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Interviewee of the Month – February 2021

Interviewee of the Month – February 2021

Our interviewee of the month for February is Victor Maddalena (W&M21) who was born in Belfast in August 1936. While Victor and both his parents were born in the United Kingdom, his family were proud to be part of the Italian community in Northern Ireland.  Being an Italian in Northern Ireland during the Second World War was difficult with Victor remembering that his parents felt out of place at times; ‘It was a them and us sort of thing. I didn’t notice anything and never had any problem with the people here… so it might just have been during the bit of the war when we were at war with Italy’.

There were many local Italians not as fortunate as Victor and his family. They had a number of friends who were deported; ‘If you were Italian here and you didn’t have a British passport you were deported, you were put on a boat and sent to Australia and all this carry on’. While Victor’s family were safe from deportation many other local Italian families were broken up when their fathers or husbands were deported for the duration of the war. Victor recalled that ‘mother would have taken us to Portrush every year to visit ‘the Forte’s in Portrush. Angelo Forte, he was deported. Nancy, his wife, was left to run their big café there.  Nancy was a relative of mother’s and we used to go to Portrush to see her. We always stayed there for a couple of weeks, messed about down the sand, the big dunes and made sandcastles and stuff kids do. We did a lot of fishing.’

Victor and his family ran the City Café on Queen’s Square next to the Albert Clock and lived in a flat above the shop. Victor doesn’t remember much about the first major raid on Belfast on the 7th/8th April 1941 but remembers what his parents said, ‘I’ll tell you how bad it was …. In the cafe, there were sailors, and they were torpedoed at sea somewhere and they were at the cafe. When the Blitz started, their nerves got the better of them and they were rolling about the floor. Now this is only a story I heard I never saw it, but it must have been pretty bad. The whole place was shaking every time the bombs came down. There were whistling bombs and you could hear them getting louder and louder and then BOOM! The whole place went. The aul’ building we were in, there were big archways that the doors were in and big thick walls and we were stuck under the arch for protection in case the roof came down.’

Shortly after the first raid, Victor and his family left the City Centre and moved to Deramore Street off the Ormeau Road to escape future raids. It was there they were living during the infamous Easter Tuesday Raid on the 15th/16th April 1941. ‘We were up there, and the Blitz started. My uncle Ernest had a motorbike and sidecar, and he took us way up to Carryduff away out of the road from the Blitz and we spent the night in a farmer’s barn, a big hay barn. The sidecar had a toolbox at the back of it and me and my cousin sat with our legs in the toolbox… my parents and all… a whole load of people in this sidecar and maybe we weren’t all fitting in. My brother says that he remembers flares coming down and popping on the road when we were driving up, but I didn’t see them’.

This Belfast Telegraph photograph was taken from the top of the Albert Clock shortly after the air raids. It shows the corner of Waring Street and Victoria Street and if you look closely you can see Belfast Cathedral in the background. Nearby, much of High Street was reduced to rubble.

Thankfully Victor and his family all survived the Blitz.  In later years Victor was able to visit Casalattico in Italy where some of his family originally came from.

Do you have any memories of the air raids on Belfast? Perhaps you were evacuated away from the city and spent the war in the countryside? If you have memories of the Second World War that you wish to share, please get in touch with our Oral History Project Co-ordinator Michael by email  projects@niwarmemorial.org or call us at 07588 634847.

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Mapping the Blitz

Mapping the Blitz

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the ‘Belfast Blitz’, a defining moment in the history and development of Belfast City.

The Northern Ireland War Memorial and the Centre for Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Geomatics at the School of the Natural and Built Environment, Queens University Belfast are pleased to announce the launch of a new and exciting project, ‘Mapping the Blitz’.

Based on an original Stadt Plan Von Belfast held by the NI War Memorial that identifies Luftwaffe targets in the city, the project will digitally map information relating to the Blitz including those killed by enemy action in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Newtownards and Bangor, bomb locations and site damage, with other historical information taken from primary sources.

The result will be an interactive web map freely available online that will help facilitate a deeper understanding of the Luftwaffe raids on Northern Ireland 80 years ago through this new visual overview.

Additionally, a lecture series involving historians and the project coordinators will be hosted later in the year.

Follow the project on social media using the hashtag: #BelBlitz80.

For more information on the project contact: Alan Freeburn – collections@niwarmemorial.org or Conor Graham – conor.graham@qub.ac.uk.

