Visit London Blog » medals Enjoy the very best of London Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:51:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Olympic Journey Exhibition at the Royal Opera House Wed, 01 Aug 2012 07:14:08 +0000

This week I travelled all the way from Ancient Greece, through 19th-century France to land smack bang in the middle of Olympic London 2012 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

The ROH’s The Olympic Journey: The Story of the Games exhibition is a nice primer on the history of the games, followed by a just-what-I-wanted-to-see display of Olympic hardware in the form of torches, medals and select athletes’ memorabilia.

Beginning with the first Olympic Games almost 3,000 years ago, the show features sportily decorated Greek amphora dating from around 500BC, which inspires a cool animation of a chariot race. Moving on to Paris in the 1890s, we meet Pierre de Coubertin, whose vision of a civilising universal sporting event drove him, via the village of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, to create the modern Olympic Games. The first games of the modern Olympiad were held in Athens in 1896.

Following the history lesson, you get to see the Olympic Torches that were used for each games from Berlin 1936 onwards, accompanied by footage and diagrams of the most interesting torch routes. I found this bit unexpectedly moving, perhaps because it’s where local heroes and communities get directly involved in what is arguably the most “universal” event that happens in our world to this day.

The final room shows a set of medals from every summer Olympics (confirming my suspicion that the London 2012 medals are huge – the biggest yet!). There’s also a display on the games throughout the years comprising personal memorabilia from 20 representative athletes, who demonstrate the values of the Olympic movement.

The Olympic Journey: The Story of the Games is a great little exhibition. It’s free to enter and only takes about 45 mins to 1 hour to see. Plus there’s the opportunity to get your picture taken with the London 2012 torch – just be sure to grip it a little more firmly than I did (see above).

]]> 4
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

]]> 3