NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections F & G

NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections F & G

The lower half of the McKendry frieze (sections F – K) reflects the home front in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Today we are looking at sections F and G which focus on Northern Ireland’s agricultural role, the role of women and the rebuilding of Belfast after the air raids.

Section F

Reflecting on the part of the frieze showing farm workers with sheaves of corn, McKendry states ‘This is all farmland, this farmer is working with crops, providing food’. Northern Ireland’s wartime agricultural contribution was significant, with most farmers responding to the compulsory tillage orders required by the government. During the war, famers were expected to till (plough and raise crops) one third of their land. Even the lawns at Queens University and Stormont were ploughed up, as shown in this footage from British Pathé:…/d…/query/basil+brooke+tractor. The number of tractors in Northern Ireland rose from 550 in 1939 to 7,000 in 1944. Arable farming rose by 60%, and flax production increased six-fold to supply linen for the war effort. Farms in Northern Ireland provided 20% of the eggs required by the UK population. McKendry explains that the people and processes shown in this section of the frieze are more chaotic as they are facing different directions and making different things, ‘but they’re all working hard at it and they’re working together… there’s a togetherness there’.

Section G

James also presents one of the many roles of women in the war by depicting a woman working on a loom. McKendry explained ‘women started coming into the factories and this is an example of that, she is working in the linen industry.’ Northern Irish women played a key role producing textiles such as parachutes, ropes, and uniforms, perhaps most notably in Londonderry where 90% of the shirts required for the war effort were made. Women also worked in factories producing shells and ammunition such as Mackies and the Falls Foundry (Combe Barbour and Combe) in Belfast.

Section G represents the rebuilding of Belfast after the air raids of April and May 1941. A man and woman can be seen, and in the background, there is a bombed building. James explains that ‘they are rebuilding together’ and that this woman is symbolic of the many who worked with organisations such as the Civil Defence, the Red Cross, and the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) who saved, treated, fed and re-clothed thousands of people after the air raids. This female figure also plays tribute to the many women who served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). These women had varied roles across Northern Ireland as cooks, nurses, drivers, mechanics, and wardens. We have been able to interview some of these incredible women through our ongoing oral history project The War and Me.

These busy sections of the frieze are bound with that sense of togetherness which is evident in so many stories from the time.

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NIWM Copper Frieze – Section E

NIWM Copper Frieze – Section E

Section E

Section E of the McKendry frieze focuses on the departure of US forces from Northern Ireland. Three GIs can be seen descending towards the shore. McKendry states ‘that’s the headland, they’re going down into Port Moon to get on those ships to go off to war’. Again, James has used the landscape of Co. Antrim as inspiration for the frieze, as the GIs are descending towards the crescent shaped bay of Port Moon. When interviewed, McKendry recalled a large GI camp and runways on the Causeway Headlands.

The area was a hive of activity during the Second World War as American Paratroopers of the US 82nd Airborne’s 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment were stationed in Portrush and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Portstewart. In total, the 82nd Airborne had approximately 15,000 men billeted in Cookstown, Aghadowey, Portglenone, Ballymena, Garvagh, Rasharkin, Kilrea, Bellaghy, Ballyscullion, Castledawson, Portrush and Portstewart. In February and March 1944, they departed with little warning.

Two soldiers can be seen in the foreground of the frieze. McKendry states ‘They’re watching it all going on, they’re thinking how lucky am I that I’m not going down onto that ship’. Such sentiments would have undoubtedly gone through these soldiers’ minds, for they did not know what trials would await them on the continent and whether they would return at all. Over 400,000 American military personnel lost their life in the Second World War, many of whom passed through Northern Ireland.

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NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections C + D

NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections C + D

Today we are looking at sections C & D of the McKendry frieze. In these sections McKendry continues to record the American presence in Northern Ireland.

