The Army Apprentices Heritage Centre
Since the closure of Beachley Camp BOBA had been fortunate in continuing to occupy, the Old School House, (OSH), adjacent to St John’s Church at Beachley until MoD decided that anyone using or occupying Service property should hold a valid Lease or Written Agreement in order to continue their activities therein. BOBA signed a 3-year Lease and remained at the property unhindered. However, in 2017 MoD decided that it should be sold and gave BOBA 6 months’ notice to quit and we became homeless although the incumbent Battalion, 1Rifles offered the opportunity of a storage facility within the Barracks. The Chairman spoke with the QM and explained the difficulties of being civilians and coming and going into the Barracks and really, we wanted to create a Heritage Centre in recognition of the 70 years Army Apprentices had occupied the Camp and with little in the way of remembrance. He asked if there was any alternative available and was asked “where would you like to be”? An immediate response was “in the Old NAAFI Building”, which was still occupied by the Regimental Support Team, but when reminded that they don’t spend much time there the QM said that he would investigate the possibility. About 3 months later BOBA was offered the site and on 17th March 2019 the Chairman on behalf of BOBA signed an agreement with the QM and CO allowing us to move in.
The place needed to be cleaned, painted inside and out and a few other repairs which were needed. We were fortunate that a few BOBA Members that lived locally and knew each other well showed an obvious interest in such a project and volunteered to get this idea in motion. So, The Heritage Team was formed and brought together a range of experience and skills. Frameworks, display units etc were built. There was no description of what we were and after contacting several local companies for help we had the windows decorated with vinyl signs, a flag pole erected, new cladding around the building, new lighting put in, tables provided and lots of other support we never knew we needed. The team then started to work out what we had to put on display, our first thought was “not enough” and then we began opening the boxes that had been in the OSH for years, mostly never seen for over 20 years.
As none of us were Museum Curators or Heritage Centre Builders and had no idea where to start once we had the boxes on site, we opened them up and spread the contents out on the floor, matching up items with similar items and away we went. We set a target to open on the weekend of the Annual Reunion in September 2019 and we made it.
On Saturday 21st September our President, Syd Thomas, duly cut the ribbon and the first visitors entered. To say that they were surprised was an understatement, things some of the younger Apprentices had never seen, things that brought back memories and things a lot of us never thought we would see again, a bed pack, photos of old friends and so on. The place was alive with 16-year-old boys on that day and the Team were lifted by the atmosphere and the support and this has continued throughout.
The support of local ex-boys has been fundamental to the success of this project. Support also came from visitors from around the world, donations of memorabilia and enthusiasm for the memories and reconnections generated.
During this period the Team also created a Permanent Memorial in the Military Cemetery to those we have lost and had the Beachley Gates renovated and they take pride of place once again, and remain the iconic memory of times past for us all.
The Future is now our History