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Valentine’s Day 2021

Valentine’s Day 2021

Today is Valentine’s Day, and the perfect opportunity to highlight one of the many love stories in our Oral History Collection.

While the Second World War separated people, it also brought people together and provided new opportunities for people to meet.

Sadie Lineker (US20)

Sadie Lineker (US20) told us how she met her husband. ‘He was an English sailor…I met him in 1941 for three days and then the ship left, and I never saw him for years after that… we did our courting through mail’. ‘I fell in love with him the first time I met him… it was romantic …I had been to a dance with my sister. She and her friend were eight years older than me … They said they were going onto a nightclub and they said, “Go you home and tell mum that I won’t be coming home tonight, I’m going to stay with Molly” she says, “because we’ll be going to a nightclub and we’ll be out late, but don’t you tell my mum we’ll be going to a nightclub just tell her I’m going straight home with Molly”’. So, while she was telling me this, I was dancing with another sailor. He spoke up and asked her “what’s wrong?” and my sister said, “I’m just arranging a taxi to take my sister home, because she’s too young to go to a nightclub”. This fella that I was dancing with said “Oh aye, it’s alright, if you trust me, I’ll see her home alright and she can stay to the end of the dance”, because the dance finished at ten o’clock. So, we stayed ’til the end of the dance and then he walked me home and then I made a date with him the next night and he said, “well in case your sister is there, I’ll bring my chum” and the chum he brought was the one I married… it was fate.’

Although separated by war, Sadie and her future husband Tony corresponded through letters until they were reunited in 1943 to be married.  When he arrived in Belfast, Sadie arranged to meet him at the train station, and she joked that she was worried she wouldn’t recognise him! When she arrived at the station, there were hundreds of sailors. Sadie decided to stand and wait for him to come to her. She recalled ‘At one point there was one sailor and I thought “oh there he is!” but another girl ran up and threw her arms around him, so it wasn’t him!’

Tony eventually found Sadie and took her to Scotland, and they were married in Christchurch, Doncaster England on the 3rd of Dec 1943. Sadie said, ‘It was Russian wedding, rushed to it, rushed through it, rushed from it, because he only had a week’s leave!’

‘My wedding dress wasn’t a fluffy wedding dress, it was a dress I could wear afterwards, but it was made with a sweetheart neckline and a little coat and the girl who made it made me a little hat of the same material with flowers all on it, so it wasn’t so bad… I felt good, but only my one sister-in-law could come on the boat with me, and she was representing our side of the family, but she thought they were all lovely people’.

The ongoing war meant Sadie’s parents couldn’t attend the wedding, and that the couple didn’t have a honeymoon. Thankfully, her new in-laws did their best to have a reception for Sadie & Tony despite rationing. ‘We went back to my mother-in-law’s house … there was only about eight of us there, that was all. My father-in-law was a baker and he had made me a lovely wedding cake. It was iced, he was a confectioner and he had made this lovely cake and it was iced on top and it had a big anchor in the middle, with a chain of shamrocks going round it and roses round the side, all handmade, all little iced roses. They’d used all their rations for it. It was lovely, it was a shame to cut it.’

The newlyweds enjoyed two days in Doncaster and then Sadie returned to Belfast and Tony left for India. After the war, Sadie and Tony were reunited. Tony joined a ship to Malta and Sadie was able to go with him for a ‘better late than never’ honeymoon, later settling in England and having a very happy married life.

Do you have memories of the Second World War in Northern Ireland? Perhaps you, like Sadie, met your future partner at a dance? If you have wartime memories to share, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch with our oral history project co-ordinator Michael via email at projects@niwarmemorial.org or give him a call on 07588 634847.

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Playful Museums Festival 2021

Playful Museums Festival 2021

We’re proud to be a Playful Museum with the Northern Ireland Museums Council.

Did you know that we provide fun learning experiences for children under 5?

This is Jeannie the hen. She helps us to tell very young children what life was like during the Second World War.

Jeannie tells the story of how she left the busy and dangerous city of Belfast and went on an adventure to the Countryside about 80 years ago. There she met lots of new friends and discovered new things about farming and digging for victory. She was given a very important job – laying fresh eggs to help put food on the table!

You can watch Kelsey Squiggles & Giggles tell Jeannie’s story on our YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ3r8jq499I&t=5s and follow along to bake a wartime carrot cake at home.

Visit our Early Years page: http://www.niwarmemorial.org/early-years/ to read Jeannie Adventure to the Countryside and to download an Activity Pack which includes crafts, games, colouring-in, and music and movement.