Section C
Section D

Three airmen are shown, and they are all wearing flying helmets and goggles. When we interviewed the artist, he pointed out that one is holding an earpiece, which is something we hadn’t noticed before. It is no wonder McKendry included airmen within his work as aircraft sightings are a key part of his wartime memories. ‘I still remember hearing the planes go over at night. The drone of the engines, you know the Germans flying over. I still remember the tension’. McKendry also recalls two plane crashes in the local area. On one occasion ‘a plane crashed in the field behind the school in Bushmills… it was like a Spitfire or one of that type of plane. Just with a pilot, but he wasn’t killed’. He also spoke about an RAF air crash at Stranocum. James recalls that is was ‘a Wellington bomber with four crew on board’ and that ‘it happened beside the big house at Stranocum and the locals who worked there all rushed out, got them out of the plane and they were all saved’.

James used the landscape of Co. Antrim as inspiration for the frieze. In this section he has included a typical ulster five-bar gate, and a round tower. A GI holds the American flag bearing 48 stars for 48 states which was correct for the time. American visitors to the museum are often impressed to see this level of detail. Again, McKendry hints towards the mechanisation of war by including an American tank. Commenting on the GIs marching forward he states, ‘they are getting towards the sea, and there’s a sense of we’re going to have to get on the sea and go and fight’. He reflects on their readiness for battle and points out that ‘their fists are clenched ready for action, they’re all ready to go you see’.

Our Trustee and Second World War aviation expert Ernie Cromie has been able to provide more details on the Stranocum air crash which James recalled:

This was a twin-engined Wellington bomber, serial number JA383, which was on strength to the Empire Air Navigation School based at Royal Air Force Shawbury in Shropshire. During the night of 24 November 1944, with five crew on board, it was on a cross-country navigation exercise to Rathlin Island when, on the return leg, it developed engine trouble. Although it was a moonlit night and the pilot was attempting a forced landing, unfortunately the aircraft struck the tops of trees and crashed into a small orchard at Stranocum House. It caught fire on impact but mercifully all the crew were helped to escape by locals before it burned out. Injuries were comparatively minor but the pilot, Flight Lieutenant J F Biddle, suffered a broken leg. A letter of thanks was subsequently received by locals and very much later, in 2005, a commemorative plaque was erected at the site.

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NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections A + B

NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections A + B

Over the next few weeks, we are going to tell you more about one of the largest artworks in our museum, a hammered copper frieze by James McKendry. We had the great pleasure of interviewing James in 2018 and were delighted to learn more about this artwork and how it was made. The frieze is made up of 11 sections. We have labelled them A-K. Each shows different people, places, and symbols, with the story flowing from left to right. The upper part of the frieze shows American forces training in Northern Ireland from west to east, on their way to the conflict in Europe.

Copper Frieze by James McKendry

It is estimated that 300,000 American service personnel passed through Northern Ireland during the Second World War with the first official arrivals taking place in January 1942. James was born in 1935 so he met many of these Americans as a young boy, in fact some were stationed on his family farm in Co. Antrim. He recalled that ‘they all looked big and fatter and all us Irish looked small and skinny… but they were very generous and very well natured’. His memories reflect what we have heard from many interviewees who as children received gifts of gum, sweets, and chocolate from friendly Americans. McKendry also recalled that it was ‘the first time I’d ever seen black people… and they were very friendly, and the people here were very friendly to them. We, I think really appreciated them being here, and those guys, a lot of them went and lost their lives’.

The first two sections of the upper frieze (A+B) were designed to evoke a sense of ‘order, discipline and movement in one direction, supported by this feeling of moving forward’. The panels depict US Servicemen, all marching from west to east. With identical uniforms and kit, they are marching in a perfectly synchronised manner. Further along the frieze, one American is waving, and another is carrying the American flag. The artist explained that he wanted to convey the warmth and friendliness shown by US Forces when they were based in Northern Ireland, after all, it is estimated that 1,800 local women became GI Brides. The artist also wanted to show the increased mechanisation and modern warfare of this war by including an American jeep and a row of shells. Can you spot the artist’s signature?

