Standing on the Esplanade just to the north of Oban's North Pier is the excellent Oban War & Peace Museum. The museum occupies the ground floor of the Old Oban Times Building and offers visitors a welcoming and well presented introduction to the story of Oban in both peacetime and war.
The museum's origins date back to 1995, when an exhibition called Oban At War was mounted to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The exhibition drew in such a wealth of material from members of the public that it was decided to open a permanent museum in the town. This was initially housed in the Old Waiting Room on the North Pier, but since 2006 has occupied its current premises. The museum is completely independent and run mainly by volunteers. There is no admission charge, but when you visit remember that most of the funding needed to keep the museum in being comes from the voluntary contributions of visitors and sales in the gift shop.
Given the origins of the museum, it is no surprise to find that it majors on the military role of Oban during the last century, and especially in World War II. As the name implies, however, it also looks at other aspects of the story of the town and the surrounding area. A superb painted board showing many of the ships of the Calmac fleet reflects the role of Oban as a hub for links to many of the islands. Other displays focus on the story of McCaig's Tower; on the role of Oban as a terminus for the first transatlantic telephone cable in 1956; and on the development of the world's first high head reversible pumped storage hydro scheme at Cruachan, some distance inland from Oban at Loch Awe.
The exhibits on view range from the personal and poignant to the impressive and imposing. An ornamental plate dates back to the Boer War, and a number of uniforms and sets of medals are fine memorials for the individual soldiers, sailors and airmen who wore them and won them.
As you enter the museum your attention is immediately captured by the large weapon-like object standing close to the door. On closer examination this turns out to have had an entirely peaceful role. It is a Thomson-Houston projector, installed in Oban's Old Cinema House in the 1930s and used until what was Oban's first cinema burned down on 27 June 1958.
Much of the rest of the museum is dominated by an unquestionably warlike exhibit: a one eighth scale model of a Short Sunderland III flying boat, depicting an aircraft serving with 228 Squadron at Oban in 1942. The model was built in 2003 by Bernard Jackson and is radio controlled and flyable: though whether something so magnificent was ever risked in flight is unclear. The Sunderland, and a smaller model of a Catalina flying boat, are amongst a number of exhibits reflecting Oban's wartime role as a RAF Coastal Command flying boat base. RAF Oban was located in Ardantrive Bay near the northern end of the island of Kerrera. Aircraft operated from Oban Bay, just as rather smaller seaplanes do today.
Flying from Oban was no easy option, and both the aircraft modelled were lost on operations. Catalina VA729 was posted as missing on 30 June 1943, while Sunderland W4026 crashed in bad weather near Dunbeath in Caithness on 25 August 1942 while transporting the Duke of Kent from Invergordon to Iceland. Only the rear gunner survived.
Throughout the museum there are objects which tell compelling stories about Oban and the people who lived and fought here. Amongst a number of ship models is one of the Royal Yacht Britannia. Towards the rear of the museum is an area where you can watch an audio visual presentation about Oban's history.