Our Outreach Officer Michael has been busy creating a new Reminiscence video called Memories at the Museum to help staff in care homes and folds facilitate reminiscence sessions with their residents. It can also be used in other settings where reminiscence activities are being held for groups of older people.
The video features objects relating to the Second World War which act as triggers to stimulate enjoyable conversations in a reminiscence session. Following each object there are also some Times to Chat with some suggested discussion topics during which we hope you’ll pause the video and take some time to share your memories.
We’re proud to be a Nursery Rhyme Ambassador for World Nursery Rhyme Week 2020. This exciting initiative helps to support important literacy and language development amongst our younger children.
We are currently preparing for the next Playful Museums Festival in February 2021. Many of the under 5s who have visited the museum before may recognise Jeanie the Hen in the picture below. While you can’t visit us, we’re looking forward to bringing Jeanie to you at home or in preschool.
You can also download your own World Nursery Rhyme Week Parent’s pack and take part in many more activities with your children at home. To register and download your free resources visit: www.worldnurseryrhymeweek.com.
Remembrance has been very different this year. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us will find ourselves unable to attend Acts of Remembrance as we normally would have done.
Remembrance is very important for us at the Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum. On the morning of Wednesday 11th November 2020 at 11am a member of staff will lay a wreath on a memorial in the museum to commemorate local lives lost in the First and Second World War.
In order to allow people to share in this Act of Remembrance, we have created a short video which can watched at home this Armistice Day.
The video features Bugler Andrew Carlisle of Hillsborough Fort Guard sounding the Last Post followed by one minutes’ silence. Rolls of Honour listing the names of the fallen and various memorials in the museum are also featured. The video concludes with the sounding of Reveille and the Kohima Epitaph.
We hope that this video will allow you to meaningfully connect with Remembrance and join with others in remembering together on Armistice Day.
Every month we highlight one of our interviewees and their wartime memories. Eileen Pollock was born in 1925 and was interviewed in September 2018.
Eileen was 16 during the Belfast Blitz and recalled vividly the Easter Tuesday raid of 1941. Eileen stayed with her family in their house off the Old Lodge Road, ‘we were all sitting, and the bombs were coming down. My father, he was in the First World War and he was saying “This is terrible, you can do nothing”, we were just sitting waiting’. ‘My sister at 17 and I thought we would go under the stairs and then such a bang came and the back door shook and you never seen two sisters jumping out of a place as quick in all your life and we went back to sit with everyone else. Anyway, next thing an incendiary device landed on the window ledge and my sister “Oh the house is on fire! The house is on fire!”, but our neighbour’s three sons were out on the street knocking them off window ledges and putting them out and that.’ Thankfully, all Eileen’s family were fine, and the house was luckily undamaged. On the same night Eileen recalled that a local building occupied by soldiers was hit and destroyed, as was Percy Street Shelter just a few streets away off the Shankill Road.
When Eileen was 17 she married her boyfriend Thomas, who had joined up and was serving with the Royal Ulster Rifles. She remembered that because of the war there wasn’t any fuss or reception, saying ‘it wasn’t hard because there was nothing to organise, you just went to the church and you got married and that was it… I just wore a coat and a thing that my sister had bought me for her wedding the previous July’. Then in May 1943 Eileen received a telegram (pictured) informing her that her husband had been seriously injured. ‘He was training to go to Burma and a grenade blew up… his left leg was paralysed, shrapnel in the head and all that’. When the telegram arrived Eileen was staying with her sister ‘on the Donegall Road and my mother brought it over, then the Red Cross paid our way, his mother and I to go over and see him on the Isle of Wight… we were about ten days on the Isle of Wight and then he was moved to a head injury hospital in Oxford’. It was September before Eileen’s husband was invalided out of the army. Eileen recalled, ‘September 16th, out of the army and you know the great pension he got was £2 7s 6d… that was what you had to live on for a full year… but he was great, very independent he was’. Thankfully Thomas managed to get a job working for the switchboard despite his injuries.
Yet times were very tough for her family and Eileen recalled that ‘money was very very tight’, particularly with wartime rationing. They survived on ‘mostly soup… vegetable soup, stew or hash as we called it, corned beef hash… with your tea you only got two ounces so you boiled the tea up in the morning and you didn’t rinse the teapot and at dinner time you’d have put an extra thing of tea leaves in, you kept it going all day… I mean we all struggled through, but everyone helped each other then’. That community spirit was evident in the VE day street parties at the end of the war, Eileen remembered ‘they had the big tables outside and all the children were all round and everything, it was always more for the kids… anyway you went and got a cup of tea you enjoyed… you had music playing and that, then they would have had a wee singsong’.
