With the country opening back up, I thought I’d take a trip up to Imperial War Museum in London. I’ve not been in about 15 years, so I thought it would be fun to revisit it and see what they have on display.
The Imperial War Museum is a short walk from the Elephant & Castle tube station and is housed in the main building of the old Bethlem psychiatric hospital, which closed in the 1920s.
When the building was a hospital, two long wings full of patient rooms stretched from either side of this central building. These are long gone now and what was the hospital grounds is now a park. If you visit on a nice day, it’s well worth having a stroll around the park as it’s such a historically significant place.
The atrium of the museum houses their Witnesses to War collection. As you walk in through the Northern entrance you’ll be greeted by a number of aircraft.
Firstly we have the Mk1a Spitfire; the poster child of the Battle of Britain.
The Harrier Jump Jet, capable of hovering, vertical takeoff and landing, is one of the most iconic post war British aircraft. They were brought into service in 1969 and were officially retired by the RAF in 2011, though various countries around the world still use them.
This particular example actually saw action in Afghanistan.
The Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka, or “Baka” to the Allies, was a rocket powered Kamikaze aircraft used against U.S shipping towards the end of the war.
The V2 rocket was the worlds first long range, guided missile. It was also the first man made object to reach space. Following the war, a lot of scientists that worked on the V2 project were employed by both the U.S and the U.S.S.R to help with the countries developing space programs and defense programs.
The first thing to catch my eye on the ground was the remains of this car.
On the 5th March 2007, at the Mutanabbi Street historic book market in Baghdad. A suicide bombing killed between 20 and 38 people (there are a number of conflicted sources), injured hundreds and caused such extensive damage it would take 18 months for the market to be repaired.
This car was destroyed in the blast and came into the hands of artist Jeremy Deller, who used it as a centre piece for ‘It is What it is’; a project that toured the U.S intended to stimulate unmediated conversation about the war in Iraq.
Following the tour, it was given to the Imperial War Museum where it stands in their atrium as a part of their ‘Witnesses to War’ collection.
I believe the car started life as either a BMW E36 saloon, or an E39 saloon. It’s kinda hard to tell.
Leading on from there we the Reuters Land Rover which was damaged in an Israeli rocket strike on Gaza in 2006. A Reuters cameraman and a local journalist were injured in the attack.
The last vehicle we’re going to look at in the atrium is the T34/85. The T34/85 is an updated variant of the famous early war T34. It’s 85mm gun was used effectively against Tiger 1s and the uparmoured Panzer IVs.
Coming off of the atrium is the WW1 collection. There’s a lot of interesting things to read about in there and a lot of displays that showed what life was like both in and out of the trenches as the war progressed.
I was in my element in there and so I’m afraid I didn’t take many pictures. I’d also rather recommend you go and see it in person. The collection tells a fantastic story.
Here we have a very early sniper’s suit:
This machine gun with the exposed brass water jacket was a thing of abstract beauty.
Heading upstairs we come to the Turning Points collection.
Here we have a few items from the North African campaign, where Montgomery’s 8th Army fought Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
This is Montgomery’s staff car.
Here we have a truck used by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). These guys would drive deep behind enemy lines to gather intelligence and often used two wheel drive trucks from Ford and Chevrolet, this example being a Chevrolet.
A Sherman tank used in the Normandy campaign.
This little guy is a Clark CA1. It’s a glider deployed bulldozer which was used to create temporary runways.
The ‘Little Boy’ atomic bomb casing. The atomic bomb ultimately leading to the end of the Second World War.
The next floor up covered 1945-present day. There’s a bit about the Cold War and some of the infomercials and pamphlets about what to do in a nuclear attack, as well as a few bits covering The Troubles in Northern Ireland (A topic I must look more into) and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
The most poignant piece in the exhibition was this window frame from the World Trade Center. The attacks of September 11th 2001 were a defining moment for my generation. It’s shaped the world we live in today in many ways.
Saddam Hussein tile mural. To be honest, this probably won’t be the tiles I use when I renovate my bathroom.
Mk2 Ferret used by U.N security forces.
A Humber Pig used in The Troubles.
The 4th floor is the Holocaust exhibition and honestly, if you’re looking for a reason to go to Imperial War Museum London, this is it. I spent about 2 hours in there.
The exhibition really goes in depth on how antisemitism came to be so prominent in Germany, life in the ghettos the Jews were forced to live in, the evolution of the way people were killed and the stories of those outside the Jewish faith that the Nazis targeted including gypsies and the mentally and physically ill.
Some of it does make for hard reading, but it’s super important that we understand not just what happened, but how it came to happen. I think the Imperial War Museum has done a fantastic job with that.
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By Richard Francis