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Suffolk’s Khaki Chums are “demobbed” to mark centenary of Armistice

PUBLISHED: 11:30 06 November 2018

Taff Gillingham in Khaki Chums uniform  - the squad has now been demobbed. Picture: SIMON PARKER/ARCHANT

Taff Gillingham in Khaki Chums uniform - the squad has now been demobbed. Picture: SIMON PARKER/ARCHANT

Archant

As the world prepares to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, a Suffolk-based group of military historians have pulled on their replica uniforms for the last time.

Taff Gillingham's expertise on the First World War is often called upon at special events like the unveiling of plaques to honour two Ipswich VC recipients. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNTaff Gillingham's expertise on the First World War is often called upon at special events like the unveiling of plaques to honour two Ipswich VC recipients. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The Khaki Chums are a group of military history enthusiasts who, since the 1980s, have put on the uniform to bring to life the experience of First World War soldiers.

They have visited the battlefields of northern France and Belgium where British soldiers fought and died, living in the kind of camps set up for soldiers – and they have helped bring the realities of life in the trenches to new generations.

But now founder Taff Gillingham has decided it is right to call time on the group’s uniformed activities: “We have been doing this since the 1980s. We’re now in our 50s or are approaching 60 so we don’t think its realistic to put on the uniforms again.

“But we’ll still be doing Battlefield Tours. We’ll still be going back to northern France only now we’ll be in civilian clothes and staying in hotels like everyone else!”

In earlier years the Khaki Chums met First World War veterans. Taff Gillingham is pictured with Battle of the Somme veteran Arthur Jim Beecroft at the 80th anniversary commemorations of the battle in 1996. Picture; ARCHANTIn earlier years the Khaki Chums met First World War veterans. Taff Gillingham is pictured with Battle of the Somme veteran Arthur Jim Beecroft at the 80th anniversary commemorations of the battle in 1996. Picture; ARCHANT

Their last tour in uniform was in the summer when they visited former tank preparation stations that were built near Eryn in Northern France during the last months of the war.

Mr Gillingham said: “That was appropriate. They were run by older soldiers who had been on the front and were now helping to prepare the new weapons for younger soldiers at the end of the war.”

He will be at the Ipswich Remembrance service in Christchurch Park on Sunday before heading off to take part in a national service at Westminster Abbey during the late afternoon.

The Khaki Chums helped to keep the First World War experience alive – and formed a bond with very elderly veterans of the conflict in its earlier days.

Taff Gillingham and Robin Vickery from the Royal British Legion at the trenches near Ipswich. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNTaff Gillingham and Robin Vickery from the Royal British Legion at the trenches near Ipswich. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The members talked to veterans to get their insights into life at the front – and to hear direct from them how they felt about facing the enemy in the trenches and battlefields on the Western Front.

Mr Gillingham said: “I sometimes met veterans in my uniform at an event and then I’d see them again in civilian clothes a day or two later – they’d open up and talk to me about their experiences when I was in uniform, but I could see they would hold back when I was just dressed normally.”

Taff Gillingham will keep alive First World War spirit

The Khaki Chums might have been demobbed – but Taff Gillingham is still doing much to keep the memory of the First World War alive.

He is continuing to develop a visitor centre and replica First World War camp at Brook Farm at Hawstead near Bury St Edmunds and is in constant demand for providing advice, uniforms and equipment for film, television and theatre productions.

Mr Gillingham has also created two replica trench systems on farmland near Ipswich which are regularly used in television and film productions – including Downton Abbey and the famous Sainsbury’s advert from 2014 which recreated the “Trench Christmas truce” from 100 years previously.

He is hoping that once the centenary has passed, he will be able to concentrate on building more huts at Brook Farm, but doesn’t expect a long lull: “After the 90th anniversary things went quiet for a few months, but then started again. There is always interest in the First World War,” he said.

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