Visit London Blog » imperial war museum Enjoy the very best of London Fri, 18 Apr 2014 09:00:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 London Video of the Week: Transforming Imperial War Museum London Fri, 09 Aug 2013 15:12:57 +0000

The Imperial War Museum is revamping its galleries and this fascinating video shows what’s going on behind the scenes. Having been closed since January, the museum has now partially reopened with a new Horrible Histories: Spies exhibition. The results of all the work will be revealed next year, when the building fully reopens in time for the First World War Centenary. Read more on the Transforming IWM London blog.

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Gun Turret Experience on HMS Belfast Wed, 03 Aug 2011 09:00:20 +0000 HMS Belfast just keeps getting better! After opening up its operations room earlier in the year, the ship has now added an exciting installation allowing you to experience the atmosphere and conditions of a cramped gun turret.

Guest blogger Mark Baynes went along to find out more:

Visitors to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London are often surprised to see HMS Belfast moored just a stone’s throw away. Those who venture inside this mighty warship are in for another surprise as they can now experience the reality of fighting at sea during World War II with the new Gun Turret Experience.

Step inside the triple gun turret overlooking the Belfast’s quarterdeck and you will see, hear and most certainly feel the central gun being raised and fired. The physical and emotional sensations are certain to be vivid memories to take from a trip to the heart of London.

The Gun Turret Experience: A Sailor’s Story, 1943 has been developed with the help of Royal Navy veterans and eye witness accounts from the archives of the Imperial War Museum.

Exhibitions Manager Cressida Finch said:

“This installation came about because we wanted to find ways of making the experience of working on HMS Belfast more understandable for our visitors especially for families. During our research we looked at a variety of people who worked in the gun turrets, especially in the Battle of the North Cape. In the storyline that you will hear we have woven together the words of the actual people who fought there.”

 HMS Belfast, Morgan’s Lane, Tooley Street, SE1 2JH

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Iraq in London: Mesopotamian Collection at the British Museum and Jeremy Deller’s Baghdad, 5 March 2007 Fri, 11 Feb 2011 10:00:20 +0000 To cover Iraq for our World in London project, we found examples of the country’s fascinating ancient history, as well as a shocking example of the current conflict in Iraq.

The British Museum holds the biggest Mesopotamian collection outside of Iraq. In Room 56 you can see objects illustrating the invention of writing, agriculture and developments in technology and artistry, showing why Mesopotamia (now Iraq, north east Syria and part of south east Turkey) is known as “the cradle of civilisation”.

The museum is also working to preserve Iraq’s cultural heritage by providing conservation, archaeological and curatorial assistance to Iraq since 2003.

The Imperial War Museum is displaying an object showing the impact of the war in Iraq on civilian life. Baghdad, 5 March 2007 by Jeremy Deller is a car salvaged from a street market bombing in Baghdad. The museum’s Head of Collections, Roger Tolson, explains its importance:

“We are a museum about all aspects of conflict and this object has immediacy with the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Although this car is 3 years old it is part of an ongoing conflict. It shows the causes, consequences and conduct of war.

“We are showing it in the main atrium which predominantly contains machinery designed to kill or maim. This was a civilian car, part of an individual or family’s life. It shows how conflict transforms life.

“It’s not the obvious face of the Imperial War Museum. In the early days on display, people were coming to the museum for the first time to see the car.

“I think it’s important for us to be collecting these materials for future generations but what we can’t do is evaluate the story yet like we can with the First World War. These are still raw events but it’s important to show different aspects of conflicts and this part of the story. To see things in real life not just on TV. It gives a sense of the sheer force of these things.”

The car is on display in London until April 2011, when it will move to Imperial War Museum North.

Have you come across any examples of Iraq in London? Tell us in the comments below.

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Once Upon a Wartime Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum Thu, 10 Feb 2011 15:00:45 +0000 This morning I went to see the Imperial War Museum’s new exhibition, Once Upon a Wartime: Classic War Stories for Children which opens tomorrow.

The exhibition is split into five sections – one for each of the books it explores: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, The Silver Sword by Ian Serraeillier, The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall and Little Soldier by Bernard Ashley.

Like the books, the exhibition is very emotive, showing conflict through a child’s eyes. There are sad aspects – telling how 250,000 horses died in the First World War, displays of weapons used by child soldiers and tales of displaced families across Europe. But there are also happier moments - a photograph of author Nina Bawden feeding a lamb during her own evacuation and how Robert Westall was inspired to write The Machine Gunners in order to be closer to his son.

Any budding novelists will be interested to see how the authors wrote the books. There’s lots of information about how they developed the stories and there are first drafts, notebooks and even an old typewriter on display.

There are life-sized models of important parts of some of the books –  you can look through the cupboards in Hepzibah’s kitchen from Carries War and go inside the secret fortress from The Machine Gunners.