Do you like Eileen remember the Easter Tuesday raid on Belfast? Or perhaps you can remember the VE Day street parties and celebrations where you lived? Please get in touch with us via email at email@example.com or you can give us a call on 07588634847.
To mark Black History Month we are sharing with you some extracts from our oral history collection about the black GIs that were stationed in Northern Ireland during the Second World War.
Segregation in the US armed forces during the Second World War has been well documented but in short, black Americans served in their own units and were often given noncombat, support roles such as quartermasters or cooks. These were designated as ‘colored’ units and were based in locations such as Cookstown, Donaghcloney and Spring Farm (Antrim).
For many of our interviewees, their encounters with black Americans was their first time seeing anyone of a different skin colour. Ida Thompson recalled first meeting a black person at an American Christmas party for local children when she was around seven years old. She stated that ‘it was the very first time that I’d seen a dark skinned man, he offered me an ice cream… but I didn’t see the ice cream I could see a big dark face and I sort of recoiled… afterwards, I realised that he was no different from anybody else they were all the same but it was just the surprise of meeting this person… I just hadn’t come across anyone different and nobody had told me’.
Artist James McKendry remembered seeing black Americans who were stationed in a camp near him in North Antrim, he stated ‘that was the first time I’d ever seen black people and they were just very friendly and the people here were very friendly with them. You know, I think we just really appreciated them being here, and those guys, a lot of them lost their lives in France… I’ve read a bit about that since then and they were impressed by the Irish, they thought we were terribly friendly’.
Kathleen Porter remembered one-night walking home in Dundonald past where the Ulster Hospital is now ‘when a nice polite boy asked to walk with me’. He was a black American GI who was stationed at Rose Park in Knock, and she remembered being shocked as she had never met any black GIs at dances (which she supposed was due to military segregation), regardless she walked with him and ‘enjoyed talking to him’ telling him about three trees planted nearby called faith, hope and charity. As Kathleen alluded to, American soldiers were not only segregated in their units but also socially. In Belfast, American Red Cross clubs have been recorded as being ‘white staffed’ and ‘negro staffed’.
Despite little local experience with black people before the war it seems that for the most part, black GI’s were treated the same as any American stationed here and were appreciated the same for doing their part. Maureen McAllister ‘didn’t take any notice of them’ stating that they had heard ‘in America they weren’t allowed to sit on the same side [on buses] and that they didn’t understand why as ‘their blood’s still the same no matter how it comes… nobody passed any remark and I didn’t see anything wrong with them’.
Others interviewed remember seeing more examples of American racial segregation and racism. Roger Weatherup told us that ‘there were two camps outside Carrickfergus, there was an estate there and one camp was entirely white combat troops but the other one was a black service battalion because during that stage of the war, the black Americans weren’t allowed to carry arms’. He recalled an interaction his aunt had when returning to her home from collecting dulse and whelks at the seashore in the evening ‘this Jeep pulled up beside them and a voice said “What are you ladies doing walking these roads at this time of night?” and they looked round and it was two black American military policemen. So they told them what they were doing and he said “well ma’am you just get in and we’ll take you up home”… so they took them up and invited them in and gave them coffee’.
Alan Cook recalled another incident when the squadron leader who was billeted in his house had American visitors, ‘there was young man called Colonel Bacon who came down to visit and he came down in a car and went upstairs… my mother decided that she would ask the driver in for a cup of tea into the kitchen, so she did, and he was black. When Colonel Bacon came down to say goodbye to my mother he saw this black driver sitting there, and he told him to “Get out!” in very specific terms and my mother just turned to him and said “If this man leaves my kitchen, you leave it with him” and there was very, very strong segregation between black and white at that time, and that was just a very small incident but typical of their attitudes’.
The caption to the Signal Corps photo (SC-169783) below reads ‘First American negro troops to arrive in Northern Ireland line up in formation in a warehouse at a dock in Belfast before going to a camp 7/14/42’.
Despite President Truman signing Executive Order 9981 in 1948 that abolished discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin” in the US armed forces, examples and instances of segregation and racism persisted. During the Second World War, no black American was awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in January 1997 President Clinton awarded the medal to seven recipients (six of whom had their Distinguished Service Cross upgraded) after an extensive review. Only one, Vernon Baker was still alive to receive his in person.
If you are a relative of a black GI or have any memories of black GIs in Northern Ireland and would like to share your experiences, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07588 634847.
