‘Our wartime history must be preserved’

David McCallion operating the 1938 Bofors anti-aircraft gun. Pic by Ronnie Moore
David McCallion operating the 1938 Bofors anti-aircraft gun. Pic by Ronnie Moore

BALLYCLARE military historian David McCallion has made an impassioned plea to local politicians and business owners to help him find a permanent home for his unique War Years Remembered exhibition.

David began collecting wartime memorabilia at the age of eight when his grandfather gave him a belt and chocolate tin he’d used while serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers during the First World War. His lifelong passion for militaria has seen him put together a priceless collection of thousands of rare items - possibly the largest private collection of wartime vehicles, uniforms and other memorabilia in the UK.

Over the past 13 years David has been running War Years Remembered on a shoestring budget, taking it to various locations throughout Northern Ireland.

The growth of the exhibition has meant that he has had to store vehicles, weapons and other exhibits in outhouses, sheds and anywhere else he’s been able to find space. But now he is appealing to political representatives and business people to help him find a permanent home for his amazing collection, which also includes important documentation about many men from the Newtownabbey area who served in both World Wars.

Speaking to the Times as part of the exhibition went on display in a warehouse at Dennison Industrial Estate in Ballyclare last week, David made a plea to “anyone who cares” to help him save his collection.

“I need to find proper premises to keep the collection in. I have been trying to do the best I can with little or no funding, and most of the work I’ve been able to do has been through grants and donations, but it’s not enough, I need proper support,” he commented.

“In the short term we need premises right away, which I can’t afford to pay for. It’s split to the winds at the minute, so we need somewhere we can get the whole collection under one roof. It’ll give us somewhere people can come and see the collection and talk about it. We also need direct sponsorship until we can find some funding.

“We need the politicians to come in behind this. They’ve seen the good that we do from either the cross-community angle, the education or the tourist attraction that this has become. But this is about the bigger picture - an investment in people. It’s about leaving a lasting legacy and educating our young people about the two biggest calendar dates in the 20th century, which could have been completely different if people hadn’t stood up and fought together against the common foe.”

The collection, which includes memorabilia from the First and Second World Wars, as well as a Home Rule exhibition and a 1940s house, could be lost to Northern Ireland following an offer from a museum in Canada.

But David is keen for it to stay in the province, and in East Antrim if possible, to be looked after by a Board of Trustees.

“This is local history and social history - it’s about local families and their stories. It’s our heritage and culture all in one big package and it’s important that we preserve that history for future generations, he added.

“I would like to see the collection in this part of the country as there is an attachment to this area and the people of this area. It could work in the old Asda building in Ballyclare or the former Woodsides store in Carrick, but I’ve also had offers from Antrim Council and from Lisburn Council who are keen to take it to the Maze.

“Ideally I would like the whole collection to remain intact in the one area, telling the whole story over the last one hundred years.”

Part of the exhibition is currently on display at Unit 32 in Dennison Industrial Estate, Mill Road. It will be open to the public this Saturday (February 16) between 10am and 6pm.

For more information about War Years Remembered and upcoming exhibitions and events, log on to www.waryearsremembered.co.uk