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#WorldPostDay – Eisenhower Letter

#WorldPostDay – Eisenhower Letter

Today is #WorldPostDay and throughout today we will be highlighting some of the wartime letters mentioned in our oral history collection, stressing the importance of their role in the lives of our participants.

In 2017 we interviewed Shauna Kyle (US4) & Kyle Meinzter (US13). Shauna and Kyle are cousins. Shauna is the niece and Kyle is the son of Ballymena woman Dorothy Kyle who met and married GI Wade Meinzter in April 1944. Wade was wounded in action in June 1944 during the Normandy landings as Shauna states ‘there were eight of them in a patrol, and a shell exploded and it killed the guy in front of him and it killed the six guys behind him and he was badly wounded and he lay behind a hedge missing for three days.  Now my grandmother was aware that there was no word and that he was in action and she gave word to the maid that if the telegram boy arrived my Aunt was not to be given any telegram, it was to come to her.  The Americans were eventually able to rescue my Uncle. He was quite badly wounded and he somehow managed to get to a telephone.  He phoned my Aunt (Dorothy) to say that she would receive word that he was missing but he was all right. A telegram did arrive that he was Missing in Action presumed killed but she knew that he was safe, and I think that he was medevacked out to Southampton’.

Dorothy was naturally very worried as she was in Ballymena while her new husband was recuperating in a hospital in Southampton Hospital. Dorothy decided to write a letter to General Eisenhower, who went on to become the 34th President of the United States and who was at that point a five-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe.

Kyle grew up hearing about this letter stating ‘I always heard that my mother had a letter from Eisenhower and I’d never seen it and I didn’t know much about it; I just knew she had one’. After his mother’s death Kyle looked through some boxes in the attic stating that ‘I never found the letter that she wrote to Eisenhower but Eisenhower was obviously responding to a letter she had written to him saying something like “My husbands wounded, he’s in a hospital in Central England, we’ve got Hospitals here in Northern Ireland, could you get him transferred”’.

Eisenhower’s response can be seen pictured above, framed alongside Wade’s medals. Eisenhower replied ‘Dear Mrs. Meintzer, in reply to your letter of August 14, I fully understand your feelings, wanting your husband to join you, and feel sure it can be arranged. I will send your letter to the proper authorities, who will make an investigation’. Eisenhower was true to his word and within six days Dorothy and Wade were reunited when he was transferred to an Army hospital just outside Ballymena to recuperate, before eventually being invalided out of the American Army and sent home to America where Dorothy later joined him.

This Eisenhower letter may seem insignificant, but it shows the power of an ordinary letter, to reunite a couple separated by war. Did you know any GI brides? Do you want to share your family’s wartime story?  If you would like to share your memories, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at projects@niwarmemorial.org or on 07588 634847.

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UN International Day of Older Persons 2020

UN International Day of Older Persons 2020

Today marks the UN International Day of Older Persons 2020 which seeks to highlight the contributions that older people make to society and raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges of ageing in today’s world. Older people obviously play a key part of our work here at the Northern Ireland War Memorial not least as contributors to our Oral History Projects allowing us to record their wartime memories. We tell their stories in our museum and preserve them for future generations.

As of September 2020, we have conducted 130 interviews with 135 individuals mainly across Northern Ireland and well as a number of interviewees in other parts of the UK, Australia, Canada & America. Noting the age of our interviewees at the time of their interview, collectively they have had 11,399 years of life experiences and were on average age of 84 ½ at the time of interview.

We have had five interviewees who were over 100 years of age when they were interviewed, with our oldest interviewee, Mabel Williams (BBP29) at 105, interviewed as part of our Belfast Blitz Project in 2016. Mabel was thirty-one in 1941 and lived off the Cliftonville Road in Belfast, she recalled that during the Easter Tuesday raid ‘mother and I were under the stairs… it was quite spacious under the stairs, we were able to get two stools in and as far as I remember for the first couple of hours, the bombs… the explosions going on didn’t sound too near and then suddenly I think it was about half past one or two the earth shook… the whole front of the house… well there wasn’t a window left! There wasn’t a bit of plaster in the front room, the furniture was just thrown on the floor’. Mabel and her family fortunately escaped uninjured although they did have to move house because of the damage; not everyone was so lucky. Mabel told us about her family friends who moved to Sunningdale off the Cavehill Road ‘just a few years before the war and they had a house, it was the middle house of five and they got hit… father, mother and twenty-year-old son were just killed and that was an awful shame to everybody that knew them’. Mabel sadly passed away in July 2018 just a few months shy of what would have been her 108th birthday.

Thomas Herbert Coulter (W&M78)

Our second oldest interviewee, Thomas Herbert Coulter (W&M78) aged 104, was interviewed virtually in August 2020. Herbert told us about his early wartime experiences in Germany & France in 1939/40 and then later in India & Burma where he served with the 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment. Not only did they have to deal with fighting the Japanese forces, but they also had to cope with the hot humid weather and the risk of tropical diseases. Thomas caught Dengue Fever in Calcutta and many of his comrades suffered from Dysentery and Malaria. Unfortunately, Tom passed away on the 23rd August 2020, just days after being interviewed. It was a real privilege to be able to speak to Tom and hear his wartime experiences. The thoughts of the staff and Trustees at the War Memorial are with his two daughters, Hilary & Alison as well as their families at this difficult time.

