THE FOUNDER of a museum which includes thousands of artefacts from both World Wars – including memorabilia from Ards war hero Colonel Blair Mayne – is hopeful that a permanent home can be found in the borough for the globally significant collection.
David McCallion, of the War Years Remembered Museum, said he met with a positive response, during a recent meeting at the Newtownards branch of the Royal British Legion, from people keen for the return of ‘Paddy’ Mayne’s World War Two paraphernalia to his home town.
The collection includes the famous soldier’s uniform and medals along with his war trunk and contents, including photographs, letters and documents illustrating his life in combat which earned him a host of decorations.
The papers also detail the formation of the fledgling wartime Special Air Service (SAS) which he co-founded, and there are also pages from the original book that became the SAS War Diary.
Blair Mayne returned to work as a solicitor after the war and became Secretary to the Law Society of Northern Ireland, before dying in a car accident in 1955, aged just 40.
The War Years Remembered Museum was established as a portable exhibition in 1994 which David brought to schools and military exhibitions all over Northern Ireland and across the border to Cavan, Monaghan and Dublin, before finding a home in Ballyclare.
It thrived there for a time, but the collection, understood to be the one of the largest in the UK and Ireland, fell victim to the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn.
David believes the siting of the museum within the Ards and North Down area would ‘boost tourism through increased footfall’ but would also present a significant educational opportunity to teach future generations about the enduring legacy of the World Wars.
Recognising the special place in local hearts of the Blair Mayne memorabilia, he pointed out that the collection also has international significance, with artefacts hailing from Belgium, Poland and other parts of Europe as well as the United States.
Blair Mayne’s niece, Fiona Ferguson said she would be ‘absolutely delighted’ for the collection to be brought to Ards and North Down.
But she stressed it was important for the collection to remain intact because it portrays the wider wartime context, depicting what life was like for people outside the armed forces.
“It’s not just about guns and uniforms but David also has a full kitchen from the war time years,” she said, adding the museum also features a newlyweds’ dinner service and a bride’s dress from the era.
“It’s not just about Blair Mayne but also has pieces from my aunt, Frances Eleanor Mayne, Blair’s elder sister,” she pointed out.
Local historian Peter Forbes said the museum would be a real asset to the area, adding that as it contains ‘The Blair Mayne Family Collection, ‘it would be even more special’.
“Blair ranks amongst the most famous of soldiers from our wartime past, and across the world he is renowned for his courage, bravery and leadership,” said Mr Forbes.
He said the collection ‘has enabled us to begin to ‘put right’ some of the scurrilous untruths written about him over the years.
“The Museum is a wee hidden gem, and to have it in Newtownards would be a huge asset to the town,” he said.
Strangford MP, Jim Shannon, said the options to house the collection locally were being considered and ‘many business properties have been sought out’.
He said talks were underway with the chief executive of Ards and North Down Council ‘in the hopes that we can begin the journey of bringing all of this incredible piece of history home to the Ards’.
Newtownards councillor Richard Smart also welcomed the efforts to bring the collection to the area.
“The museum tells a remarkable story of service, shared sacrifice, and the value of freedom and I have no doubt it could be a fitting attraction for the area,” he said.