Heritage from your Armchair - NI War Memorial Museum

For this post we are going to be focussing on a Belfast museum. The Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum is a small museum on Talbot Street. I haven't visited this museum in real life because I had completely wrong assumptions about the stories told there. I believed it was akin to a military history museum and thought it might be one of those places that caters for passionate enthusiasts rather than for someone like myself who is just a bit nosey and likes hearing people’s stories. After a poke around their website and social media and a chat to a couple of members of staff I can now confidently say it is definitely aimed at nosey people with varying amounts of military history knowledge, just like me!

 Image courtesy of NI War Memorial 

The museum focuses on four main areas, The Blitz that Belfast experienced in 1941, The Home Guard, Women of Ulster and what their roles were during World War II and The American Presence telling the story of the hundreds of thousands of American troops that made their way through Northern Ireland on their way to North Africa and later Normandy. While it’s not possible to visit in person at the moment, the website gives a little background information on each of these. Just enough to tempt the reader for a future visit.

 Image courtesy of NI War Memorial

The museum had planned several celebration events for the 75th anniversary of VE day that now have to be postponed due to Covid-19, however they are working hard to keep their connections with the community alive during social isolation. They have an active presence on social media and their facebook page has recently featured updates on ongoing projects, ideas for craft activities and clips of vintage cinema.

It is difficult not to make some comparisons with the content of the featured clip about Easter in 1941 and our present circumstances. It shows the public making the best of staying at home and families going on hikes through empty countryside rather than to the crowded shore. It is cleverly curated to resonate with us, and perhaps find comfort in the fact that society has survived worse situations in the past and there is hope ahead.

Image courtesy of NI War Memorial

 You can make your own ration book at home using the online template.                                                                                                                   

Through the learning resources online they have brought further wartime experiences to the present by featuring recipes, simple crafts and games that can be enjoyed at home. Although we are not experiencing formal rationing (some shops are limiting purchases on essential items) many people are more aware of reducing food waste and eliminating the need to go to the shop for one or two items, instead using what is on hand. In this case the war time recipes using carrots as substitutions for key ingredients, or potato in chocolate pudding and using up stale bread in the Bread Pudding recipe might give adventurous cooks some ideas as well as being an entertaining way to learn about rationing and wartime diets.

If you want to dig a little deeper into the wartime history of Belfast there are two publications available to read on the website. Revisiting a Letter from Ulster by Allen Esler Smith tells the story of the filming of A Letter from Ulster that was directed by east Belfast born Brian Desmond Hurst. The film tells the story of two of the 300,000 American Servicemen stationed in Northern Ireland. The second article is The Belfast Blitz by John Potter. It’s a sobering read featuring on the unpreparedness of Belfast to attack from the air.

Just as these stories have been committed to paper and preserved, the museum is continuing to work on collecting stories from people who have memories of the war. The War and Me Oral History Project is continuing to collect stories through the Covid-19 crisis. They have recently collected stories told through the eyes of children, veterans and members of wartime services. Maybe you or someone you know would like to contribute. Telephone or video call interviews can still be arranged or it’s also possible to submit written testimonies. The contact number to get in touch is 07588634847 or email projects@niwarmemorial.org


As well as collecting stories from some of the older people in our community the museum has also been working with care homes and with older people’s groups doing outreach work. During these sessions groups have the opportunity to participate in crafts, singing workshops and to connect with objects from the museum’s collections to stimulate memories and provide a space for reminiscence. The workshops are dementia friendly and flexible to the needs of the group. During lockdown it’s obviously not possible to connect with older people as we try and protect them from illness but the museum is exploring ways of providing care homes with resources that might be of use to residents including music to sing along to and armchair exercises. If you would like to explore the option of this, contact outreach@niwarmemorial.org.

The NI War Memorial are doing some lovely projects that are of great importance as we have fewer and fewer living people with memories of the Second World War. It is definitely worth a visit in the future, in the meantime I am enjoying what they share online.

Don’t forget…if you want to share something on our blog that is connected to heritage in east Belfast get in touch lisacurrie@eastsidepartnership.com.

Lisa Rea Currie

Heritage Officer, EastSide Partnership


Visit Our Other Sites

EastSide Arts

EastSide Greenways

EastSide Learning