It’s National Baking Week! During the Second World War home-baking adapted to meet the restrictions caused by wartime rationing. Our oral history collection is full of stories about baking during the war.
Some interviewees fondly recall their mother’s great baking skills. Renee McAllister (US2-pictured with mother & siblings) remembered coming home to the smell of fresh baking stating ‘when we’d got in from school in the afternoon, she would have had them up on those wire trays on the big farm kitchen table cooling… bannocks; a treacle one, a wheaten one and a fruit or a plain one, a fruit and treacle one, you know mixing them, these big fresh bannocks’.
Some weren’t as lucky as Renee, with Maureen McAllister (US1) telling us she dreaded her mother baking, stating ‘my granny, she was a lovely baker and so was my aunt, but my mother couldn’t bake… she bought the flour and all and she was just going to bake the bread for us, but luckily enough the BU’s came in… the coupons came in so she didn’t have to bake thank goodness, I wouldn’t have liked to taste it believe me!’
Due to wartime rationing, home bakers were greatly limited in what their coupons could buy, with shortages common and many bakers forced to adapt their recipes. Rhena Montgomery (W&M1) recalled that ‘baking changed a wee bit because they wouldn’t have been as lavish with some of the stuff you’d have put in, had to use different things like powdered eggs, but you made it as tempting as you could’.
Many home-bakers who had a garden took the opportunity to grow fruit and vegetables to ease the severity of rationing. Robert Thompson (BBP6) remembered that his family started to grow vegetables as well as many fruits such as ‘berries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries…. Rhubarb, we grew loads of rhubarb… There was jam made out of it. My mother baked, she put all that into the baking, apple and rhubarb tarts, she made it all, so she did’.
Some bakers saved up weeks’ worth of rations to be able to bake treats for special occasions, such as birthdays, Christmas, or weddings. Sadie Lineker (US20) was married to her Navy sweetheart during the war and after the wedding they didn’t have a reception. They ‘went back to my mother-in-law’s house… there was about eight of us there, so my father-in-law was a baker and he made me a lovely wedding cake… 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 the anchor chain of shamrocks going round it and roses around the side, all handmade, all little iced roses; they’d used all their rations on it.’
Do you remember baking during the Second World War? How did your family cope with rationing? Do you remember any of your favourite wartime recipes? 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.
#WorldPostDay – I’ll be back when Summer’s in the Meadow
Our final story today to mark #WorldPostDay is from a written story in our oral history collection. It was submitted by Melanie A. Ippolito in March 2020 on behalf of her parents Muriel Mitchell and Raymond Friscia who came to Northern Ireland as a GI during the Second World War.
Muriel was born in Belfast in 1922 and she lived with her family on Posnett Street during the war. In May 1942 she met American GI, Raymond Friscia at the Albert White’s Ballroom in Belfast. Raymond was from New York and at 25 years-old he had recently been stationed as part of the 5th General Hospital at Musgrave Park. On arriving in Northern Ireland, he wrote some letters home to his mother:
We arrived in Ireland and all is safe and well. Northern Ireland is very beautiful, everything is in bloom. I have never seen so many beautiful flowers in all my life. Their trees are so old, the country is so green and well taken care of, everything is just so.
About our set up I can’t say very much only that we have a lovely building for our hospital. It has a big outdated swimming pool, ten tennis courts and two golf courses nearby, so you can see we have it really nice.
About the people, well it seems you are in a different world- they are 100 years behind the times. The few cars they have they drive on the left side of the road; the steering wheels is on the right. You see more horse drawn carts and bicycles. The homes are old and beautiful, especially the estates of the landholders. I wish you were here to see it all, especially the flowers.
The Irish people are very good to us, and the girls are not bad. They play all American music and are starting to dance the way we do. I went to Belfast the other night to a dance and had a very good time.