As well as the exhibition, the museum is running a series of events, including a children’s war literature festival in August.

If you’re a fan of any of the books featured in the exhibition or even fancy writing a children’s book yourself, it’s definitely worth a trip to the museum.

Once Upon A Wartime at the Imperial War Museum. 11 Feb-30 Oct 2011.

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The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes at the Imperial War Museum Wed, 10 Nov 2010 16:00:18 +0000 Matthew Croucher GC with Principal Historian Nigel Steel as he hands over his George Cross on loan to IWM ©Imperial War Museum Matthew Croucher GC's damaged daysack, on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery ©Imperial War Museum Johnson Beharry VC at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, 22 June 2010 ©Imperial War Museum The helmet Johnson Beharry VC was wearing on 11 June 2004. ©Imperial War Museum Portrait of Odette Sansom GC who worked undercover in France from 1942. SHe endured months of solitary confinement and death threats, but revealed nothing Edward Foster's medals. Image by the author Copies of comic The Victor are also on display. Image by the author Sergeant Thomas Mottershead's medals The goggles worn by Sergeant Thomas Mottershead VC in 1917. Image by the author

There’s a brand new permanent gallery opening at London’s Imperial War Museum on Friday: the Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Yesterday, I went along for a sneak preview.

Tucked away on the fourth floor of the museum, visiting the Lord Ashcroft Gallery feels a bit like  climbing into the loft of a big old house. And the incredible personal stories, medals, diaries, old comics and items of clothing only serve to feed the feeling you’re exploring a wonderful attic room.

The basis for Extraordinary Heroes is Lord Ashcroft’s collection of Victoria Crosses – medals given for acts of extreme bravery carried out under direct enemy fire. The collection of 164 awards, which date from the Crimean War to the Falklands War, are on display alongside 48 Victoria Crosses already held by the museum. There are also 31 George Crosses (medals given for extreme bravery in peacetime, and in wartime away from battle) in the exhibition.

The medals themselves are striking: the colourful ribbons and display cases highlight the fact that these are incredibly special items. But it’s the stories behind the medals that really come to life in this exhibition.

The Extraordinary Heroes display has been laid out in seven themes:

  • Aggression
  • Boldness
  • Endurance
  • Initiative
  • Leadership
  • Sacrifice
  • Skill

Rather than creating a timeline of medals, this display acknowledges that incredible bravery through endurance deserved the same recognition in the 1800s as it does today.

As Nigel Steel, the principal historian on the gallery project told The Telegraph, “We are trying to create a space in which people can think about courage.

“There may be different types of bravery but the one thing in common about the people commemorated here is that they had a choice. They could have gone the other way and looked after themselves but they chose not to.”

And this exhibition is more than a set of medals in cases. Innovative boxes, listening posts, video, interactive touch-screens, comic books and transcribed diaries and letters all work together to create a really immersive experience, and mean this is a display that’ll appeal to the whole family.

So, alongside the medals, you can see the ripped backpack worn by Lance Corporal Matt Croucher GC. When he tripped a wire in a Taliban bomb factory in 2008, Croucher threw himself and his backpack onto the grenade, smothering its explosion, and saving his and his comrades’ lives. You can also see the diving suit worn by Acting Leading Seaman James Magennis in his VC action, setting mines in 1945. And the goggles worn by Sergeant Thomas Mottershead VC in 1917.

Children (and adults!) will enjoy “collecting” seven medals, one for each of the themes, by stamping a paper medal in an extraordinary hero treasure hunt.

I loved the little hand-written notes on some of the cases “Only 18″, “Beating the Blitz”, and “Dr VC” – they made me feel as though I was sharing in a really well-loved, personal collection.

It’s the focus on the personal that makes this gallery well worth a visit. I suggest anyone who might be less interested in the big impersonal bits of machinery in the main gallery of the Imperial War Museum heads to this fantastic “attic space” and enjoy a few quieter moments reflecting on the lives of some extraordinary people.

The Lord Ashcroft Gallery opens to the public on 12 November. Entrance to the Imperial War Museum is free. See more images at

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Ministry of Food Cookery Demonstration Thu, 17 Jun 2010 09:00:35 +0000

On Saturday I headed south to the Imperial War Museum to view the Ministry of Food exhibition and attend a cookery demonstration from Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall and Sophie Grigson sponsored by the Company of Cooks.

During the 1930s, Britain was very reliant on imports to feed the nation and the Ministry of Food was the key organisation in encouraging the nation to eat well (for strength and vigour!) and manage food stocks in war (and post-war) Britain.

The art works are fabulous, Dig for Victory really was an inspired campaign, as are all of the examples of foodstuffs from the period; whether sweets or soapsuds.

