On the 1st November 2004, Mr Malcolm Pink, a Managing Director of Taylor Woodrow, formally opened a reconstruction, based upon the old Guardroom from Poperinghe Barracks, perhaps better known to hundreds of ex-apprentices as the 'Depot REME'.
Also in attendance at the opening ceremony were Brig Tetlow MBE ADC(DEME(A)), Brig Rickard (Brig REME Training) and several civic dignitaries from the neighbouring town of Wokingham, including the Mayor. Among the invited guests were former Trustees of the Museum, former Commanding Officers of Trg Btn and Depot REME, and many other retired officers of the Corps.
This reconstructed building has now taken up residence as the new 'front entrance' to the REME Museum of Technology. It houses an excellent and much-needed tea-room, an up-market reception area, including the REME Association shop, and a display of a typical REME Guardroom, as it would have looked like back in the 1950s. Indeed, if you step up onto the verandah and try the door handle, you will be accosted by the ghostly voice of an RSM, handing down a stern warning to ensure that you are smartly dressed and ready for parade - otherwise you will be spending more time than you'd like in the Guardroom!
Was named after a small town in Belgium, was previously located in the south-west of Arborfield Garrison, having been built back in 1939 to accommodate two Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiments of the Royal Artillery. These remained at Arborfield until just prior to D-Day in June 1944. Following their departure and up to July 1946, the barracks were then used as an Army depot for the assembly and dispatch of troops bound for service in north-west Europe.
In that month of July 1946, the REME Training Centre was formed and a Regimental Training Tactical Wing was established in the barracks - now to be known as 'Training Battalion and Depot REME'. The Barracks consisted of wooden huts mostly grouped in 'spiders', each spider being made up of six huts joined by corridors to central washing and utility rooms.
An extract from the journal of ex-L/Cpl Cyril Kirby recalls his first impressions of the Depot in 1952.
"… … … it seemed to be overcrowded, there were troops everywhere. The accommodation was crowded as well, as all the huts had bunk beds, making about forty of us in a hut instead of twenty. With so many troops there, the queue for meals had to be seen to be believed. The dining room was about as big as a tennis court and, as you were walking up to it, you could see the queue winding round the outside of the building. After standing for some time, you would eventually reach the door only to find that the queue went all the way round the inside of the building as well!"
It was to be thirty-one years later, in October 1977, when the barracks finally closed as a training centre. Over the whole thirty-eight years of its existence, literally thousands of REME soldiers passed through the gates of Poperinghe Barracks, on their way to operations and postings all over the world - as well as to their final destination of 'civvy street'.
Following the Depot's closure, much of the old barracks was demolished, save for a few wooden buildings, including the Guardroom. These provided a location for administrative facilities and a centre for local Garrison amenities.
In late 1999, the Poperinghe site was sold to fulfil the needs of local housing and its last building, Poperinghe Guardroom, was finally pulled down around the end of 2002. Attempts were made to salvage the old building, but this proved impossible - and unhealthy! - due to its asbestos roof, ship-lap construction and steel girder lining. Thus came the project to reconstruct the building, which finally came to fruition in November 2004.
A considerable number of people, both from the Museum and outside agencies, were involved in the project, led by the Museum Director, Lt Col Bill Cleasby, who also 'doubles up' as Hon Sec of the Old Boys' Association of course. The staff, Judy Booth, Hazel Crozier, Maddy Scott, John Blaney, Lt Col David Keymer and Brig Martyn Clark, have worked their socks off as researchers, artists, editors, designers, project managers and general dogsbodies! In fact, you name it and they did it! Bill will quickly also acknowledge the able assistance given to the project by many others - it was a tremendous team effort and it is to be hoped that future visitors to the Museum will be suitably impressed and pleased with the final result. No doubt the Guardroom will become a hive of activity during future Old Boys' Reunions - please give it your hearty support.
The new Guardroom ............ As it looks today