QA Nurses Cape


Please note, this artefact is no longer on display.

This cape belonged to Molly Lea who served as a QA Nurse during the Second World War.  The badges on the inside of the cape are a selection of badges and insignia given to her by grateful patients.


The cape has kindly been lent to the War Memorial Gallery by Rene Lea, a niece of Molly Lea’s.  It will be on display in the War Memorial Gallery throughout November.

Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) provided nurses during the war from 1939 – 1945.

The history of QA Nurses can be traced backed to Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War when the Secretary of State for war, Sidney Herbert, identified the need to recruit nurses to tend to the injured soldiers. Nightingale took 38 women to work as nurses from 1854 – 56.  By 1897 the Army Nursing Reserve was formed which was then replaced by the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in 1902.

During the First World War QA’s tended to the wounded in field hospitals, aboard ambulance trains, hospital ships and barges and casualty clearing stations.

At the start of World War Two QA’s travelled to France as part of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) and by the summer of 1940 1300 QA nurses were evacuated with the BEF at Dunkirk.

The QA nurses were famed for their scarlet and grey capes although they found that it was more practical to wear battledress and khaki rather than their ward dresses and veils while working in dressing stations and field hospotals.

In Millions Like Us author Virginia Nicholson tells the story of one matron who did not want her nurses to be confused with the ATS (Auxillary Teritorial Service) so insisted that here nurses still wear their scarlet caps over their khaki uniforms.

Throughout WW2 the QA nurses served in every campaign and in 1949 they became Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) which still forms part of the Army Medical Services today.


Find out more here and here.

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Northern Irish Art and Artists in WW2

Thursday 15th November 2012 7.30pm

Places are now available attend an introductory talk on the local art and artists active during WW2.  The talk will be given by Alison Mitchelson BA (Hons) MA Freelance Curator and lecturer on the Open Learning Programme in History of Art at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Admission is free but places must be booked in advance.

I you would like to book a place please contact Ciaran Doran – or 028 90320 392 option 3 by 1st November to secure your place.

This will be the first of a series of talks on related subjects to NIWM

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Culture Night Belfast

Jazz and dance will again be featured at the war memorial gallery,21 Talbot Street, on culture night on September 21.


Throughout the evening jazz will be played by the Siobhan Pettit jazz quartet.  Siobhan will sing as the group plays songs and tunes from the 1940s.


The Belle Hoppers dance troupe of three will perform a variety of dances from the 1930s and the war time era.  Members of the public will be able to learn the steps.  No booking required and everyone will be encouraged to join in and have a go.  People are welcome to wear 1940s outfits.


The evening of jazz is one of the gallery’s events to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the US Forces who came to train for the war inNorth Africa andEurope.

The live performances will take place from 7 to 10pm

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September Object of the Month

Our September object of the month is this lovely box of soap.

It was brought over to Northern Ireland by a US serviceman in 1942 and given to a young lady here as a Christmas present.  In fact during the war soap was one of the most popular Christmas gifts.

Soap was rationed from the 9th February 1942 and remained on the ration until September 1950.

You would be allocated coupons in your ration book to use on soap – this would include hard soap, toilet soap, liquid soap, soft soap, soap flakes and soap powder, some of which you would be using to clean yourself and some for cleaning your clothes.

Very few people would have had a shower and not everybody would have had a bath in a bathroom – using a tin bath placed in front of the fire instead.  Bath water was also limited to a maximum of 5 inches (12.5 cm) which could be measured out by painting a black line round the edge of the bath and then only filling to that amount.


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European Heritage Open Days

It’s all go here at the War Memorial as the final preparations are being put in place for this weekend’s European Heritage Open Days.  We’ll have members from the Wartime Living History Association showing us what life was like for the US GIs who were based here during the Second World War, they have a display of what a soldiers living quarters would have looked like and will be giving three talks on different themes related to the US Forces in Northern Ireland.

On top of that you’ll be able to buy very tasty US themed food from the Fabulous Food Factory, try your hand at making your own patriotic pin badges, watch the excellent Brian Desmond Hurst film A Letter from Ulster filmed in 1942 and on Sunday you’ll be able to hear some lunch time jazz from the Siobhann Petitt Jazz trio.

We’ll be open on both Saturday and Sunday (8th and 9th September) from 10am – 4.30pm.

Hope you can make it!

Here is the programme of events so you can see all the great things we’ve got going on…

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End of the summer!

The current Wish You Were Here exhibition is finishing at the end of this week so if you haven’t had a chance to look at it do pop in before the weekend.  You won’t have too long to wait for the next exhibition however which will be in situ for European Heritage Open Weekend which is on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th of September.  We’ll have more information on EHOD shortly!

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August Object of the Month

1940’s Swimsuit.

To coincide with our new display of summer items our August object of the month is this fabulous 1940s swimsuit.

Quite unlike todays swimsuits it has no modern material like added lycra but is made of a woollen material that would be quite heavy when wet!

It is part of the War Memorial’s summer display which looks at how people would have spent their holiday time during the war.  As well as swimming in lakes or outdoor pools in fetching swimsuits like the object of the month, people would have taken daytrips to places like Bangor and Donaghadee – although the beach would have been out of bounds!  They would also have gone on picnics and you can pick up a leaflet of wartime picnic food ideas in the gallery to try out on your next picnic outing!

The goverment ran schemes to encourage people to spend their holidays helping out on farms along side the farmers and Land Girls.  As part of the display you can watch Pathe News reels related to summer holidays and see one of the government adverts encouraging people to take a working holiday in the countryside.

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Late Night Opening

The exhibition will be open on Thursday 2nd August for Late Night Art from 7 – 9pm.  It will be very nearly the last chance to see the Forces Sweethearts exhibition as it is ending this weekend.  The new exhibition will be up at the start of next week.

Last admission on late night is 8.30pm

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Last Chance to see Forces Sweethearts exhibition!

Our Forces Sweethearts exhibition will be finishing on Friday 3rd August so you only have two weeks left to catch it before it goes!  The exhibition is open Monday to Friday 10.30am – 4.30pm and is open for the Late Night Art opening on Thursday 2nd August.

There is jewellery and knitwear which belonged to Marilyn Monroe as well as items belonging to other stars such as Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart.  There is also a reel of British Pathe films showing Forces Sweethearts such as Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields entertaining the troops.

Due to vistor requests we will soon have the knitting pattern for the Marilyn Monroe jumpers available to download from the website, so you’ll be able to knit your very own starlet jumper!

The next temporary exhibition will be a Summer Holidays exhibition which will open the following week.  We’ll post more information about this exhibition closer to the time.

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