A different kind of war museum

By Phuong Anh, Thanh Nien News

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A statue of Vietnamese Emperor Quang Trung (1753-1792) and real-life cannons, placed outside the white fortress of the Worldwide Arms Museum 
Briton Robert Taylor, 66, has been collecting weapons and other instruments of war for nearly 50 years.
Taylor, who has worked as a gas plant project engineer across Europe and Asia, has the special love and interest in militaria and war antiques that comes only from a true connoisseur.
His vast collection of items from across the globe and dating back to ancient times now fills up 1,500 square meters of space at his Worldwide Arms Museum, which opened in January in the southern beach town of Vung Tau, Ba Ria Vung Tau Province, 120 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City.
The three-story museum is located on a road leading to the lighthouse on top of Nui Nho (Small Mountain), a popular spot for sightseers in Vung Tau.
The white fortress features items ranging from real guard uniforms from Buckingham Palace in London, to a statue of Vietnamese Emperor Quang Trung (1753-1792) and real-life cannons.
The collection includes 1,032 guns, swords and the authentic military uniforms of many nations: England, Turkey, France, German, Australia, Holland, China. One of Taylor's real prizes is a collection of swords historically used by Vietnam's ethnic Muong communities. Some of the museum's favorite items date back to the Napoleonic wars while others go as far back as the ancient Greeks.
Tools used by the vikings and medieval knights are also part of the display, which has explanations in both English and Vietnamese. The museum also boasts a rooftop café offering stunning views over the town.
"As I was travelling, working around the world, I continued collecting militaria, and as a result, my collection was scattered around the world in various warehouse's and vaults," said Taylor, who first came to Vietnam to work on a sphere tank gas project in 1990 after a stint at a gas plant in Brunei.
Since then he's been working and collecting here, and the museum is the first place he's seen his full collection together and complete.
"It is a legacy that I will leave behind for the people of Vietnam," said Taylor, who founded Vung Tau Insulation Company, which specializes in thermal insulation and fire protection.
Robert Taylor posing in front of his private Worldwide Arms Museum. Photo: Steve Nolan.
He said the museum is in part a response to the call for investment in tourism from the province's local government seven years ago.
It took Taylor those full seven years to fulfill his dream, and he had all the while been told by friends that he had no chance whatsoever of bringing militaria items into Vietnam for a private museum.
"Whenever people say to me that I cannot do a certain thing, I always take it as a challenge," said Taylor. "It is the same when it comes to this project."
"I grabbed the chance with my two hands and started off with a letter to the province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and put forward my idea."
They [the department] listened to Taylor, but he was told there was no mechanism for the establishment of a private museum in Vietnam and that he'd have to wait.
After four years of lobbying and producing references from famous collectors and auction houses around the world, Taylor was finally given the go-ahead to import part of his collection for the department to view.
"The most tough part was to establish and follow the rules," he said, adding that after many meetings with various related agencies regarding the law and the rules of such a museum, he finally reached an agreement on protocol and the stage was set to build the Worldwide Arms Museum.
"However, the collection was never meant to be on public display but after having reviewed the amount of items many of which are very rare ones I decided that it should be seen by all enthusiasts who would be interested."
The first phase of the project, which houses items from the Greeks, the Romans, the Mongol empire and the Napoleonic era, has been completed.
At present, according to Taylor, the second phase of the museum is now under construction and will house collections from the Napoleonic wars, the American civil war, the Crimean wars, and the First and the Second World Wars.
"I will reserve two rooms for the Australian Anzacs and one room for the Vietnamese to display remnants of the wars with France and America," he told Vietweek.
"However, I am also awaiting the decision of the province's people's committee to sell entrance tickets as we have many costs to recover for 24-hour security, staff of 10, electricity, and running costs."
"The main problem we have is that the tour companies want to visit but part of the road is unfinished and I have asked the committee to look into the problem so the tour buses can visit us."

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