

Three military history enthusiasts have set themselves the ambitious task of opening a visitor attraction on the Great War, complete with trenches.

Taff Gillingham, his partner Tracey Mackenzie and Kevin Smith are directors of Khaki Devil, a company based at Ipswich which supplies historically-accurate military uniforms, equipment and props and historical advice for the television and film industries, as well as theatre productions.

As well as the store at Henley, they also have a First World War trench system at Akenham, on the outskirts of Ipswich, where productions including Downton Abbey and Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful have been filmed.

Now they are hoping to launch the Great War Experience at Brook Farm in Bells Lane, Hawstead, near Bury St Edmunds, which would not be for filming purposes, but to educate people about the First World War.

The plans, which have been submitted to St Edmundsbury Borough Council, include a trench system, wooden army huts, a cafe, shop and toilets.

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Mr Gillingham, 47, said they had had so many requests from people wanting to look at the trench system at Akenham, but it was not suitable for tours.

He said: “What we really want to do is give people more information/knowledge than they can get anywhere else and having got trenches already we know that trenches, they are actually a bit dull.”

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He added: “We knew we needed something else to interpret the site to help people understand it.”

The plans also include a replica of a First World War army camp and an exhibition hall and trenches by night experience in the huts.

Khaki Devil has a huge amount of uniforms, military equipment, paperwork and artefacts which can be used in the displays.

How the construction of the trenches evolved through the war will also be revealed.

Mr Gillingham, who is involved with the Suffolk Regiment Museum in Bury, added: “What we are keen to do is challenge some of the myths around the war.”

He said they had been looking for the right site for about two-and-a-half years, adding the trench system needed to be in a realistic topographical environment without a noisy road or power lines nearby.

In a document about their proposal, they concluded: “With the centenary of the Great War now less than 18 months away our proposal will put Suffolk and St Edmundsbury in particular at the heart of the commemorations.

“We believe that our knowledge of the subject and our trench building experience will make this a popular attraction.”

Mr Gillingham, from Ipswich, said the hire business would definitely be based at Brook Farm, which they own.

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