Day 8: Imperial War Museum

REFLECTIVE BLOG

Friday, July 3, 215
Hello again!

Friday was a day for independent research. Thusly ordered, I slept in.

Really though, I went to bed early Thursday night and slept in a bit Friday morning with the hopes of kicking these sniffles. I think it might have worked a touch because I feel much better.

With the whole day ahead of me I worked some on blog posts and did a little research. I then set off in the afternoon toward the Imperial War Museum. It just so happens to be within walking distance of the King’s College Waterloo dorms.

Imperial War Museum building (via K. Emmons)
Imperial War Museum building (via K. Emmons)

The Imperial War Museum was established in 1920 to collect and display items for the Great War (World War I). It wasn’t until 1936 that the IWM moved to the above location, the former central portion of Bethlem Royal Hospital or ‘Bedlam.’

Bethlem Royal Hospital circa 1896 at St George's Fields (via Wikipedia)
Bethlem Royal Hospital circa 1896 at St George’s Fields (via Wikipedia)

Yeah, that Bedlam. Whatta history!

The first exhibition I visited was the World War I section on the lower level. The exhibits there were astounding!

Video map displaying the relations between countries of WWI (via K. Emmons)
Video map displaying the relations between countries of WWI (via K. Emmons)

The level of interactivity and intensity was very unique but similar; we saw some of this at the Museum of London. Obviously a lot of time and effort was spent installing the exhibit, but it is also one of the oldest exhibits in the museum. It makes sense that it is well done.

WWI propaganda (via K. Emmons)
WWI propaganda (via K. Emmons)

Britain was the focus and perspective of most of the exhibit, as is to be expected. Irish and Scottish regiments were highlighted and the American perspective was noted when they entered the War. One section was devoted to giving patrons the experience of being in a trench with 8 foot walls and shadows as if men were walking above you – complete with bomb and gun sounds too.

Photographs of WWI (via K. Emmons)
Photographs of WWI (via K. Emmons)

Some areas were difficult to read about, but that could be because I’m empathetic. Other areas were a little more light hearted, such as the area to dress up like a soldier. The whole exhibit is set up to make you think and feel the Great War experience.

Sign at the end of the WWI exhibit (via K. Emmons)
Sign at the end of the WWI exhibit (via K. Emmons)

WWI was a war like never before. Modern technology changed things from a gentleman’s game to something more horrific. Machine guns and barbed wire ended traditional military tactics. Like it says above, “The First World War shaped the modern world.”

Wandering to other floors, I saw a lot of other war collections, but nothing quite like the Great War exhibit. Of particular note was a window frame from one of the Twin Towers attacked on 9/11…

Window frame from Twin Towers (via K. Emmons)
Window frame from Twin Towers (via K. Emmons)

…a library area where it seems like they’re outsourcing the archive. The Lives of the First World War poster on the right asks the public to contribute images and stories of those who fought or contributed in the Great War. I’ve linked the website above if you want to contribute!

Library and archive (via K. Emmons)
Library and archive (via K. Emmons)

There was also a leaflet about a new American Air Museum in Britain that people can contribute stories and images. This was special to me since my mom’s father flew a B-17 in WWII and was stationed in England. I’ll have to find his letters to contribute! Again I’ve linked the website if you want to know more information.

American Air Museum in Britain leaflet (via K. Emmons)
American Air Museum in Britain leaflet (via K. Emmons)

There was also an exhibit on spies: Secret War.

Spy fiction come to life! (via K. Emmons)
Spy fiction come to life! (via K. Emmons)

Loads of great material was tucked away in this exhibit: matches that worked as writing utensils, radio suitcases, and compass pipes among other crazy gadgets. My favorite was the Enigma Machine.

A German Enigma Machine (via K. Emmons)
A German Enigma Machine (via K. Emmons)

Having just seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Imitation Game, this was super exciting.

I also got to watch a video about the Iranian Embassy siege in London on May 5, 1980. Six armed men took 26 hostages over a five day period that ended with Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), similar to the Green Berets perhaps (?), killing five of the six assailants and rescuing most of the hostages.

What was most interesting to me, being an information professional, was how they got the information for the spy exhibit. The museum would have had to have gotten permission from MI5 and MI6 and probably the government to display these items. It’s sensitive material! Most likely, the government/military would have had a strong influence over what was being said about the collection too. Lo, and behold at the end of the exhibit we get two disclaimers:

DISCLAIMER: Limits on what the IMW can display (via K. Emmons)
DISCLAIMER: Limits on what the IMW can display (via K. Emmons)

tl;dr British Intelligence has become more open, but there are still limits; this is a regulated exhibit

80% of the SOE documents were destroyed after WWII (via K. Emmons)
80% of the SOE documents were destroyed after WWII (via K. Emmons)

Interesting, to say the least.

Would American bureaus do this? I did a quick search on Google and found a Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Better to regulate what the population can see than what they might find out, right? *dons the aluminum foil hat*

I also went up to the top floor to see the Holocaust exhibit. No photos were allowed to be taken and a note was on the door saying that children under 14 might not want to see this. I won’t say too much about it, because words aren’t enough. An aside first…

In 2010 I was fortunate enough to visit Berlin with my German studies class. We visited the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, the Story of Berlin Museum, the Holocaust Memorial, and Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I’ve seen the German telling of the events and it wasn’t easy then.

Checkpoint Charlie in 2010 (via K. Emmons)
Checkpoint Charlie in 2010 (via K. Emmons)
The Story of Berlin Museum (via K. Emmons)
The Story of Berlin Museum, 2010 (via K. Emmons)
Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, 2010 (via K. Emmons)
Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, 2010 (via K. Emmons)
Sachsenhausen... work makes you free (via K. Emmons)
Sachsenhausen… work makes you free (via K. Emmons)

Neither, was the English telling of the Holocaust in the IWM exhibit. It was interesting though, to hear what parts were revealed to the UK public and at what times. The UK was affected and so was the rest of Europe by those events. It’d be interesting to compare how the two perspectives are told.

Well, ending on heavy note…

On to day 9!

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2 thoughts on “Day 8: Imperial War Museum

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