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Volunteer-run Ballyclare exhibition boasting rare wartime memorabilia & 'Paddy' Mayne artefacts in £50k fundraising drive to preserve its future


Military history enthusiasts from Northern Ireland are following in the footsteps of the late Captain Sir Tom Moore in a bid to save a cash-strapped Co Antrim war museum from closure.

They are walking over 600 miles to D Day beaches in France - without leaving their building.

Instead, the volunteers and relatives of former soldiers are undertaking the trek on treadmills in the War Years Remembered (WYR) museum at Ballyclare which houses a stunning collection of military memorabilia in a 12,500 sq ft warehouse in the Dennison Industrial Estate.

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David McCallion

David McCallion

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

David McCallion

David McCallion, the founder and curator of WYR which receives no state funding, has warned that unless the virtual route march from Ballyclare to Normandy raises £50,000, the facility will have to shut because Covid-19 restrictions have stopped cash-paying visitors coming through the doors for tours.

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ON THE MARCH: The volunteers will walk the equivalent distance from Northern
Ireland to Normandy’s beaches

ON THE MARCH: The volunteers will walk the equivalent distance from Northern Ireland to Normandy’s beaches

War Years Remembered/YouTube

ON THE MARCH: The volunteers will walk the equivalent distance from Northern Ireland to Normandy’s beaches

"I fear this is one battle we could lose because we can't pay our running costs but our team of volunteers are showing the sort of spirit that would have been so prevalent during the wars," said David.

The latest threat to its future couldn't have come at a worse time for the museum which had been looking forward to letting more people see a priceless and expanded archive donated by the family of the highly decorated Ulster war hero, Lieutenant Colonel 'Paddy' Blair Mayne.

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LEGENDARY: Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne

LEGENDARY: Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

LEGENDARY: Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne

The collection of letters, uniforms and medals from an old Blair Mayne battle-trunk has been augmented to include the SAS founder's diaries and scrapbooks relating to his rugby career, including his tour with the British and Irish Lions to South Africa in 1938.

"We also have new information about his expedition with the British Antarctic Survey which we think corrects a number of myths and mistakes about his involvement and how he got all the way to the Antarctic," revealed Mr McCallion, who explained that an English-based official from the Antarctic Historical Heritage Trust, Geoff Cooper, had been doing solo marathon walks of up to 26 miles in Surrey to bolster the WYR fundraising initiative.

In The Footsteps of Heroes JustGiving campaign was the brainchild of young volunteers who work at the museum.

"I was inspired by the amazing veteran Captain Tom and his walks around his garden to raise money for the National Health Service," said volunteer Joshua Willey. "We are taking it in turns to walk on the running machines to get sponsorship support for the museum and we keep a record of the distances we cover every time.

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Major Tom Moore

Major Tom Moore

Major Tom Moore

"The aim is to complete 602 miles, the distance from the museum to the beaches of Normandy, a journey which was undertaken by so many young men and women during the Second World War."

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Some of the memorabilia on show

Some of the memorabilia on show

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Some of the memorabilia on show

Mr McCallion started his own collection of war memorabilia with a chocolate tin and a military belt given to him by his grandfather, a wartime soldier whose name he shares.

But at Ballyclare it has grown into a massive gathering including the only D Day vehicle in Ireland plus tanks, armoured cars, motorbikes and artefacts ranging from medals, uniforms and helmets to decommissioned weapons.

A specially reconstructed house from the Shankill area of Belfast at the museum shows how families used to live with mangles and tin baths and there's even an Anderson air raid shelter.

The museum also recognises the roles played by the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish Volunteers during the Great War, with memorabilia and explanations of how the men who were readying for battle in Ireland during the Home Rule crisis united to fight the Germans in Europe.

Mr McCallion said the ultimate goal was to find a permanent home for WYR and gain accredited museum status.

"But everything is hanging by a thread now," he admitted.

However, he added, the museum has overcome adversity in the past.

"In 2018 the museum was badly flooded but we fought back," said Mr McCallion. "However this is even more serious. We have made seven grant applications to various departments and bodies but to no avail. We are hitting brick walls all the time."

Two years before the flooding crisis, officials from WYR lent out some of their artefacts to Brad Pitt's production company who were filming scenes for the movie, the Lost City of Z, in Northern Ireland with stars Sienna Miller, Charlie Hunnam and Tom Holland.

The film was based on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who was thought to have been the inspiration for the fictional movie archaeologist Indiana Jones and who made several expeditions to the lost city of Z, believed to be the remains of El Dorado in the Brazilian jungle.

"We were able to lend them costumes and props for the movie and we taught some of the actors how to behave like British Army officers and even show some of them how to put on gas masks.

"But we got a few of the film's props in return and the carpet on which our treadmills sit came from the movie."

The JustGiving appeal has raised nearly £13,500 including a four figure donation from British billionaire and philanthropist Lord Ashcroft, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party.

South Antrim DUP MP Paul Girvan has backed the fundraising effort with a personal donation of £100.

He said: "War Years Remembered is a unique collection of memorabilia and artefacts dedicated to protecting and promoting our heritage relating to the First and Second World Wars.

"The Covid-19 restrictions have devastated their income streams and put huge pressure on the organisation.

"It is vital that as a community we do all we can to protect and promote the collection for the next generation, to ensure the sacrifices of those who have gone before are never forgotten."

n For more information, visit www.waryearsremembered.co.uk

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