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Painters refurbish UK’s surviving Railway Howitzer artillery piece

25 March 2013

Skilled painters are refurbishing the UK’s sole surviving 18 inch 195 ton Railway Howitzer, one of only a few railway guns remaining in the world, ahead of the WW1 centenary

Operatives from Ian Williams, one the UK's largest painting contractors, are re-painting the UK’s largest surviving calibre artillery piece, at Larkhill, Royal Artillery Barracks, in Salisbury.

The gun, which is mounted on to a railway carriage, is being renovated ahead of it being put back on display to the general public; initially in Holland for an exhibition on ‘War and Peace’ for a five month loan, and then back on its home ground in UK prior to the WW1 centenary of WW1.

The first public appearance of the refurbished howitzer will be when it is transported to Holland in March 2013 to be exhibited at the Dutch National Railway Museum in Utrecht, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, before returning to the UK where it will be put on display at a location to be decided.

Five Ian Williams’ operatives have worked on the gun, which was built between 1917 and 1919. The sole surviving UK 18 inch Railway Howitzer was in a poor condition having been left unattended for many years. To bring it back to a condition to go on display a lot of hard work went into the preparation. This included pressure washing and hand scrubbing the whole Howitzer, and removing all brass plates to go away to be cleaned and refurbished. Needle guns were used to remove all rust before applying red oxide primer to all bare areas it then had an application of one undercoat and two full coats of gloss paint picking out the main carriage in a grey, the turret in deep bronze green and the hand wheels in off white.

Ian Williams has previously painted other artillery items at the barracks, including many smaller historical artillery weapons ahead of the Queen’s visit to Larkhill in 2006.

Craig Wilson, Business Manager for Ian Williams, said: “We have a long-standing successful relationship with the Gunners at Royal Artillery Barracks and have completed many detailed and specialist jobs to refurbish their historical artillery pieces.

“This is the largest and most significant of the guns we have worked on and we are delighted with the results. We have received positive feedback from the staff on site who are excited about the Howitzer being put on display to the general public.”

The significance and size of this particular equipment has attracted a lot of attention, despite most people not knowing the Howitzer is located at what is the home of the Royal Artillery inside the barracks at Larkhill Garrison. A film crew has captured the refurbishment of the gun and will follow it to Holland for the unveiling to public. This project will be aired on Channel 5 in July, for its ‘Monster Moves’ series.

Lieutenant Colonel John Le Feuvre, who heads the Larkhill Garrison Management Team and is also the Deputy Garrison Commander, said: “Most people passing through Larkill Garrison are probably completely unaware that this monster equipment lurks behind the security fence.

“Although there are as many as 12 railway guns around the world, the Royal Artillery’s Howitzer is the last of five 18 inch Railway Howitzers built during WW1 and one of very few surviving anywhere in the world. This very special artillery piece needs to be renovated and positioned where its colossal presence can be experienced by all, especially as we approach the centenary of World War 1. I am delighted Ian Williams was able to take on this mammoth and extremely important task for me”.

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