Later this month we will be launching a loan box which preschools, nurseries and day-care centres can borrow. Inside there are lots of toys related to Jeannie’s story. Early Years facilitators can contact the museum to borrow the loan box which brings Jeannie’s story to life.

Later in the year we’re publishing an Illustrated book of Jeannie’s Adventure to the Countryside. We’re currently working with Illustrator Susanne Shaw to create this and look forward to showing it to you soon. Early Year facilitators can get in touch to register their interest for a free copy.

Thank you to Northern Ireland Museums Council for supporting this project.

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Mock Banana Sandwiches

Mock Banana Sandwiches

When life gives you parsnips…. make banana sandwiches! 🍌🍞

Due to food shortages during the Second World War, rationing was introduced and the government carefully planned what was transported on ships and what people could do without. The Dig for Victory campaign encouraged people to grow their own fruits and vegetables at home, but they certainly couldn’t grow bananas in Northern Ireland’s climate. Bananas were greatly missed and a song called When Can I Have a Banana Again? by Harry Roy and his band was often played on the wireless.

Interestingly some bananas were grown in the Tropical Ravine in Belfast Botanic Gardens and were sent to the British Red Cross Society. We’ve interviewed many people who lived through those times and some remember making Mock Banana Sandwiches with boiled parsnips. Irene Millar told us that they didn’t fool her and didn’t taste great, but that she ate them anyway. Harry Williamson’s mother served his with custard and he has fond memories of eating them.

Why don’t you have a go yourself? Find the recipe on our Learning Resources page.

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Interviewee of the Month – Lily Foster

Interviewee of the Month – Lily Foster

Our interviewee of the month is Lily Foster (neé Crowe) who was born in October 1924. Lily grew up in Fermanagh and lived near Castle Archdale, Lough Erne. In her account she remembered ‘the seaplanes were on the water there and it was lovely to see them at the time’.

America entered the war in 1941 and subsequently many Americans were stationed at Castle Archdale. Lily recalled ‘when I came home from school, I had to fill 700 cartons of milk and my brother would have went into the camp and they bought those cartons of milk’. While Lily was only 15 and too young to go to dances, she remembers her brother being given sweets and all the local girls talking about getting nylons and going to dances at the camp. The Crowe family ‘got the swill from the camp because we had a lot of pigs’ and in the summertime around twenty GI’s would arrive to help the family with the hay-making. They enjoyed the break from their camp and Lily’s mother cooked for them.

The Americans weren’t the only strangers in Co. Fermanagh during the war. Lily told us about many evacuees from Belfast. It was in ‘1941 after the big raid on Belfast, Easter time. There was a man, a farmer who had a big house. He took in a whole family. There was a mother, six children and four cousins. The farmer was living alone, he had never married, he taught the mother how to bake and cook on the hearth fire and the ten of them lived there for something like four years’. Lily got on very well with the children and became lifelong friends with the family. They were ‘very nice and had come from the Crumlin Road, from a wee terrace house, a wee kitchen house really… and they still love to go back to Fermanagh’.

Lily didn’t remember much celebration at the end of the war; ‘We were in the country so there were no street parties’. However, she shared with us a cherished photo of her class and the evacuees at Letterkeen School, which she thinks may have been taken on VE Day in 1945. The local paper the Impartial Reporter interviewed some of the evacuees on the day. One girl said that “In Belfast we get our milk from nice clean bottles but here they pull it out of a dirty old cow!”

Lily’s cherished photo of her class and the evacuees at Letterkeen School

With the war over, the American Army left Fermanagh and Lily’s father ended up purchasing St. Angelo House, a house and camp which the Americans had used during the war. Lily recalled that ‘there were lots of huts on the land, washbasins, toilets, things that nobody in the country had and so her dad held an auction and sold them all off!’.

Sadly Lily passed away in December 2018, however her memories have given us a wonderful insight into her childhood in County Fermanagh and the effect that the Americans and local evacuees had on her life. Do you have memories of the Second World War? Perhaps you too became friends with evacuees from Belfast or remember interacting with American servicemen? If you would like to contribute to our project please get in touch by emailing projects@niwarmemorial.org or by giving us a call on 07588 634847.

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

Every year we mark #HolocaustMemorialDay with the Primary Schools who visit us. Some are surprised to hear that during the Second World War there was a Jewish Refugee Farm in Millisle Co. Down which became a haven for Jewish children who had no choice but to flee their homes.

