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War museum needs last-gasp help

Opening soon with Dame Vera Lynn endorsement

After years of determined effort and sheer hard graft all that stands between a new finished-product visitor attraction for the Boston area is £15,000.

It sounds a lot, but pales compared to the personal investment and monumental effort already put in by Paul and Linda Britchford.

It is the remaining amount they need to be able to complete the catering facilities at their world wars museum at Freiston Shore.

Through their own efforts and an undiminished passion they have turned their mobile We'll Meet Again museum into a new, permanent facility of national importance.

When Paul  is not wearing his sergeant's uniform and barking orders  to give visitors a real hands-on experience of the Second World War, he is dressed in overalls, high-vis and hard hat. Together with wife Linda they have turned their hand to the hard work of building their museum from the ground up, and are now within grasping distance of the finish line.

"We will be open to first visitors to the new museum in the next few weeks, but the cafe will not be able to open. We need just £15,000 more to completely finish and be able to provide refreshments. We have gone as far as we can possibly go and need help to finish the job," said Paul.

The couple have invested everything they have into the enterprise and are now relying on last-minute help to complete the project.

The museum is not where it is by accident. The site is adjacent to the old sea wall upon which remain the best-preserved Second World War defences in the country. Now looking out on reclaimed marsh which forms part of the RSPB reserve are the gun placements, pill boxes and soldiers' accommodation from another age.

Paul said: "This whole area would have been buzzing with military personnel and hardware throughout the Second World War. The brick and concrete structures would have bristled with guns and weaponry to protect the Port of Boston and defend against German invasion. Lower ranks had accommodation along the sea wall and officers stayed at the Marine Hotel."

For special events Paul and Linda will place items, including machine guns, from their massive private collection in the pill boxes to recreate the scenes of more than 70 years ago. The collection, which Paul began when he was aged just eight, would fill the new museum more than twice over. It even includes some items that the Bletchley Park code breaker museum would like to get their hands on.

The museum was on the verge of being established in Nottinghamshire until Freiston Shore farmer Janet Bland gifted the land a grenade's throw from the historic gun placements.

New buildings including the main Military Room display hall, Linda's Home Front room which will feature the Land Army Girls and, when the funding is achieved, the Ration Book Cafe.

A toilet block has been refurbished to latest standards and includes unique tile mosaics of scenes of yesteryear in  the ladies (Land Army Girls) and the gents (Home Guard Boys).

Paul said: "We have had a letter from Dame Vera Lynn who said she had heard about us  and wanted to endorse what we are doing."

Over the years 18,500 children have had the We'll Meet Again experience - greeted by "Sarge B" who soon has the new recruits kitted out as soldiers and jumping to attention. "We take all visitors straight back to the 1940s. Some aren't used to the discipline once Sarge B gets warmed up, but they love it, " said Paul.

Children pay for their three ounces of ration sweets with old money and are amazed when they hear the sweets have to last all week.

Paul said: "Everything we do is hands-on and role play - that's the best way to engage and the response is fantastic. If we talk about a Thompson machine gun it will not be out of reach, behind a pane of glass. Everyone  who wants to will be able to touch and hold it. It makes it real."

There will be full access for the disabled to ensure that old soldiers can visit. Paul said they had already had some wonderful results with items sparking memories in people with dementia. One elderly lady immediately retrieved her childhood skills when she able to play with a whip and top.

The couple have a host of new ideas, including aiding integration and remembering the role Polish people had to play as our allies during the Second World War. They plan to develop a "Dig For Victory" garden where children will be able to help plant up and then visit a website to see the progress their plants are making.

Prisoners at nearby North Sea Camp have constructed display cabinets for the museum from materials supplied by Paul and Linda.

The World War One Commemoration Society has booked the museum for its events in 2018 marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Mayor and Mayoress of Boston, Cllr Stephen Woodliffe and Mrs Catharine Woodliffe, visited the museum. The Mayor said: "It is most important for all generations that wars and the fight for freedom and the sacrifices made are remembered.

"This will be a nationally-important facility and a huge boost to this area's visitor attractiveness."

Also visiting was David Norton, chairman of the Boston Visitor Economy Partnership, who said: "We want to give assistance to a viable attraction for the Boston area. Together with the nearby RSPB reserve it makes for a great full day out with potential to attract more visitors to the area."

The project has had approval from Government, impressed with its educational aspects, and received a £200,000 Treasury grant.

Paul and Linda have launched a crowd funding campaign for the £15,000 they need at Just Giving. You can make a donation using this link https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/wellmeetagainmuseum

You can also contact them direct on 01205 270473 or 07903 529614.

We'll Meet Again museum Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window
From left: Paul and Linda Britchford outside the Military Room with David Norton, chairman of Boston Visitor Economy Partnership, Mayor and Mayoress Cllr Stephen and Mrs Catharine Woodliffe, and farmer Janet Bland who gifted the land.

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Spitfire overhead - from left, Linda and Paul Britchford with Mayor and Mayoress Cllr Stephen and Mrs Catharine Woodliffe, and farmer Janet Bland inside the Military Room - soon to be stacked to the rafters with war memorabilia. And Dame Vera Lynn, famous for her wartime We'll Meet Again ballad. She has written museum owners Paul and Linda a letter of support.

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Phew! That was a close call. Mayor Cllr Stephen Woodliffe and Mayoress, Mrs Catharine Woodliffe, emerge from the safety of the Anderson shelter.

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Paul and Linda take a brief break from work to pose alongside their alter egos - the fearsome Sgt B and his flirtatious Land Army Girl.

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Mosaic in the gents Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window
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The specially-commissioned tiles which make up Second World War mosaic pictures in the toilets.

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The gun placements and soldiers' accommodation along the old sea wall at Freiston Shore adjacent to the museum site. Britain's last line of defence in the event of a sea invasion during the Second World War.

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