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Tin hats off to dedicated Ray’s incredible World War collection
Wednesday 14th November 2018 @ 17:26 by Tom Greggan
Droylsden News Tameside

A Droylsden man has shared his remarkable collection of First and Second World War memorabilia publicly for the first time.

Over the past eight years, Ray Fricker has amassed an incredible assortment of genuine weapons, helmets, gas masks and more. The collection has grown so big, he displays it in an old utility room at his house that is now a mini-museum.

Ray’s fascination with World War paraphernalia came from growing up in a country still scarred from the two brutal wars. He explained: “ When I was a kid in the 60s, there were loads of tin hats and uniforms in people’s gardens, and things were being found when houses and air raid shelters were being pulled down. I got the tin hats. I had military ones, warden ones and civvy ones. I was in a gang of five lads and we all had a tin hat each. Then we started finding uniform tops so we put them on. It basically started from there.

Ray has collected items from the home front as well as items from the battlefields.

“I can’t remember what happened to it all as we grew up. One day I had an idea to turn a tin hat into a clock. So I got one but I didn’t turn it into a clock. I thought it was too good, so I put it in the next room. I put glass shelf in to put it on, then bought another helmet. Then a friend of mine got married and she bought me an old tin Tommy helmet. After that, it just happened. I couldn’t stop! My wife went mad when I had three helmets, then I put another row in, then another row and eventually she just gave up!”

Ray adds to his collection via the internet and contacts he’s made over the years. One of the latest additions was a metal water bottle with a shrapnel hole that had been buried for almost one hundred years, before it was recently dug up from the Somme battlefield.

The ‘museum’, which is kitted out with lighting and a surround sound system, also includes an old- but still working- telephone and radio, complete first aid kit and working air raid siren. There’s even a ‘Tommy’ figure dressed in complete uniform.

The mini museum that Ray has created in his home is a sight to behold.

Ray has only ever shown the collection to family and friends, with whom it’s a big hit! “Once people come and see it, I can’t get rid of them,” he said.

“Last year, I dressed the house up for Halloween and once people came in, I couldn’t get them out! But I’ve never really shown it all to anybody. I’ve kept it private.

“Ninety nine per cent of it is all original and all real. If there is anything pretend, I’ll point it out and the reason it’s pretend it because you just can’t get them but they need to be there. Every item has got a tale. They are all a piece of history.”

Ray even has a ‘Tommy’ figure dressed in complete uniform.

And while Ray takes immense pride in the collection- and rightly so- he says he is merely a custodian of the pieces.

“I don’t tend to do anything with it. I like to have it as it is. I don’t clean them up. If I think it needs preserving I’ll do something with it so it doesn’t rust anymore. It won’t look any better and it won’t look any older. It will just stay as it.

“If anything happened to me, I’d like another collector to take it on. I’d like to see it go as a full collection; I wouldn’t like to see it split up. I’m not buying it to make profit, I’m buying it to preserve history because it needs to be known.”