We are delighted to open our doors and welcome you back to the museum.
We have been awarded the ‘We’re Good to Go’ industry mark, certifying that we have made our museum safe for you and our staff.
There is no need to pre-book a visit Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm but staff will be limiting the number of visitors into the museum at any one time and asking that all visitors wear face coverings. You can read more about our safety measures here: http://www.niwarmemorial.org/visitors/.
We know it’s difficult for schools and groups to visit at the moment, and that some families are continuing to learn together at home, so we have extended our opening hours to include EVERY Saturday from 12pm – 4pm.
Families and groups can visit the museum to learn about Northern Ireland during the Second World War by booking a free 30-minute Saturday Tour for up to 10 people in any one family group.
Kids can collect a ‘Crafts To Go’ bundle which includes some of our fantastic learning resources.
We hope that having the museum all to themselves will provide visitors with a safe and reassuring learning experience.
Earlier this year, we worked with Northern Ireland Screen to digitise some recently found cine film footage which was recorded in Belfast on VE Day in 1945. Like many great things, the footage was discovered in a biscuit tin by the filmmaker’s grandson, Clive, who has kindly donated the footage and original camera to our museum collection.
The film maker, James Newell (1886-1964) was born in Kilmood, Co. Down and was the eldest in his family. He went on to become the Works Manager at J.B Ferguson, Chichester Street, Belfast and served in the Ulster Home Guard and as an Air Raid Warden during the Second World War. On 8th May 1945 he recorded VE Day celebrations in Belfast City Centre, Rushfield Avenue and Aylesbury Drive in South Belfast. His son Maurice (b. 1927) now lives in Canada but was recently interviewed for our Oral History Project. He was also in Belfast that day and remembers sailors swimming in static water tanks at the Albert Clock.
To mark this International Day of Peace we hope you enjoy watching the footage James recorded, to which we have added some extracts from our Oral History Collection.
For #CultureNightBelfast this year we’ve created a short film highlighting some of the artworks in the museum’s collection. Check it out and pop in to discover more.
We’re open Monday – Friday 10am to 4pm (no booking required) and Saturdays 12pm to 4pm (booking required).
Join us on a Saturday for a FREE family friendly tour every half hour, with Craft To Go packs for children. Saturday Tours must be booked through Eventbrite and can accommodate up to 10 people in any one family group.
Book your Saturday Tour tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/niwm-saturday-tours-tickets-116937113053.
Once a month we highlight a person who has contributed their wartime memories to our oral history collection. Our September Interviewee of the Month is Roy Henderson who was born in 1918 and was interviewed just before his hundredth birthday in 2018.
Roy remembers the night his house was destroyed in the Easter Tuesday raid on Belfast in May 1941, recalling ‘we were sitting in the little cloakroom under the stairs and we could hear bombs dropping all around us… a bomb every few minutes… when the bomb actually struck the strange thing was that everything seemed to happen in slow motion… the house collapsed in slow motion and the stairs held up and we walked out from under the stairs’. Roy and his father lost everything however their dog survived the collapse, ‘it was just a heap of rubble… but we had a fox terrier, and on the Sunday following the raid I was scrambling over the rubble to see if there was anything worth saving and I heard scratching… I started digging and out scrambled our dog good as new, he took a drink of water, wagged his tail and that was that’. Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky, with Roy telling us his ‘next door neighbours, at number seven were a family called Simon; a father, mother and younger son, aged about eighteen. They were, well they were just blown to pieces, shall we say. The older son aged in his early twenties returned from his honeymoon that very morning, with his new wife, to find his house gone and his parents and only brother all wiped out.’
Now homeless and staying with family friends Roy decided he would join up and so walked into the RAF recruiting office in Clifton Street, he ‘had about a year in the UK under training and then I found myself on an American aircraft carrier sailing from Glasgow to the Mediterranean to deliver Spitfires to Malta’, on the second return trip from delivering planes to Malta they encountered some ‘dirty weather in the North Atlantic, I got ordered off with half a dozen others to go to Gibraltar… so a fleet of air arm Swordfish biplanes landed on the carrier and each took an airman to Gibraltar for five weeks temporary duty, so you’ll not be surprised to know that after five weeks we stayed there for two years…I’d two happy years in Gibraltar. And when somebody decided that I was needed in North Africa, an airplane took me all the way to south, North Africa (about a half hour flight!) and I had six months in North Africa and six months in Italy and at that time it was April 1945 and I managed to get some local leave. I was in Naples and I got leave to go to Rome for a couple of weeks. And then surprise, surprise, before I set off to Rome an airplane became available with one seat. One empty seat! Flying to the UK and I pulled a few strings and I got myself into that one seat and I got home just in time for VE day! Victory in Europe, which I think was the 7th May 1945. I arrived, I arrived back in Belfast on VE day and spent the night, spent the afternoon and the evening wandering round the town celebrating VE day with and old friend whom I’ve known from my youth.’
