Ex-Wigan squaddie has his own war museum
A former soldier from Wigan is keeping the flame alive for local heroes from a conflict now more than a century ago.
For Billy Baldwin has passionately collected enough First World War memorabilia to create a mini-version of the Imperial War Museum in his Whelley home.
The 59-year-old safety officer is particularly keen that at least some of the artefacts he has collected reflect the lives and memories of borough armed service personnel. As a result there is a greater emphasis on the First and Second Fifth Battalion Manchester regiment in which many Wigan men served.
The First, one of whose comrades was the acclaimed wartime poet Wilfred Owen, saw bloody action at Gallipoli, while the Seconds - known as the Colliers Battalion because so many were miners - were decimated at the Battle of Passchendaele.
Billy, who was five years in the 14th 20th King’s Hussars, is a member of several related societies and has spent years building up his collection, admitting that he has spent a considerable amount of money in the process. Among his exhibits are uniforms, helmets - including an impressive German Pickelhaube - decommissioned guns, cap badges, webbing, medals, British and German tinned rations, medical supplies, smoking materials, postcards, games, journals and books.
He says he offered to loan the lot to the Museum of Wigan Life once for an exhibition but they declined, he says, on learning that they couldn’t have it permanently.
But, particularly as Remembrance ceremonies will be taking place this week, Billy is determined to keep the flag flying for Wigan’s Great War veterans.
He said: “At this time of year we all remember the fallen, and rightly so. But I want us to dig down and remember those individuals who came from local Wigan communities: the fathers, brothers and sons who left their families and regular work to go off to a foreign land to fight and many of whom never came back.
“A lot of the memorabilia that I have is from the Fifth Battalion Manchester Regiment because there were so many Wigan men in it.
“There’s a lovely story about the Seconds - the Colliers Battalion. The officer in charge set them a task of digging a trench in six hours. He came back well before the deadline to check up on them and found them all sitting around chatting. He asked them what they were doing and they said they had already finished the trench. He hadn’t factored in their day jobs - they were tough men and all that digging was second nature to them.
“The officer was used to bank clerks and teachers digging up until that point who, of course, would have taken rather longer to complete the task.
“But there are more names from the Second Fifths on the Wigan war memorial than any other. They were decimated when the Germans nearly won in early 1918 after the Russians had pulled out. A lot of the Fifth had been territorials before the war and were based at Wigan Drill Hall.
“This is an important collection because it keeps these men’s memories alive.”
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