Reminiscence at the Northern Ireland War Memorial
One of the privileges of working for the Northern Ireland War Memorial is the many opportunities to meet older people who lived through the Second World War. This often happens during our outreach where we engage with the public through reminiscence, craft and singing workshops in residential homes, day care centres and community group settings. These workshops encourage participants to connect with objects and photographs from the museum collection. This often stimulates conversation about the past and helps improve a person’s emotional wellbeing by allowing them to share their life experiences. Reminiscence reinforces a sense of identity and self-worth, bringing participants together and enabling them to learn more about themselves as well as the lives of others.
Sadly, due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, we have had to temporarily suspend our outreach workshops. However, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share with you some of the fascinating personal stories people have shared with us while participating in these sessions. Here are just a few:
- One lady remembered the military hospital at Waringfield near Moria where a number of American soldiers were patients. She could vividly recall the sight of young GIs in their dressing gowns coming across the fields to her house to sample the jam tarts which her mother would bake for them. As a young teenager she would deliver milk to the officer’s mess in Moria Orange. One night she was delivering milk and a sentry challenged her: “Who it it?” She answered: “It’s me!” To which the sentry replied: “Who’s me?!”
- A man who grew up in Hatfield Street off the Ormeau Road in Belfast remembered the Americans being camped in Ormeau Park. They used to skim coins across the Lagan to the local children and for years afterwards they would still find coins lying in the sleech.
- A lady who grew up in Joy Street, Belfast recalled how her father had been a chef for African American GIs who were based at Bovington Camp in Dorset. Once they sent over some peanut butter for her family to enjoy but she definitely didn’t like the taste! She also remembered her mother making her a rag bag doll of a cat out of some yellow cloth as a Christmas present during the war.
- One lady from West Belfast remembered being evacuated to Killyleagh and from a hill near the village seeing Belfast in flames during one of the air raids. She later found out that her grandmother sheltered in a tomb in Milltown Cemetery during the Blitz as there were so few air raid shelters. She also talked about smuggling and how her neighbour was once raided by the police for smuggling food and clothing up from Monaghan.
- A lady from Ewing Street, Londonderry talked about the vegetable allotment in her street and how she could remember her father as an ARP warden evacuating people from their houses to the Foyle Road during the Blitz. She also shared her memory of being in an air raid shelter – the one word she used to describe it was “horrible”!
- A man from North Belfast shared his memory of a terrier dog called Spitfire Toby who travelled around local schools performing tricks to raise funds for the Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund. As a young Boy Scout, he also witnessed the sight of Belfast on fire during one of the air raids from the top of Black Mountain.
We are so grateful to all those people who participate in our reminiscence workshops and are willing to share their memories of the Second World War. We can’t wait to hear more when we are able to restart our outreach programme which you can read about here. Over the coming weeks we look forward to sharing more about our continued public engagement plans – watch this space!
Michael Fryer, Outreach Officer, April 2020