The “most wonderful piece of historical restoration” gets under way next week when a Belfast-built Second World War tank is refurbished.
The Churchill Mark VII tanks, designed and manufactured by Belfast’s Harland and Wolff during the war, were used mainly by the North Irish Horse during the war.
The machinery played a crucial role in the Battle for Longstop Hill in Tunisia in 1942.
Yesterday at the North Irish Horse base at Dunmore Park Army Reserves Centre, Belfast, it was revealed one tank is to be given a new lease of life by a cross-section of the community – from young offenders at Hydebank, to experts from the Railway Preservation Society, Army reservists and enthusiastic amateurs.
The project, mainly funded by a £58,000 lottery grant, will begin next week, according to project manager Stephen Montgomery, and is hoped to be completed within six to nine months.
When the tank is fully restored it will be put on public display at the Marine Gardens in Carrickfergus – a town which became one of the new, safer manufacturing locations during the Blitz when efforts were made to bomb the shipyards.
Mr Montgomery, a volunteer from Cavehill and former North Irish Horse squadron leader, said the project will involve new parts being made from scratch and others being sent to England for repair.
Involving all sections of the community was key when it came to launching the restoration, he said.
“Our whole approach was to try and get as many people on board as possible,” said Mr Montgomery.
“The educational side to this is so important to the whole project.”
UUP MLA Danny Kinahan, a household Cavalry Officer in 1970s and ’80s and now an Honorary Colonel of the North Irish Horse, said he was delighted to see a piece of history being restored.
He said: “The tank is part of our history, having been used in the war effort, of course, but it is also the fact that our industrial expertise was used to build it.”
Mr Kinahan said he is hopeful further restoration projects may be undertaken when this is complete.
Martin McDonald, a board member of the Northern Ireland Community Heritage Lottery Fund, said the organisation ticked all the boxes when they applied for the bulk of their funding.
“We fund a wide range of projects. With this one, the history of the North Irish Horse interested us,” said Mr McDonald.
He said the tank looked like it had a bit of a history behind it and is looking forward to seeing the finished product.