Band Of Brothers Project

The Band Of Brothers project was conceived by Pete Bleakley as a consequence of living in Ballyhalbert beside a disused WW2 airfield.

A lifelong fan of the RAF in the Second World War, weaned on war comics and Airfix model Spitfires and Me 109s, Pete found himself investigating his local airfield - RAF Ballyhalbert - now a caravan park on the edge of a sleepy Ards Peninsula village.He discovered that RAF Fighter Command's highest scoring Battle Of Britain Squadron - 303 Polish RAF Squadron - were based at Ballyhalbert in 1943, as was 315, another highly effective Polish fighter squadron.

In 2014, a year before the 75th anniversary of the Battle Of Britain, Pete approached Jennifer Hawthorne at NIHE, with the idea of using 303's heroism and sacrifice in Britain's darkest hour to combat the modern day scourge of racism, by creating community artworks, backed up with an anti-racism toolkit, comprising pop ups and a colourful PowerPoint presentation for use at community level and in schools.

Jennifer quickly saw merit in the project and came on board with funding support through the Community Cohesion Unit.The various facets of the project were created and delivered, with the first mural, at Beverley Street, Lower Shankill, launched on 15th September, 2015 - Battle Of Britain Day - the 75th anniversary of the air battle that saved England from invasion in 1940.

The idea is to roll Band Of Brothers murals out as shared history projects in areas in Northern Ireland where there are sizeable Polish communities. The second Band Of Brothers mural is likely to be located in East Belfast and a site off the Lower Newtownards Road is currently under consideration by NIHE and the Shared History Workshop.

The Band Of Brothers project was delivered using Lower Shankill Community Association as project facilitators and with artist Ross Wilson designing a mural using images and themes supplied by Pete Bleakley. A large site was chosen on the International Peace Wall, close to the junction of Northumberland Street and Beverley Street.

11th November 2015 (National Independence Day In Poland) saw a gathering of Polish nationals and Lower Shankill community representatives at the Band Of Brothers mural. At the event, Ian McLaughlin (pictured laying a poppy wreath in honour of the Polish airmen killed in WW2) re-iterated his community's welcome to members of the Polish community in Northern Ireland.

The Band Of Brothers mural in situe on the International Peace Wall, Lower Shankill. Ian McLaughlin of LSCA persuaded Pete Bleakley to 'go large' - ie not use a standard gable end wall, and with hindsight this was a good call, as the length of the artwork helps generate maximum impact.

Team photo - a launch day pic with everyone involved in the Band Of Brothers project taking a bow, in front of the iconic new mural, and the Ulster Aviation Society's beautiful Spitfire MkV replica, specially liveried with the red and white 'chequerboard' emblem which identified WW2 aircraft as having Polish crews.

Vanda Henderson, daughter of a Polish airman who served at RAF Ballyhalbert in WW2 and later settled in Kircubbin and raised a family, pictured in front of the Band Of Brothers mural at Beverley Street.

As part of a shared history workshop by artist Ross Wilson, the young people coloured in images of the Polish pilots of 303 Squadron, lifted from the iconic IWM photo of the squadron with a Hurricane fighter during the Battle Of Britain. These coloured in pictures were assembled into a poster by Ross Wilson.

As part of the community consultation process, workshops for young people from Poland and the Lower Shankill were facilitated by Maciek Bator of CRAIC NI and the artist Ross Wilson. Pete Bleakley delivered a PowerPoint presentation on 303 (Polish) RAF Squadron, on an evening which also saw video and a stunning live performance from English folk singer Katy Carr, whose mother is Polish. All attendees received a polo shirt designed by Pete Bleakley, with the 303 Squadron honour badge on the breast.