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NIWM Copper Frieze – James McKendry

NIWM Copper Frieze – James McKendry

The Northern Ireland War Memorial tells the story of Northern Ireland during the Second World War with a unique collection of objects and artworks. One of the largest artworks in the museum is a hammered copper frieze by local artist James McKendry (b.1935). The frieze measures 18 ft x 2 ft (548 cm x 59 cm).

There is an upper and lower part, and they are displayed together in a wooden frame, which is mounted high on a wall in the museum. Visitors see it as soon as they walk in as it tower above the part of the exhibition which is about the arrival of the Americans, the Ulster Home Guard, and the Women’s Voluntary Service. The frieze is made up of 11 panels in total and there are various people, places and symbols hammered onto it. The upper part captures elements of the war effort in Northern Ireland during the Second World War, depicting farming, ship building and heavy industry. The lower part shows American forces training in Northern Ireland from west to east, on their way to the conflict in Europe.

James McKendry was born near Bushmills in Co. Antrim. He went to Belfast School of Art in 1953, completed a short course at the Central School of Art in London and then specialised in Art Education at Liverpool University. Over the course of five years of education, McKendry obtained many accolades including a City & Guild Gold Medal, Diploma in Art, National diploma in Design (special honours) and an Art Teachers Diploma (Distinction). His internationally acclaimed work can be found in corporate and private collections around the world, including that of the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Northern Ireland War Memorial commissioned James to make the frieze for the original War Memorial Building on Waring Street, in time for its Royal Opening in 1963. McKendry was known to the architects of the building as he created large metal artworks before. This Belfast Newsletter photograph shows James working on the frieze. At that time, he was an art teacher at Dunlambert Boys’ Secondary Intermediate School in Belfast.

Belfast Newsletter image of James McKendry working on the NIWM copper friezes

The footage below shows the Queen Mother opening the building on 29th October 1963.

The Queen Mother opening the original War Memorial building on 29th October 1963.

The main entrance of the building opened from Waring Street into the Hall of Friendship. The walls of the Hall of Friendship were covered in large slabs of light coloured Cliffdale marble, which had been quarried from a cave overlooking the Mississippi River at St Genevieve in Missouri, USA. The frieze was set into the top of the marble walls, one length on each side of the room, so that the two parts were facing each other. Shown is an image of the frieze in the War Memorial exhibition in the late 1990s.

The original War Memorial exhibition on Waring Street

When we relocated to Talbot Street, the frieze was integrated to form an important part of the museum on Talbot Street, along with a stained-glass memorial window by Stanley Murray Scott (1912-1997), a marble memorial wall and a specially designed plinth of Ulster granite carved in a hexagonal shape to represent the six counties of Northern Ireland. The NIWM, the artists and those involved in the relocation were awarded the Royal Society of Ulster Architects Integrated Artwork Award in 2008.

McKendry is now retired and lives in Bushmills with his wife Norri. In 2018 the NIWM interviewed James about the artwork he created and how the commission came about in the 1960s. This was done as part of the NIWM’s ongoing The War and Me oral history project which aims to interview people with wartime memories. James’s interview has now been transcribed and is available to researchers. To this day the frieze in our museum remains as McKendry’s largest hammered copper work.

James McKendry

As an accredited museum, we have committed to the care and long-term preservation of our collection. Where possible, conservation work is carried out during museum opening hours to allow visitors to learn more about the museum’s conservation work. This summer we planned to have the frieze cleaned by a conservator. While that work has been delayed, over the next few weeks, we plan to share detailed pictures of the copper frieze, section by section, alongside extracts from our oral history interview with McKendry which was carried out in 2018.

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Kids in Museums – Digital #TakeoverDay

Kids in Museums – Digital #TakeoverDay

It’s Kids in Museums Digital #TakeoverDay!

Last week on our social media we asked children (young & old) to submit any burning questions they had about Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Today on Kids in Museums Digital #TakeoverDay over experts provided the answers!