The introduction of rationing and instruction on health management through eating well actually improved outcomes for a range of health indicators.  To me  it’s just all so relevant now with obesity and other health issues on the rise and the credit crunch putting pressure on the family wallet.

I’d also spent a couple of hours making my way through the holocaust exhibit, so it was good to cheer myself up with someone cooking a potato and herb floddie, the equivalent of a British rosti .  The demonstration was an amusing hour and a half as the two cooks meandered their way through a split pea and ham soup with a very long French name (having been served at The Dorchester – how posh),  the aforementioned floddies and sorrel salad, and some jelly mastery with leaf gelatine, juices and egg cups.

Jane was born just before the war in 1939 so grew up in the rationing period through til the early 50′s. She’s the author of the Good Granny Cookbook, and other similar volumes and was tasked with producing the accompanying book for the exhibit.  Sophie is a well known TV chef with several cookbooks and obviously loves her veggies!

The last of the three demonstrations is on Saturday 19 June with Allegra McEvedy and Henry Harris and focuses on finding free tasty treats for the dinner table.  After a long discussion on Saturday about the merits of making ones own elderflower cordial I should imagine it will be an entertaining and informative hour!

Ministry of  Food is at the Imperial War Museum until January 2011. £4.95 for adult ticket

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The Ministry of Food at Imperial War Museum Wed, 10 Feb 2010 14:28:12 +0000 Reduce waste, clear your plate and grow your own – not just good advice in a recession, but lifesaving measures on the Home Front during the Second World War.

With food supplies in short supply in the 1940s, the British public needed to become more self-sufficient and efficient with food. The Imperial War Museum‘s new exhibition, The Ministry of Food, shows how they managed.

The Ministry of Food exhibition takes you through the different areas of the Home Front, with posters, video, and plenty of plastic food on display.

Rationing was introduced in the 1940s. If you struggle to come up with meal ideas despite today’s choices, imagine making something tasty and inventive with your allocation of dried eggs, potatoes and a tin of Spam! I tried some “mock cream” at this morning’s press view – that’s sweetened, whipped margarine as a replacement for cream, and it tasted pretty close to the real thing.

Most worryingly (for me!), tea was rationed to two ounces per week. But, with tea as an important morale booster, tea stocks were dispersed to more than 500 locations to minimise chances of destruction in an air raid. (Phew!)

But rationing did have benefits. The exhibition shows how the government educated people about nutrition through poster campaigns and friendly cartoon characters such as Doctor Carrot. Infant mortality rates actually went down during rationing.

With food a precious commodity, people were much more aware of waste; scraps were saved for feeding animals, the Women’s Institute set up a network of 5,800 preservation centres to use up surplus fruit, and even washing up was limited to twice a day to preserve soap and water.

Ministry of Food is a great insight into the everyday changes people made during the Second World War. While you’re there, make sure you take some time to look around the Imperial War Museum’s impressive permanent collection too.

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Winston Churchill’s Britain At War Experience Thu, 17 Dec 2009 12:21:24 +0000 Gas maskWinston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience is a hidden gem just down the road from the London Dungeon near London Bridge station.

This permanent exhibition explores life for everyday citizens in Britain during the Second World War.

You can huddle under an Anderson shelter, see real wartime bombs and hear children’s experiences of evacuation.

You may have been stuck on the Tube before, but can you image sleeping down there? The underground tunnels were one of the places Londoners sheltered during the air raids of World War Two. With no toilets, people had to relieve themselves on the tracks – and by all accounts, things became rather stinky!

After the main exhibition, we entered a dark, smokey room to see the ruins of a bomb-hit building. Sirens, flashing lights and even body-parts brought home just how much damage the bombs did.

For me, the most fascinating aspect of the exhibition was finding out how people managed to carry on and make the best of things despite rationing and the ever-present fear of being bombed.

For example, couples getting married at the time would have to make do with a cardboard wedding cake as food was in short supply. Cake companies would hire out a replica cake for the day, and if you were lucky, there’d be a small drawer inside with a tiny slice of real cake to enjoy.

If you like retro-style postcards, magnets and badges, I’d also recommend a trip to the gift shop afterwards. You can even pick up a replica ration book.

Or if you’d like to try a 1940s Christmas this year, take a look at the Imperial War Museum’s Wartime Christmas Pudding recipe.

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Imperial War Museum London Wartime Christmas Pudding Recipe Christmas Card Thu, 10 Dec 2009 10:51:43 +0000 Wartime Christmas Pudding recipe

We thought we’d share the fascinating Christmas card we received from the Imperial War Museum London.

A new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum London opens in February called The Ministry of Food which explores life during food rationing in the Second World War. The Christmas pudding recipe reflects the ingredients which would have been available at the time.

Any volunteers to cook it?

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