Sadly, Roy passed away in January 2020 at the Somme Nursing Home aged 101, fortunately his wartime experiences were not lost as he shared them with us, thereby preserving them for future generations. Do you have memories of the Second World War in Northern Ireland and would like to share your experiences like Roy? Please get in touch with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can give us a call on 07588634847.
European Heritage Open Days look a little different this year…
Normally we love bringing you a free family event. In previous years we’ve brought wartime music, photography, dancing performances, farm animals and a Spitfire to the museum. While we have reopened, we realise that not everyone can visit, and that’s why we are bringing the museum to you!
This year we invite you to join us on a virtual tour of the museum. Discover more about artworks and objects in our collection and meet some of our knowledgeable staff in this short video.
If this has inspired you to discover more about Northern Ireland during the Second World War, please visit us Monday-Friday (10am-4pm, no booking required) or Saturdays (12pm-4pm booking required).
We are offering free family tours every Saturday giving you the chance to have the museum all to yourself with wartime crafts to go for kids. Tours must be booked through Eventbrite and can accommodate up to 10 people in any one family group.
Seventy-seven years ago, it was announced that an armistice had been signed at Cassibile, Sicily between the Allies and the Kingdom of Italy. However, the war in Italy was far from over. German forces reacted to the announcement by seizing control and installing a puppet government.
On the 9th September, the day after the announcement, the Allies launched Operation Avalanche, landing near Salerno. Wade Meintzer was an officer in the 82nd Airborne and saw action following the landings.
In 2017 his son, Kyle and niece, Shauna were interviewed as part of our US75 oral history project. Kyle said that his father talked little of his wartime service, however after his death he did some research and was able to uncover some of the story. He states that ‘right after Salerno, dad apparently jumped into Sicily with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment because the colonel wanted to have a guy on the ground. The gliders were supposed to land in Sicily like on the second or third day but there was a mass confusion and a lot of our ships were shooting at the planes that were flying in the paratroopers. They cancelled that mission, but my dad went in with them to be on the ground, I don’t know how much combat he saw there but he did see combat in Monte Sant’Angelo Di Cava shortly after the invasion of Italy and he was awarded a Silver Star for ‘Gallantry in Action’.
Wade remained in Italy until October/November 1943 before being shipped to Northern Ireland. It was here he was to meet his future wife.
Shauna tells the story of how her Aunt Dorothy Kyle met Wade when he arrived in December 1943, ‘my grandfather was Welfare Officer and one of the things he did to make the Americans feel welcome was he ran dances… in early December 1943, my grandfather ran a dance in Ballymena for the American officers and my dad always told the story that when these dances were run my grandfather allowed them to walk my Aunt Dorothy to the dance as long as they walked her home again… as my aunt was very pretty, the Americans used to bribe my uncle and my father with stockings and Hershey’s bars to be allowed to walk her home on their own. It was at this dance that she met a dashing young officer called Wade Meitzer and it must have been quite a whirlwind romance… the Americans were billeted in Portglenone Forest Park and would have been training 24/7 but by the time he shipped out to England in January 1944 they were already engaged!’.
Wade was able to get some leave and returned to Ballymena where they were married in April 1944, less than six months after meeting. Wade was then sent back to England and then onto Normandy in June 1944 landing near Sainte-Mére-Église where he was unfortunately wounded and invalided to England. His new bride was naturally worried sick and couldn’t visit him as travel permits were difficult to obtain.
However as Shauna states Dorothy ‘was a feisty kind of individual and decided to go straight to the top, so she wrote a letter to General Eisenhower… to his eternal credit Eisenhower replied within six days and she was brought to Southampton to be reunited’ and then later he was transferred to a hospital in Northern Ireland to be near the family in Ballymena.
Like Wade, many Allied soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland during the Second World War fell in love and married a local girl. For example, approx. 1,800 local women became known as GI Brides as they married American men and moved to the US.
Do you have a relative who served in Italy? Or perhaps have a relative who met and fell in love with a soldier? If you would like to share your story, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at email@example.com or on 07588 634847.
Outbreak of the Second World War – 81st Anniversary
Today marks the 81st anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. Our ongoing oral history project has recorded over 100 accounts of Northern Irish people’s wartime experiences, with many recalling the outbreak of war on 3rd September 1939.
Roy Henderson, who was 21 in 1939 and went on to serve in the Royal Air Force, very vividly remembers the build-up and outbreak of war. He states that in the months and years leading up to war, ‘Neville Chamberlain ran about signing bits of paper with Adolf Hitler, which guaranteed peace in our time but something seemed to go wrong, so it was war in our time’. When war was declared he was going into Belfast, recalling ‘I happened to be travelling on a bus from the top of the Cavehill Road to the city centre and the bus conductor informed us that a German aircraft was approaching London, well it wasn’t a German aircraft it was a British aircraft bringing the British ambassador from Berlin back to London. Then there was a phony war for six months or more… nothing happened, the two armies sat looking at each other, taking photographs… I think most people realized it could not go on like that forever, and it didn’t.’