Our first set of answers are from our NIWM Chairman, Ian Wilson and our Oral History Project Coordinator Michael Burns. Ian answers some questions on submarine activity and D-Day while Michael shares the process behind recording interviews and shares with us the funniest and saddest stories that have been recorded through our oral history project.

Our second set of answers are from NIWM Trustees, Brian Barton and Ernie Cromie. Brian gives us a closer insight into the facts and figures of the Belfast Blitz while Ernie answers questions about airfields and the RAF.

Lastly, Jenny Haslett, our Museum Manager answers you questions about Rationing and Women in the Second World War, while Alan Freeburn, our Collections Officer answers questions about the NIWM Collection.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a question – we have really enjoyed answering them and hopefully you have learnt something new about Northern Ireland during the Second world War.

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The War and Me – Evelyn Vance

The War and Me – Evelyn Vance

Through our oral history project, The War and Me, we continue to collect stories about GI Brides and the American presence in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Most GI Brides have now sadly passed away, so it is often their children who tell their stories.

Evelyn Vance (circled) joined the ATS in 1942

One such story recently submitted is that of Evelyn Vance (circled in the first photo) who joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1942 aged just 17. She was trained as a cook (2nd class) and served until 1946, achieving the rank of 1st lieutenant. Evelyn met her future husband, Luther M. Taylor of Carroll County, Maryland, (pictured together in the second photo) at a dance in Belfast and apparently it was love at first sight. They were married in Cregagh Methodist Church on 6th April 1945 and Evelyn emigrated to America in 1946, settling in Maryland where they raised a family together until Luther passed away in 1986.

This photograph is believed to be of Evelyn’s ATS unit outside the officer’s mess they operated out of. The family do not know the specific location of where they were based or any of the other people pictured. We know that Evelyn lived in Belfast during the war and that the man who took the photo was a professional photographer Chas. V. Shorthouse of 410 Ravenhill Road in Belfast and so it is assumed that it was taken somewhere in the Greater Belfast area. One of the people in the photograph may be Mary Flynn, a dear friend of Evelyn’s who served alongside her and later became a nun. They kept in touch until Evelyn died in 1994.

We are appealing for any information regarding those pictured, do you recognise any of the individuals in the photograph? Perhaps you are a relative of Mary Flynn? Please like and share and get in touch if you have any potential leads or further information.

Many thanks to Patty Taylor Koontz for submitting her parents’ story along with these fascinating photographs. If you want to read Evelyn’s story in full or if you have a story to share please get in touch with our Oral History Project Co-ordinator by emailing or telephoning 07588634847.

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NIWM on C2K Newsdesk

NIWM on C2K Newsdesk

Thank you to all the teachers and parents who have been busy creating rich learning environments for children during lockdown. We look forward to re-opening our doors and welcoming you to our museum again. 

In the meantime, check out the new Watch and Learn tab on our website:

We have been working with C2K to create a series of short programmes about the Second World War in Northern Ireland. Each episode highlights objects and stories from the museum’s collection while exploring topics such as rationing, evacuation, the Belfast Blitz and VE Day.

These programmes were created for the C2K Junior Newsdesk and so are suitable for a Key Stage 1 audience but will still be of interest to Key Stage 2.

Please let us know what you think and if there are any other Second World War topics you would like to learn about.

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The War and Me – Gwen Preece neé Graham (W&M68)

The War and Me – Gwen Preece neé Graham (W&M68)

Our oral history project, The War and Me, continues to thrive and adapt under the current circumstances, with a switch from face-to-face interviews to virtual or telephone interviews and the receipt of eight new written accounts.

Gwen Preece neé Graham (W&M68)

One of our latest interviewees, Gwen Preece neé Graham (W&M68) remembered vividly the air raids on Belfast when she sheltered with her mother and siblings under the stairs. During the raid she went upstairs to look out the bathroom window at the planes in the sky. The actual destruction of the air raids did not hit her until she travelled along the Antrim Road in the days following the Blitz when she saw that the area was devastated. She recalled seeing the ruins of her church and her mother silently crying as they drove past the rubble and bombed out buildings. That day, Gwen was making her way to Ballymena where, along with her mother and sister, she was to stay with her great aunt and uncle.

