I have been interested in the IInd World War since I was a child. It all began when my grandfather, who lived the war as a young man, started telling stories about 1940-45. In 1940, in his village, the retreating British Expeditionary Force left behind trucks full of military equipment. Part of it was set on fire. They attempted to destroy as much as possible lest it should fall in the hands of the Germans. My grandfather managed to rescue a lot from the flames. He rode up and off loading his barrow to the brim. Stretchers, shovels, pickaxes, blankets, rucksacks, mess tins, water bottles, shaving tackle, maps, books, truck doors, canvas, tools, bullets, gas masks, boxes,… nothing was too heavy. Everything was carefully hidden and after the war it was put to use for a variety of purposes. I still remember that part of the attic was papered with ordnance survey maps, a bayonet was used as a screwdriver and a mess tin served as a food bowl for his birds.
My grandfather in September 1945 during the Liberation Parade in his village. Adolf Hitler, with German spiked helmet, joined the parade too.
My grandfather, who experienced a lot during the war, used to tell vivid stories about those years. After each story we would rummage about in his workshop, where a lot of war souvenirs could be found. And so after each Sunday visit, I came home with one or other object from his workshop. Many Sundays later I displayed my ‘collection’ on a shelf in my room. On this shelf the many stories of my grandfather became tangible. And when I was with him I always asked him to tell a story about the war and so I completed my collection.
Since those years the history of the IInd World War has continued to haunt me. I started to visit people who lived the period consciously. I began to interview them and so tried to preserve heritage. I looked for objects and documents that could illustrate all this. The stories accumulated and my collection kept growing.
I am often asked where I got all these objects from. There is no easy answer to that. It has been an endless search that has taken years. The core of my collection consists of a number of war souvenirs that my granddad gave me. The major part was found at jumble sales or fairs. Searching the Internet is often successful as well. An important part was given to me by war veterans or their families. I still now and then get an object that people find in their attics. A number of objects were rescued from the sorted waste disposal site: ‘Please don’t throw it away, sir, but put it in my boot, I can use it’. This question can result in staring eyes, but also in a beautiful acquisition. It often is a tiring search for the single missing object that can complete a story.
I have always dreamt of my own museum. That child’s dream has survived. As a young boy I put up a number of exhibitions and more and more I warmed to the idea of putting together my own permanent exhibition. Now that I have the necessary space, I have started with the constructional renovation. An association was started up to open up the collection. In November 2013 the museum opened its doors.
My grandfather in 2005