The children hear about the farm through the memories of a little girl who lived there with her family, Ruth Kohner (born in 1937). You can read Ruth’s letter below:

Hopefully it’ll inspire lots of learning at home.

If you’d like to find out more about the farm and have a look at some pictures, visit Down County Museum’s website: http://www.downcountymuseum.com/Learning/Finding_Refuge/The_Millisle_Farm_in_Co_Down.

They also have some great learning resources on Millisle Farm and the novel ‘Faraway Home’ by award winning author Marilyn Taylor, which based on true events, describes the real experiences of young refugees who came to Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Check it out to further your #RemoteLearning.

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NIWM Oral History Project

NIWM Oral History Project

The Northern Ireland War Memorial would like to record how the people of Northern Ireland were affected by the Second World War.

Your memories are incredibly important to us and will be added to our museum collection.

While face to face interviewing has been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19, Michael, our Oral History Project Coordinator, can conduct an oral history interview over the phone or online.

If you or someone you know like to share their story, please call Michael on 075 8863 4847 or 028 9032 0392. Or you can email projects@niwarmemorial.org for more information.

As an accredited museum, we welcome the donation of photographs, objects, and written stories relating to the Second World War in Northern Ireland. Please get in touch if you have something you would like to donate to our growing collection.

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Temporary Closure

Following further guidelines from the NI Executive, we will close from Wednesday 23rd December for a planned six week period. We wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year, and look forward to welcoming you back again soon.

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Christmas Memories

Christmas Memories

This month we’re highlighting some Christmas memories from our oral history collection.

Times were certainly tough for families at Christmas time, yet many of our interviewees who were children at the time fondly recall small and meaningful presents, especially if they were homemade. Alice McChesney  told us that  ‘father made beautiful gifts, once he made us a beautiful butterfly which floated up and down, and a dolls house with all the furniture that made out of boxes and paper from the tobacco packets my father used to smoke in his pipes. I of course questioned why the furniture had the same covering as father’s pipe tobacco, but my parents must have given a satisfactory answer to an inquisitive little child.’ Another popular homemade gift was a doll such as those made by Betty’s grandmother, ‘the only dolls I had were the dolls my granny made and she would have made a doll for me at Christmas… soft body and a wee face on it and she would have made a dress for it, every Christmas I would have got a new doll from her’.

For many of our interviewees the other standout memory of Christmas was food. Bertie Thompson grew up on a farm and remembered that ‘when it was coming up to Christmas, they’d have said, “Now which one of them hens or roosters are gonna be for Christmas”, and we’d have picked them and my father would have just wrung its neck and handed it to us to pluck”. Eamonn McGinn’s parents raised turkey’s at Christmas; ‘my mother and father would have reared maybe twenty or thirty turkeys for the Christmas Market, but we never got turkey at Christmas, they were all sold. The fowl man came round and he weighed them and you waited until you got the right price and then it came near Christmas and you had to get rid of them because they were no good to you. When they were all sold, then we’d have got a roast beef or something like that, and it was lovely, it was absolutely brilliant.’

Not everyone in Northern Ireland had the comforts of being home at Christmas with many American servicemen spending Christmas without their families. Sadie Lineker recalled an American soldier her family was friendly with arriving with friends at Christmas ‘about four or five of them arrived at our door and they said “We just wanted to come to a house that had an open fire, so we could just sit down there and open our parcels that we got from home at Christmas”… They just sat round the fire and we put carols on the gramophone and just had an ordinary family Christmas while they opened their parcels and surprise surprise they had a lipstick for my sister and one for me!’. Harry Williamson also remembered being joined by Americans for Christmas; ‘we had happened to say prior to Christmas that on Christmas Day we’d be expecting to hear the King speaking his Christmas message, I don’t know how the chaps got hold of the idea but they said “Oh yes, Roosevelt will be giving a Christmas message too”… So come Christmas Day the two soldiers arrived with a whole load of friends and our living room was packed with American soldiers and they wanted to hear this radio speech. They listened to the King and they were greatly disappointed when we finally got it through to them that they wouldn’t hear Roosevelt speaking as America was too far away for our wee radio to reach”.

Do you remember celebrating Christmas during the Second World War? Perhaps you had some American visitors or can remember a special gift you were given? If you’d like to share your wartime Christmas memories with us, feel free to get in touch with our oral history coordinator at projects@niwarmemorial.org.

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