War museum ‘soldiers on’ in battle against Covid

David McCallion

A Ballyclare museum has reopened its doors to the public after battening down the hatches during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

War Years Remembered, a war museum based in Ballyclare, recently celebrated re-opening after Covid-19 forced it to close for several months.

The museum features a collection spanning over 100 years of military and social history, encapsulating both World Wars.

“We just couldn’t believe the dust and cobwebs,” joked curator David McCallion.

ATTENTION!… Hand sanitizers drafted in.

 

Having first established War Years Remembered in 1994, David has since gone on to literally rub shoulders with some of Hollywood’s A-List as a result of his devotion to the museum.

“I’ve sat in a trench with Robert Pattinson and Charlie Hunnam whilst they were filming The Lost City of Z in Glenarm. Alongside one of our volunteers, I was coaching them on how to act like a First World War officer and demonstrating how to wear a gas mask,” he recalled.

One of the vehicles at the museum.

 

As with other museums across Northern Ireland, War Years Remembered was a casualty of the pandemic. But, supported by a team of volunteers, David’s team of 20 has ensured the museum is safe for reopening, resulting in its recent validation from Tourism NI – Northern Ireland’s tourism development organisation – as being ‘good to go’.

“That was a great source of comfort for us,” David said.

“It recognises that we understand and have followed government and industry Covid-19 guidelines, ensuring processes are in place to maintain cleanliness and help facilitate social distancing. Safety has always been paramount for us, so our team has undergone a rigorous training process on the back of the new guidelines.

One of the exhibitions.

 

“Without our dedicated volunteers working tirelessly to ensure these measures were in place, as well as continuing to preserve the collection, we would not have been able to open,” he explained.

David says lockdown was a difficult time for his team as they were used to meeting hundreds of people each week.

“Just before lockdown was implemented, we were booked right through the summer months. Last year, we saw thousands of people coming through the museum. For that to happen, even on that personal social level, was difficult to get used to,” he said.

Another of the exhibits.

 

With no funding over the past few months, David is calling for further central and local government support to keep the museum in operation. The museum also plans to launch a GoFundMe page to raise vital funds.

“As with other organisations, we have suffered a huge shortfall in funding during the pandemic. Whilst the healthcare sector is the most deserving of emergency funds at this stage, I would urge government not to forget the beneficial works that independent museums such as War Years Remembered provide,” he said.

With a diverse range of visitors in recent times – including travellers coming from the US, Canada, Australia and across Asia – the museum regularly hosts groups from schools, local historians andcommunity groups from across the entire island.

The museum’s journey to this point has been an evolving one.

“The museum has grown over the years, from a not-for-profit organisation to a registered charity. Our final goal is to find a permanent home for our collection, achieve registered museum status and become a major attraction that will provide an enjoyable, interesting and educational experience for all visitors,” he said.

“At the very heart of War Years Remembered is the remembrance of our veterans’ stories so that they and their sacrifices will not be forgotten.”

Currently housed in a 12,500 sq ft warehouse, David believes the current collection would require a facility four times that size in order to correctly display and “provide justice to the stories behind the uniform”.

“The War Years Remembered collection grows and evolves as a result of the generosity of items donated by the public. It is a deeply captivating and personal way of telling a family’s history.

“Every artefact we hold is an original. We pride ourselves in the preservation, protection and presentation – as well as the restoration – of items within the collection. Covering the army, navy, air force and home front, we hold rare artefacts that you wouldn’t find in any other museum in the world.

“We’re always looking for the opportunity to tell more wartime tales and aim to further develop the collection of vehicles, medals, personal items and photographs,” he said.

Booking is essential for War Years Remembered. Further information can be found online at and on Facebook by clicking the following link: https://www.facebook.com/WarYearsRemembered/?tn-str=k*F

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