WW2 War Stories: Exhibition Update

Published: 17/12/2020

Phase 2 of the new Second World War Exhibition, World War Two: War Stories, will open in Spring 2021 and work has been ongoing behind the scenes since Phase 1 was complete earlier this year.

One of the more exciting projects identified for Phase 2 was to bring the Churchill Mk IV, on loan from the Churchill Trust, to life with its very own crew. Since then the Museum have been working with students from the modelling department at Arts University Bournemouth to create life like figures for the display.

Dan Nunley, Holly Smyth and Natasha Preston were keen to take on the project and have since been working tirelessly, despite difficult conditions as a result of the pandemic, to create three mannequins. Before lockdown the three visited the Museum to climb inside the Churchill and work out the scene they were going to portray. With the support of Research Assistant Ian Hudson, Holly would research and sculpt the commander, Dan the gunner and Natasha the driver, of a tank crew from the North Irish Horse returning from battle after supporting infantry on the Gothic Line in Italy.

The North Irish Horse was formed in 1902 as a Yeomanry cavalry unit. This meant its members were not full time soldiers, they had civilian jobs and carried out most of their training at an annual camp. Although it survived the partition of Ireland in 1922, it essentially existed in name only until 1939 when it was reformed as an armoured car unit, at first using twenty year old Rolls-Royces.

Sculpture of a man's face wearing a black beret
Holly’s sculpture, modelled on her Great Grandfather Roy Hobbs.

In October 1941 they received the Churchill tank and became an Army Tank Battalion. They went overseas in February 1943, fighting in Tunisia until the German surrender. They then moved to Italy in April 1944 and first fought in the attack on the Hitler Line, beginning on 23rd May. The German defences took a heavy toll, leaving this the bloodiest day in the regiment’s history. Their next campaign was the attack on the Gothic Line between August and December 1944. After this they remained in Italy until the end of the war, continuing to advance northwards and finishing the war at the River Po.

Metal sculpture of a dog
A work in progress – Jess’ first large sculpt of Khan before a silicone mould is applied.

Along with the mannequins in the Gothic Line, the Museum has also been working with Jess Lucas, another third year student at Arts University Bournemouth, to produce a model of Rifleman Khan, a mine-detecting Alsatian who was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for his actions at Walcheren on 3rd November 1944. The Allies had captured the vital port of Antwerp virtually intact in September, but until they had cleared the shores of the Scheldt Estuary of the Germans, they could not use it. By late October the Canadians had cleared a majority of the Estuary, most notably the South Beveland Peninsular and the Breskens Pocket and the German forces had fallen back to Walcheren.  The invasion began on 31st October and continued for several days. A crossing on the morning of 3rd November involved Lance Corporal Jimmy Muldoon and Khan. During the crossing their boat capsized, throwing them both into the water.

Jimmy tried to swim to shore, but became tangled in barbed wire traps laid by the Germans. Khan, who had made it ashore, heard the commotion and quickly sprang into action, holding Jimmy up whilst he untangled himself then dragging him to shore. Jess has been making a life-sized model of Khan for the themed display on the attack on Walcheren Island which we hope will be a popular part of the new exhibition. The project has given the students an opportunity to work with an external client and to expose them to work outside of University.

Due to government guidance and lockdown, we have been unable to go and see the work in person, but regular zoom updates and photographs from Dan, Holly, Natasha and Jess have given the staff an opportunity to see the work taking place as well as offer comment on the designs.

The final mannequins and models will be installed in the new year and visitors will be able to see them when Phase 2 opens in Spring 2021. 

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