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Sunday, 23 August 2015

Imperial War Museum, London

Imperial War Museum, London

A modern history geek's delight!


I like the Imperial War Museum and hadn’t been for a few years so decided to make a return visit. In the intervening years it had undergone some remodeling, I had even seen a TV series giving a behind the scenes look at how they removed the major exhibition in the atrium. This exhibition contains a Harrier Jump jet which was lowered the wings removed and then placed on a large trailer and placed in storage. The atrium area had been redeveloped and a new permanent World War I exhibition was put together for the anniversary of WWI.

The Imperial War Museum has several sites in London, the HMS Belfast, a ship moored in The Thames is part of the museum as are the War Cabinet rooms, they’re well worth a visit. What I visited was the museum on the south side of The Thames, the location is nice as well as it’s removed from the crowds of central London. I got off at the nearest tube station which is Lambeth North and then it’s an easy 10 minute stroll to the museum, it’s very well signposted so no problems with not being able to find it.

The guns are from 2 different battle ships and were placed in front of the museum in the 1960s. There's a nice park surrounding the museum that was created by the then owner of the land, Lord Rothermere in the 1930s and named after his mother. He wanted a large open space for the people who lived nearby in depressed circumstances, with little to no open space.

The new WWI exhibition was extensive but I do have to admit, I didn’t particularly like it. There was an enormous amount of information, lots of reading and looking, if anything it was too text heavy. That then makes it less accessible to children who won't read anything! And for non native English speakers who find wading through screeds of text onerous.

Very informative, so it served its purpose to educate but I preferred the previous exhibit which was less informative and more experiential. The WWI trenches were recreated and you walked through them with the sights and sounds that would have been seen and heard during the war. It gave you a really good idea of what being in those trenches was like and that’s what made it a good exhibit in my view. An indication of how the new exhibition didn’t make an impression on me was that I didn’t really want to take photos of anything I was seeing. The exception being a letter from a 9 year old to Lord Kitchener, offering his services to the army.


The atrium has a V2 rocket, a flying V1 (rocket with wings on side) a Spitfire and a Harrier Jet.

The atrium has been redeveloped more than once. It was originally a courtyard and then enclosed.

The armoured press car was used in the conflict in Gaza and the windshield was shattered due to the violence experienced there. Also on the ground floor was the flattened remains of a car that been car bombed in Iraq.

The placement of the jeep amused me as if the case were "Oops, nearly drove it over the edge!"

The museum doesn't just house military history but also social history from the war years. Currently there's a display that is a case study of a particular family showing how they lived. In the past I had also seen a really good temporary exhibition on children during the Second World War.






At the moment there is also a temporary photographic exhibition of Afghanistan, a team from the museum travelled to Afghanistan specifically to document the mission there, after the withdrawal of British troops. Gifts presented to the team and placed in the museum.



There are temporary exhibitions as well, the current one that I saw was the Fashion during the war, which is due to end on August 31st. Interesting to see fashion from the era of remaking and being creative with what material  they had. The museum is free to enter but some temporary exhibitions may have a charge to see them, this one did.

There’s a large gallery of VC (Victoria Crosses, the UK highest order for bravery in battle). The medals were collected by Lord Ashcroft who has placed them on permanent display in the museum. Fascinating stories attached to the recipients, spent a good deal of time looking through and reading the stories. Unfortunately that was the only part of the museum I couldn’t take pictures!

Had a really interesting morning at the museum, paused to have lunch in the cafeteria there, good selection of food, and then moved onto my next tourist adventure!

For people like me who are interested in modern history this museum is great, it's free to enter, there's a good variety in the exhibitions with temporary as well as permanent ones. It means that you can make repeat visits and see different things, so a major thumbs up or 5 Gold stars from me for the Imperial War Museum.


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