Gwen disliked life in the countryside as she struggled to make friends being the only evacuee in the class. However, she shared some lovely memories of riding her bicycle around the countryside and her best friend, a Collie dog called Jack, which her father gave her. She told us that she was glad to get back home to Belfast. She remembered friendly American soldiers giving her chewing gum as well as dancing at a special concert on the Lisburn Road. Gwen is keeping safe and healthy during lockdown and is using this time as an opportunity to read the latest Hilary Mantel novel.

Do you have any memories of the Blitz or being evacuated? 🗣  If you or a loved one are interested in sharing your story like Gwen, please get in touch with our Oral History Project Co-ordinator on 07588 634847 or via email at

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Today marks #WorldBicycleDay which celebrates the humble bicycle as a form of sustainable transport. During the Second World War, bicycles played a key role on the Home Front as cars were expensive and fuel was rationed.

Our oral history collection contains many stories of bicycles. Our very first oral history interviewee Elizabeth Clark (BBP1) was pictured on VE Day 1945 on her tricycle which was decorated with V’s to celebrate victory.

Elizabeth Clark (BBP1) pictured on VE Day 1945 on her tricycle which was decorated with V’s to celebrate victory.

Alan Cook (BBP26) from Helen’s Bay told us that his house was the local ARP station. The air raid warning was primitive and relied very much on bicycles. When his mother received a call warning of an impending raid ‘she would summon people by phone who would arrive on bicycles … circling Helen’s Bay Blowing a whistle’. Alan questioned whether this was an effective warning and recalled how the locals were often concerned about one volunteer, Hunter Tate, who ‘had a very red face and everybody was obviously worried that he would have a seizure blowing this whistle whilst riding the bike’.

Joe O’Loughlin (W&M19) lived in Belleek in Co. Fermanagh. He witnessed several plane crashes in the local area, and it became his hobby to ‘get on a bicycle and get souvenirs and bits and pieces’. A bicycle also came in handy living so close to the border. He would cycle down the old country roads and pick something up ‘Down South’ where he did not have to present his ration book. Joe recalled one specific incident when ‘Jim, my older brother, somebody gave him a couple of, two pennies or something like that you know, and he went away to a wee shop across the border and bought a packet of Rolos on his bicycle. It was only a couple hundred yards inside the border, he came back out of the Free State. A customs man stopped him and took the wee packet of Rolos off him… I thought it was a horrible thing to do on a wee kid’. Pictured is a ration book from William J O’Loughlin dated 1945-46 (NIWM.2019.2533.03).

Ration book from William J O’Loughlin dated 1945-46 (NIWM.2019.2533.03).

Cycling could be hazardous, especially in the blackout. Noel Mitchel (US17) travelled by bicycle from Portglenone to Ballymena to go to the cinema. ‘Now, I was coming back on my bicycle on Christmas Eve and it was dark, just dark and I remember even in the war, if you had a bicycle you had to have a blackout on the light of the bicycle, so you didn’t have much illumination… and this fellow I met, he was on a bicycle too, he was on guard duty and it being Christmas Eve… he’d gone into the village to see his girlfriend or something… an American GI on duty on [His girlfriend’s] bicycle, they didn’t have any lights at all and he was wearing his full battle gear… we didn’t see each other and I hit him and took his front wheel off… we were both sitting in the middle of the road, he was howling and his nose was bleeding and I could feel the blood dripping off my forehead’. Luckily, a car came along, found them bruised and bleeding and brought them to the local doctor. Thankfully both Noel and the GI made a full recovery.

These extracts are just a small sample of stories about bicycles in our oral history collections. Do you have memories of air raids, smuggling, American GIs or VE day? If you would like to share your story please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at or on 07588 634847.

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