Unlike Roy, most of our interviewee’s were children at the time and many didn’t fully grasp the danger of war, Marion Kirkpatrick was thirteen when war started and she ‘thought nothing of it… I was playing, you used to be able to get a book of wee paper dolls and wee paper dresses and you clipped them on, I was sitting playing with those listening and the war meant nothing to me y’know’. Jean Spiers remembered very little about the start of the war as her parents tried to protect her and her siblings stating ‘we knew very little about the war starting because most of it comes from what my mother and father say happened… and my parents weren’t the type to make us frightened.’
It is understandable that parents wished to shield their children from the war, especially as many of their parents lived through and perhaps fought in the First World War.
This can be seen Harry Williamson’s interview when he states, ‘it made a great deal of difference to him [his father] and men like him you know because it was only what twenty odd years from the last time and well they didn’t feel good about it and of course all the wives and mothers were distraught about it and then men started joining up and going away to fight’.
Noel Mitchell was at church when ‘the minister announced we were at war and everybody just didn’t know what to say’, continuing that at the time he didn’t really consider the closeness of the First and Second World Wars, stating ‘it still amazes me looking back from my age now, you know at the time when you were young, you didn’t realise that there was only something like nineteen years between the two wars, which you know is nothing really when you get on in life… it seemed you know a hundred years ago and it didn’t mean the same to me of course as people who had gone through it.’
Do you remember the outbreak of war in September 1939? Or do you have other memories of the Second World War in Northern Ireland? If you’d like to share your story, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07588 634847.
Once a month we highlight a person who has contributed an important wartime story to our oral history collection. Our August interviewee of the month is Alec Murray who was born in March 1931. Alec was interviewed in 2016 when he vividly recalled the Belfast Blitz.
Alec remembered the Easter Tuesday raid of 1941, recalling that the sirens went off and then ‘all of a sudden we heard these thuds and I went out to the door and all the children of the street were out, we thought it was great saying “look it’s like fairyland all lit up” little did we know that the German planes were dropping flares down you see… well everybody caught it running to the hills and the Shankill Road was packed with people walking up to the Glencairn to safety’. He recalls hearing about the nearby Percy Street shelter being destroyed and states that his family knew quite a few people who died such as the Swann family, ‘There were six in the family and five of them went into the air-raid shelter but the other one was in a wheelchair and she opted to stay under the stairs where people said was the safest place in the house, but anyway the bomb fell and all her people, the air-raid shelter was totally destroyed’.
The next day he remembered seeing the devastation, ‘the next morning it wasn’t like now when something occurs, they seal it off, people were just walking about, and the place was totally destroyed… I saw a woman holding a baby and there was a piece of plate glass stuck through the two of them, stuck to the wall’. Yet amid all the destruction and death Alec remembers there was lighter side recalling Salvation Army volunteers chasing ‘a dog round and round down North Street because there was a head in its teeth, in its mouth but it was a head of a dummy from one of the shops’.
Thankfully the only casualty in Alec’s family was their cat Snowball, however their house was damaged and so along with his grandmother, aunt, cousins, mother, and sister Alec was evacuated to Ballyalton near Newtownards to live in a big farmhouse with a lady called Mrs Skillen. They were only there for about 6 months when Alec was glad to get back to Belfast as he didn’t like country life at all, ‘it was a culture shock, I didn’t like it , it was alright during the war, but you get homesick…we thought it was million miles away, now I can go down and it takes only ten minutes to go down the back road’. At the end of the war, Alec recalls the sense of relief stating ‘I was in the BB at Townsend Street and it was the annual party… and the Captain of the BB came in and he says “Ladies and gentlemen, I have an amazing announcement to make… the Nazis have surrendered”. Everybody jumped up and cheered and that was the end of the party, you grabbed the nearest girl guide and people were walking from all over the country down to the City Hall and bands were playing and marching’.
We began interviewing people in 2016 and it is always a privilege to meet people who lived through the war years, and to hear and record their stories for future generations. Our aim is to record, while it is still possible, as many of these vivid stories of Second World War as possible. Do you have memories of the Second World War in Northern Ireland? Please get in touch with us via email at email@example.com or you can give us a call on 07588634847.
You can vote as many times as you like. Nominations close on Monday 7th September and the top 3 from each category will enter another round of voting before the winners are announced later in September.
Thank you and good luck to all the other nominees! We look forward to seeing you all again when we reopen on 1st September.
We are delighted to be reopening our museum on Tuesday 1st September.
We’ve been awarded the ‘We’re Good to Go’ industry standard mark, certifying that we have everything in place to ensure the museum is safe for staff and visitors.
We know it’s difficult for schools and groups to visit at the moment, and that some families are continuing to learn together at home, so we have extended our opening hours to include EVERY Saturday from 12pm-4pm.
Families and groups can visit the museum to learn about Northern Ireland during the Second World War by booking a free 30-minute Saturday Tour for up to 10 people. Kids can collect a ‘Crafts To Go’ bundle which includes some of our fantastic learning resources. We hope that having the museum all to themselves will provide families with a safe and reassuring learning experience.