In December 1942 Raymond was sent to England, so he was separated from Muriel for nearly three years. The couple married in Donegall Square Methodist Church in September 1945. Throughout their separation they wrote almost daily to each other about what they were doing as well as how much they missed spending time with each other. In one such letter Muriel wrote about buying her wedding dress;
My Dearest Ray,
Today has been a very busy day for me. To begin with, this morning we were extra busy at the office but as usual we had our 15-minute morning break for tea. During the break I asked the girls if they knew of a good dressmaker who would make me a dress and wouldn’t take too long. Kathleen Quigley told me she knows a girl, a friend of hers and she offered to meet me this afternoon and take me to her as she was sure the girl would oblige and make a dress for me inside a week or two. You see, Ray, it takes 11 coupons to buy a woollen dress readymade and 9 coupons for a silk one, but I haven’t that many. I decided the only thing I could do was buy material as it only takes 6 coupons that way……
Then we decided we would go in the shop and look at the things just for fun. That did it, Ray, I ended up buying the loveliest little suit I’ve ever seen. It’s a London model and the only one like it the shop had, what is more it took 18 coupons. After I fitted it on, I said, “Gosh, but I wish I could have this, but I can’t as I haven’t anything like 18 coupons.” Then I got a wonderful surprise as the girl in the shop said, “I tell you what, I’ll accept your new period coupons, but don’t tell anyone or I’ll get into serious trouble.” You see, Ray, we were issued with new coupons a few weeks ago but the shops aren’t allowed to accept them until September. I didn’t even dream of asking the girl to take my new coupons because it seemed hopeless so you can guess how surprised and pleased I was when she herself suggested it. As of yet I haven’t the suit home with me as I hadn’t enough money. I gave the girl 2 pounds and my 6 coupons and told her I would call back with the rest of the money and 12 coupons. I’ll ask Mommy for the money and won’t tell her it’s for my wedding suit……
Muriel & Raymond’s relationship survived on ink and paper for the duration of the war as it was really the only way the two could keep in touch apart from the odd phone call or visit on leave. From reading them it is clear that these letters were very important to them, with censorship often causing them much frustration as well as the frequent delays in post resulting in weeks without any letters, only for a three or four to arrive all at once. Melanie has complied and edited the approximately 2000 letters they wrote to each other and published them, I’ll be back when Summer’s in the Meadow: A World War II Chronicle: Volume I 1942-1943, Volume II 1944 & Volume III 1945-1946 available on Amazon.
Did you know any GI brides like Muriel? Did you write letters or plan a wedding during the war? If you would like to share your memories, or the story of your parents, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07588 634847.
It’s #WorldPostDay so we’re highlighting some of the wartime letters mentioned in our oral history collection.
Maurice Newell (W&M79) was interviewed in August 2020. In addition to his interview, he submitted a copy of a letter he wrote shortly after the Easter Tuesday air raid on Belfast in 1941.
Maurice was born in Belfast in October 1927 and was the youngest in a family of three boys. For Easter 1941, Maurice had been sent to stay with some of his cousins at his grandparent’s farm near Ballynahinch, Co. Down. From there he witnessed the raid which he recounted in the letter to mother.
He begins ‘Dear Mammy, I hope you have escaped last night’s raid unharmed. I was just going to bed when I heard the sirens and 20 minutes later, I heard the ‘Jerries’ overhead… Then the fireworks started and flashes brilliantly lit up the room (our room is facing you) and explosions followed the flashes… We saw the “flaming onions” going up and saw parachutes flares being dropped. All the windows shook violently and threatened to break… On hearing the planes leaving, I expected to hear the “all-clear”, but the only noise that broke the silence was another relay of bombers, which bombed and flew away, followed by another, until a good dozen groups had dropped their bombs and flown home… as I am writing, cars with beds on their roofs and crowded buses are moving up the road: a quick evacuation is taking place’.
Maurice put pen to paper the following morningwhen for all he knew a member of his family in Belfast could have been killed. His father was in the Ulster Home Guard, his mother volunteered in the ARP and his older brother Cecil was a Despatch Messenger.
While the letter is upbeat in tone, Maurice’s anxiety from the bombings is evident as he continues his letter. He wrote that he was ‘digging a shelter and am down to about 5 feet and am using a pick now’ in a field belonging to his grandfather.
During his interview Maurice told us that once he had completed the hole for his shelter, he promptly had to fill it back in as there were concerns that one of his grandfather’s cows could fall in and injure itself.
Regardless Maurice was in no rush back to Belfast and he enjoyed his holiday in the country, signing off his letter by asking his mother ‘I wonder if I could stay out here for another week and, if so, kindly send another shilling as I am short on spondulics. I remain, yours truly, Maurice’. Thankfully, all of Maurice’s family survived the Blitz with Maurice returning to his home in Belfast for the rest of the war.
There must have been so many letters written by evacuees who were separated from their parents during the Second World War. Our oral history collection is full of evacuation stories. Some host families became life-long friends while other evacuees were desperate to return home. Do you have memories of the Belfast Blitz? Or perhaps you or a loved one were evacuated to the countryside? If you would like to share your memories, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at email@example.com or on 07588 634847.