The garage museum fighting its own battle of the bulge

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FROM the outside it looks much like any other suburban garage in West Yorkshire.

Inside, however, is a museum that opens the door to Britain’s military history, courtesy of Peter and Margaret Thompson who have personally salvaged the memorabilia on display from battlefields from the Crimea to the Falklands.

Peter and Margaret Thompson have converted their garage into a military memorabilia museum

Peter and Margaret Thompson have converted their garage into a military memorabilia museum

It has taken the couple around 40 years and more than 100 trips to foreign battle sites to gather all the material to fill their double garage at Barkisland, near Halifax.

Every centimetre of the walls is covered with maps, photographs of pillboxes and Army veterans, while the ceiling is home to model aircraft and the shelves weighed down with artifacts, including bullets, helmets, shrapnel, bombs, uniforms, postcards and 1001 other items.

The couple’s fascination with history began in earnest in 1977 with a trip to Ypres in Belgium, noted for its First World War battles, and from then on much of their free time has been taken up with collecting and displaying items they dug up or found lying around at numerous battlefields.

“Nowadays the sites are all fenced off and there are commercial battlefield tours,” explains Mr Thompson, 82, a retired textile company managing director. “In the 1970s you could find memorabilia lying about. We always went over to Europe in the car so we could easily bring things home.”

Mrs Thompson discovered a knack for finding things her husband had overlooked as he surveyed the battlefield and ensured they had the correct location. “Margaret was very good at spotting things very quickly on the ground,” said Mr Thompson, himself a former National Serviceman who was with the RAF.

The couple’s interesting 
hobby was sparked by the First World War, in which both their fathers had served.

Mrs Thompson’s father, Edmund Hoyle, of Dewsbury, served in France with the East Yorkshire Regiment. He was injured but survived the war. The fact her father never spoke about the war only spurred on his daughter to learn more about it later in life.

Further trips to the Continent saw the Thompsons visit
 the Somme, Arras, Verdun, Gallipoli and other Great War battlefields.

Soon, however, they also became more interested in the Second World War, taking trips to the Normandy beaches, Arnhem, St Nazaire, Bordeaux, and the site of the Battle of the Bulge.

They began to venture further, to Italy (Anzio, Salerno, etc) Malta, Germany, Egypt and more and it was not long before their burgeoning interest led them to go even further afield – Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and South Africa, as well as the Falklands, which they visited on the 
10th anniversary of the 1982 conflict.

The garage display now reflects every trip they have been on, with items of militaria neatly divided into each conflict, along with supporting information, photos, models of aeroplanes and boats and maps.

In one corner is a display about the Crimea, another is devoted to the Anglo-Zulu War, and another to the Cold War.

Much of the space is taken up with photographs of the Thompsons meeting old soldiers from many conflicts, including the First World War, Second World War and the Falklands.

Over the years they have hosted visits from old soldiers and airmen, including members of the Western Front Association, a group with which they have been heavily involved.

Mrs Thompson said the 40-year labour of love amassing the collection had been a wonderful time, although she had had her doubts when they set off to visit their first battlefield.

“I didn’t know what I had let myself in for,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about history. At school I was a dud at history. Now I am absolutely into it.

“We have hundreds of photos from our trips. When I look back through them it brings a tear to my eye.”

The couple, who have two grown-up daughters, say their trips were not just about collecting military memorabilia.

“We have done other things; this hasn’t been our whole life,” she says. “We have met lots of interesting people.”

That list includes men who took part in the Dambusters raids; former PM Sir John Major; Hitler’s valet; the sons of both Rommel and Montgomery and John Howard, who led the airborne raid on Pegasus Bridge on D-Day.

Now, while they have called time on their battlefield expeditions, their enthusiasm has not waned and they are still welcoming veterans and fellow enthusiasts to visit them, in their garage.