The centenary of World War One has sparked a “phenomenal” interest in the conflict from the general public, said the curator of the Northern Ireland War Memorial.
The memorial in Belfast’s Talbot Street, which is basically a permanent exhibition telling the history of the two world wars, has seen a huge boost in visitors over the past week as the public flock to learn more about the conflict, and see if they can find their families’ names in their archives.
The museum has also obtained a handful of fresh WW1 items which will go on display in the next few weeks – a hand-decorated artillery shell casing, a rifle bullet which has been fashioned into a knife, and a gift box containing tobacco for the front-line troops.
The ‘bullet-knife’ is engraved with the word ‘Ypres’ and the year 1916.
The small metal box, known as a “Princess Mary gift box” is from 1914.
These were often sent out at Christmas, and contained everything from tobacco to chocolate.
Although examples of “trench art” were sometimes created after the war, much of it – including probably the bullet-knife and engraved shell – were made by soldiers during rest breaks in the trenches.
They have come from a private Northern Irish collector who does not want to be identified.
Curator Ciaran Elizabeth Doran said visitor numbers has increased by 50 per cent in the past week, from the Province and abroad.
“The general public’s interest has just been phenomenal, and people are bringing things in and I’m learning something new almost every day,” she said.
For example on Monday a visitor brought in a relative’s medals from the war, along with his discharge papers, which will go on display.
“I think we have a duty to let people know these memories have not been forgotten,” she said.
“There are children who want to know, not what their parents or grandparents did, but what their great-grandparents did.
“The First World War is a never-ending story of new information and personal stories, and so many things relate particularly to this part of the world we feel we have a duty to let people know as much as possible.”