Council steps in to save precious war memorabilia

David McCallion of War Years Remembered.
David McCallion of War Years Remembered.

A UNIQUE collection of wartime memorabilia owned by a Ballyclare military historian could find a new home at Newtownabbey Council’s Mossley Mill headquarters.

Earlier this year David McCallion made an impassioned plea to politicians and business owners for help finding a permanent base for his War Years Remembered exhibition, expressing fears that a lack of premises and funding could force him to transfer the collection to a museum in Canada.

But at their monthly meeting on Monday night (March 25), local councillors agreed to look at ways of helping to preserve the exhibition for future generations, including the possibility of siting at least part of the collection at Mossley Mill.

It’s understood that one option could be to develop a disused building at the council offices to create a military history museum, potentially turning the site into a major tourist attraction.

Over the past four decades Mr McCallion has put together a priceless collection of thousands of rare items from the First and Second World Wars - possibly the largest private display of wartime vehicles, uniforms and other memorabilia in the UK. His impressive collection also includes a Home Rule exhibition and a 1940s house.

Mr McCallion is keen for the exhibition to remain in Northern Ireland, and in East Antrim if possible, to be looked after by a Board of Trustees. And it’s understood that a move to ‘charitable trust’ or similar status would enable funding applications to be made to a range of bodies, including the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Members agreed that a strategic plan for War Years Remembered be commissioned by the council, at a maximum cost of £5,000, to explore a range of options aimed at ensuring its future sustainability. They also agreed that Mr McCallion be invited to submit a proposal for an exhibition at Mossley Mill in early 2014.

Urging all members to go and see the exhibition at its temporary base in Ballyclare before it closes next week, alderman Paul Girvan stressed that it does need a permanent home.

“This is a great jewel to have within the crown of Newtownabbey and I think we should try to retain it,” he said.

Alderman John Blair said he supported the recommendations, but queried whether or not the council’s exhibition space would be big enough to house the collection.

Chief Executive Jacqui Dixon said that the existing museum space could host some of the exhibition, but wouldn’t be big enough to display the whole collection. However, she stressed that other areas of the Mill site could be explored.

Speaking to the Times on Tuesday, Mr McCallion said he was delighted by the council’s decision.

“I am ecstatic. At the end of the day this is a real step in the right direction and I am really glad that I am getting this help now from the council,” he commented.

“They are going to look at all the options and housing the exhibition at Mossley Mill on a permanent basis is certainly one of the options that is going to be considered. If it does end up at the Mill, I think it would bring a lot of visitors to the site and complement the museum that’s already there. With the education programme that I’ve got going and the school visits I think there could be real long-term benefits.”

He added: “We still need people’s support and we need people to stand up and be counted and carry on giving their support so that this unique collection is preserved and future generations can learn important lessons from the events of the past.”

The War Years Remembered exhibition will be open to the public at Unit 32, Dennison Industrial Estate, Ballyclare over the Easter holiday.

Representatives from the Ulster Military Vehicle Club, the Ulster Scots Agency and the Wartime Living History Association will be among those in attendance over the weekend.

The exhibition will be open on Good Friday (March 29) and Easter Monday (April 1) from 10am - 6pm, and on Saturday (March 30) and Sunday (March 31) from 11am - 4pm. It is due to close on April 3.

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