I’ve always been fascinated by what happened during the First & Second World Wars. Questions such as why did they happen, how did it happen twice and who caused such atrocities are all questions addressed in history lessons from years gone by.
But, how do you understand what it was like to experience the wars, the front line, imprisonment, rationing & living through the war back home. In particular the Second World War really was a ‘total war’ on the frontline and back home.
2014 commemorated the centenary of the beginning of the First World War and as part of remembering this occasion the Imperial War Museum renovated its museum in London. First opened in 1920 by King George V, the Imperial War Museum was established while the First World War was still being fought to ensure that future generations would remember the toil and sacrifice of those affected by it.
Located approximately five minutes walk from Waterloo Station the museum is in a 19th-century brick façade of the former Bedlam Hospital in St George’s Fields in Southwark.
I arrived on a warm autumnal afternoon having been to another client meeting in the morning. It’s free to get in but you need to book a ticket for First World War galleries and with six floors you need to focus on what you want to see and plan accordingly.
Immediately you are greeted by 15 inch Naval guns outside the museum and then inside the museum is the newly configured Atrium with iconic large object displays and a number of new exhibitions, public spaces, shops and cafes.
Queuing up for the First World War galleries I’m surrounded by a Spitfire, tanks, V1 ‘doodle bug’ rockets, a soviet T-34 tank and a Reuters Land Rover damaged by a rocket attack in Gaza! At risk of glorifying war with such memorabilia there is a memorial-like artwork by the Turner Prize-winner Jeremy Deller that takes pride of place in the middle of the atrium floor. Consisting of the mangled metal carcass of an unknown car destroyed during a bomb attack on a crowded book market in Baghdad in 2007. It clearly remove any glorious notions of war.
First World War gallery
The purpose of the gallery is to tell the story of the First World War through the lives of those who experienced it, both on the front line and at home.
Upon entering the First World gallery the scene is set with films providing such facts as “over half of all men have the vote but no women” and an interactive animated map at a child’s eye level allows you to see the political climate across Europe helping to explain how the war began. This is then followed by a video using scrolling newspaper articles and a voice over explain.
The interactivity is excellent and varies from touch screens, video animations, and sounds of what was going on, all supported with interesting facts about what was happening. The galleries are full of artefacts from the front line and at home.
It was clearly a time of forced innovation as this gave either side a better chance of winning and individuals a better chance of living.
For example fake spy trees that replaced existing trees. Artists in the Royal Engineers were tasked with meticulously selecting a real tree on the battlefield by measuring and photographing it extensively. The fakes trees were then created as hollow steel cylinders and replaced the real trees under the cover of darkness. Overnight a sniper would crawl into the fake tree and pass back information about enemy lines.
This is one of those places that you could revisit many times and learn something new on each visit.
Creativity design – propaganda during Second World War
Short on time I quickly visited the Second World War gallery and was particularly interested in the war time propaganda, in specifically the posters. Due to a shortage of paper, artists / cartoonists / illustrators were all keen on helping the government war effort. To ensure the home front did survive the British Government mounted a determined propaganda campaign to maintain the spirits of everyone concerned. Now famous slogans such as ‘Dig for victory’, ‘Be like Dad, Keep Mum, and ‘Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases’ have all become common parlance today.
Cheering up the nation – Your Courage, Your cheerfulness, Your resolution – will bring us victory. The common theme is simplicity to improve the situation but they cover issues from:
- Safety – Go warily after dark and get there
- Travel – Staggered travelling saves busy workers time
- Kitchen front – Grow your own food, Victory harvest – come and help
- Austerity – Make do and mend
- Discreteness – Careless talk, costs lives
- Health – Night & day brush the cobwebs away
- The cause – Your Britain, fight for it now
My main observation was that many of these issues and slogans are still applicable to modern life in some form. It shows great creativity never ages.
So in summary my visit was a great shot in the arm of history and creativity mixed together and my only problem with the museum was time – I just didn’t have enough of it to do it justice. However, the next time I have a few minutes spare, instead of waiting for the train at Waterloo I will be getting another dose of history.
Author: Henry Sanford
Henry is an experienced online communications consultant who has worked with a number of FTSE 100/250 companies, helping them to communicate with their key stakeholders whilst maximising their use of data to generate informed decisions and increased engagement with customers. He heads up our Digital and Corporate Reporting teams, and is interested in all gadgets that make life simpler. Recent projects include an international product launch across Europe, Middle East & Africa as well as leading a large data integration project in the UK. A fan of all sports, he is often seen supporting the Exeter Chiefs most weekends but without the headdress and tomahawk!