Peak District provided a rich hunting ground for military enthusiast seeking a new home for vast collection

Jeni Harvey

THE Peak District was many miles from any of the Second World War battlefields.

But in the decades after the conflict, the remote moorland locations have gradually yielded enough wartime military artefacts to form the basis of a private museum.

Military chiefs used the area extensively for training, artillery practice and to hone the skills of tank crews before they were despatched to take on the axis forces.

The high ground also claimed many military aircraft and the result was a treasure trove of military debris which provided a fruitful hunting ground for collector John Ownsworth.

Supplemented by later purchases of rare military equipment, he ended up with a collection extensive enough to fill two bedrooms at his home in Green Road, Penistone.

Now at the age of 71, he has asked Penistone Town Council to try to find a permanent home for the collection.

Mr Ownsworth’s father served in the Home Guard and that sparked his interest in military matters.

Mr Ownsworth, a former welder, said: “I’ve always been interested in the military and then a work colleague told me he and his friends had gone to an aeroplane crash site on the moors.

“He told me what there was to see and I thought it sounded interesting, so me and my wife went along the following weekend. We met a gang of men who’d gone on similar excursions and they told us about some more sites.

“I kept coming across ammunition and finding rifle ranges. I also found an artillery range and where tanks had done their training.

“I found out there’s been at least 200 aeroplane crashes in the Peak Park over the years.

This interest, Mr Ownsworth said, turned into a “whole military scenario” and he then began not only collecting artefacts he found, but also buying rare articles.

Most of the relics are British and American.

However, an unfortunate accident almost two decades ago led to him almost giving up his hobby.

Mr Ownsworth said: “I bought a collection off a chap in 1992 and it was supposedly all safe – all the explosives were supposed to have been taken out.

“I was cleaning them all up, to display them, when I got to the last one and it exploded.

“Fortunately it wasn’t a big one and it only blew my hand off. I lost four fingers and 80 per cent of my palm, so I had to go to hospital where they amputated from above the wrist.”

Following the accident, Mr Ownsworth stopped collecting, but soon decided to continue. He said: “It did put me off for a period, and a few months later I sold all of the stuff that I’d bought. I decided to keep the stuff that I’d found, though.

“A few months later I regretted selling the stuff and started collecting it again. I don’t go walking on the moors any more because unfortunately I’ve got bad knees now. But I’m still very much interested in it all.”

He decided to approach Penistone Town Council, he said, after beginning to worry about what would happen to the artefacts after his death.

Mr Ownsworth said: “I’m getting a bit long in the tooth now and my health isn’t what it used to be, so I’ve started thinking about what will happen to this collection.

“I’d like to keep it together. It would be far better if it was in the public domain so people could look at it whenever they liked.”

Penistone town councillor Nora Collett said the council was appealing for people to come forward if they knew of anywhere to store Mr Ownsworth’s collection.

She said: “We have a small museum with a very small collection of archives regarding the Penistone area, in the Millennium room of the community centre. But it’s too small for Mr Ownsworth’s collection.”