From Church Crookham to Winchester

From Church Crookham to Winchester

We asked our Patron Colonel Denis Wood to tell us how he raised funds for the move of The Gurkha Museum from Church Crookham to Peninsula Barracks. 

‘When Field Marshal John Chapple was Brigade Major Brigade of Gurkhas in Seremban, Malaysia in 1967 to 1969 he championed his idea of creating a Gurkha Museum and that until a building could be found for it, Regiments and Corps Units could store memorabilia, books, records, etc, at the Training Depot Brigade of Gurkhas.

By 1974 the idea had been accepted and a decent sized hut was found for it in Queen Elizabeth Barracks at Church Crookham, where it was opened by Field Marshal The Lord Harding of Petherton in June 1974. 

In 1976 I was asked to become a Trustee of The Gurkha Museum and take over from Brigadier Kent, after which I remained as Chairman for 25 years. The Museum was then still housed in a wooden hut behind the wire in Queen Elizabeth Barracks where it was difficult to have any civilian visitors. We Trustees tried for years to find a better home – London, Edinburgh, etc, but eventually factors pointed to Winchester. 

By the late 1980s Peninsula Barracks was devoid of the military except for The Royal Green Jackets’ RHQ and museum and The Royal Hampshire Regiment’s HQ and Museum. Most of the barrack blocks were to be demolished, but the Crown Estates, to whom all the land belongs, offered long leases on those blocks which were converted to houses and apartments. Our block was retained by the Army and remains impossible to sell for a profit because it stands on Crown Estate land.

The guarantee of 30 years tenure was an essential requirement to be able to raise funds to refurbish the building. We were allotted square footage on the authorised regimental scales for four infantry regiments, Gurkha Engineer, Signals and Transport Regiments. The Trustees decided that we must also represent the old Gurkha Brigade regiments’ and war-raised units’ history since 1815 even though no square footage was originally allocated for them. 

I started raising the money needed, estimated at £400,000. We held progress and planning meetings every week or so with Joy Ashworth (designer), John Lamond and Rachel Chapple (FM John’s daughter) who administered the project. I asked each of our Trustees to raise money from every company and potential donor they knew, and we asked all the Gurkha regiments to contribute. 

I asked Sir John Nott, late 2GR, and then Chairman of Lazards, to ask UK Banks for help and I got a multitude of donations ranging from £50 to thousands. I was lucky in finding major donors in the Americas Rosa and Ellis McDonald after whom we named the Gallery. The McDonalds gave a significant donation and paid for a large van which we used as a mobile shop stocked with Gurkha items and tables which our volunteers took to fairs and places like RMA Sandhurst and sold a lot of goods at profit. A substantial donation was also made by the Sultan of Brunei which was invested in the stock market to provide income to pay towards running costs of the Museum. The McDonalds also paid for all the furniture and fittings in the McDonald Gallery: a considerable donation.” 

We asked regiments to donate or lend property for display and started collecting books, documents and photographs to create a library and archive. Joy got a professional hotel designer to design and carry out the work in the McDonald Gallery which was a big job. It entailed removing the dental surgery cubicles, a strong room and a bathroom and installing a new kitchen, lavatory and store rooms together with putting in a false ceiling, new electric wiring and chandeliers specially built for us, and a damp-proof inner wall on the side facing the barrack square [now the garden with a water feature]. We ordered the carpet which was specially made to our choice of pattern, and put in showcases to display our badge and medal collections and some precious pieces of gold and silver. 

All that work took four years and the Museum was opened in 1990. The Prince of Wales, Colonel-in-Chief 2GR, was due to open it but just before the day he fell off his polo pony and broke an arm. Field Marshal Edwin Bramall, late Colonel 2GR, opened it on his behalf.’

Learn more about the history of The Gurkha Museum

Tags. museum history –fundraising

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