Listening to the stories of Mabel, Thomas and the many others who have graciously shared their wartime experiences with us emphasises the importance and value of older people to our society. It’s more important than ever to listen and preserve the memories and experiences of the generations that came before us. Do you know someone who remembers the Belfast Blitz and how life changed in NI during the war? Or perhaps they served overseas? If they would like to share their story, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at projects@niwarmemorial.org or on 07588 634847 to discuss the possibility of an interview virtually or by telephone.

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Free Craft Packs for kids

Free Craft Packs for kids

Are you learning about the Second World War in Northern Ireland?

Visit the museum to pick up your FREE Second World War Craft Pack.

Inside you will find lots of learning and fun as you make your own Identity Card, Ration Book and Spitfire. Each Craft Pack comes with colouring pencils and a badge sealed in a biodegradable wallet making them perfect for school teachers too.

Please email info@niwarmemorial.org if you think your school class would enjoy some Craft Packs. Let us know your class size and when you propose to collect them from the museum.

Once you’ve completed your Craft pack, here’s what you can do next;

Visit us! We’re now open 6 days a week, Monday- Friday 10am-4pm and EVERY Saturday from 12pm-4pm. There is no need to pre-book a visit Monday to Friday but please book your FREE tickets on Eventbrite for Saturdays. Join us for a 30-minute family friendly tour to learn about air raid precautions, rationing, evacuation, the Belfast Blitz and American GIs.
For more information visit http://www.niwarmemorial.org/events/ or book your ticket on Eventbrite at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/niwm-saturday-tours-tickets-116937113053.

Discover more Craft Tutorials on our YouTube Channel.

Watch and Learn on our website http://www.niwarmemorial.org/watch-and-learn/.

Share what you’ve made using the hashtag #niwarmemorial on our Social Media platforms:

Facebook: @NIWarMemorialMuseum

Twitter: @NIWarMemorial

Instagram: @niwarmemorial

Pinterest: NIWarMemorial

Youtube: Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum

#NIWM #niwarmemorial #NIWMSaturdayTours #CraftsToGo

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#RaiseAMug for Macmillan Cancer Support

#RaiseAMug for Macmillan Cancer Support

A big thank you to everyone who downloaded our VE Day Recipe book and have donated to Macmillan Cancer Support so far. We hope you enjoyed raising a mug with the NIWM Team. ☺️

There’s still time to donate what you can to Macmillan using the following link: https://dc.thyngs.net/5771/Experience?code=BUU004717578&time=09%2f23%2f2020+12%3a22%3a06.780&appUserID=55026c8a-7dd8-4f15-bdc6-806d35921caa&thyngDetailID=3274990&valid=Z1FPXPao4bItPjVOVTx8cpKF8LzrVIDmuAApVSwWQFS0ZL4wceKqronx%2f33%2bCOFTYZW9mrv0K2k2ifbFGk042A%3d%3d&goalType=DONATION_AND_GIFTAID#!/.

Why don’t you book onto one of our Saturday Tours from 12pm-4pm to learn more about rationing and to pick up some recipe ideas. Book a ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/niwm-saturday-tours-tickets-116937113053.

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Macmillan Coffee Morning 2020

Macmillan Coffee Morning 2020

There’s always a bit of competition for the ‘Best Baker’ badge when we host our Macmillan Coffee Morning in the museum.

This year we’re taking part by encouraging you to download our VE Day Recipe Book and try making some of the tasty wartime treats inside.

It’ll be hard to choose between Prune Sponge, Ginger Honey Buns, Rhubarb (thankfully not Rabbit) Surprise Pie and Marmalade Pudding but do let us know how you get on and donate what you can to Macmillan Cancer Support using the following link:https://dc.thyngs.net/5771/Experience?code=BUU004717578&time=09%2f23%2f2020+12%3a22%3a06.780&appUserID=55026c8a-7dd8-4f15-bdc6-806d35921caa&thyngDetailID=3274990&valid=Z1FPXPao4bItPjVOVTx8cpKF8LzrVIDmuAApVSwWQFS0ZL4wceKqronx%2f33%2bCOFTYZW9mrv0K2k2ifbFGk042A%3d%3d&goalType=DONATION_AND_GIFTAID#!/

Visit us on Saturday to learn more about Rationing and pick up some recipe ideas. You can book onto our Saturday Tours using the link:https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/niwm-saturday-tours-tickets-116937113053.

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International Day of Peace

International Day of Peace

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.

James Newell’s camera

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.

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Culture Night Belfast 2020

Culture Night Belfast 2020

Normally we love singing and dancing with you and Swingabella and the Bellehoppers on Culture Night Belfast. This year we can’t do that, but we look forward to the day We’ll Meet Again!

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.

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Interviewee of the Month – Roy Henderson

Interviewee of the Month – Roy Henderson

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 Henderson

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.’

Roy in his RAF uniform

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 projects@niwarmemorial.org or you can give us a call on 07588634847.

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European Heritage Open Days 2020

European Heritage Open Days 2020

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.

To book a tour please visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/niwm-saturday-tours-tickets-116937113053.

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Armistice of Cassibile

Armistice of Cassibile

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 projects@niwarmemorial.org or on 07588 634847.

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