Friday, July 15, 2011

The Imperial War Museum

In the morning I decided to go to the Imperial War Museum. It’s a short walk from where I’m staying at King’s College Apartments on Stamford Street in Lambeth. After a fifteen-minute walk I arrived at the entrance to the museum. The security guards were checking purses and bags. The one exhibit that caught my attention right off was called The Children’s War. Along with that was the Once Upon a Wartime exhibit. They were really well done with a variety of artifacts, including children’s letters home to parents, teddy bears, suitcases, and child sized gas masks. Throughout the exhibit were touchscreen displays that gave timelines of events and background history. There were so many stories of the children that were evacuated from London to the British countryside, the United States, or if they were orphans shipped off to Australia. From what I can recall there were an estimated seven thousand children killed in London, and about another seven thousand injured due to the Nazi Blitzkrieg.

Another interesting fact to me was that schoolteachers were required to evacuate with their students to the countryside. Classes were held in the morning and the students had the afternoons free to explore their new homes. At this time students were required to stay in school until they reached fifteen years of age. Near the school room display there was a touchscreen display that included a journal of a teacher at an all boys’ school. The teacher made entries about evacuation drills to the bomb shelters, how students were required to carry their gasmasks at all times, and how some students were absent from school because their father and/or older brother(s) were visiting on leave from their military duties.

Included in this area of the museum was a replica of the interior of a typical 1940s British home. It showed a child’s bedroom, a teenager’s bedroom, the parents’ bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. What was most remarkable was the in home bomb shelter assembled in the main living space. It looked like a metal table with wire fencing on the side. Lovely!

Past this display was a replica of the interior of a prefab home. Apparently so many homes were either completely destroyed or uninhabitable that homeless London residents were provided with prefabricated homes. The replica reminded me of today’s modular homes. I was left wondering if any of these homes are still in use today, or if people replaced them when they were able to do so.

The next exhibit I visited was the John Singer Sargent Gallery. In it is his huge painting show the soldiers who have experienced mustard gas poisoning, have their eyes bandaged and are walking with one hand on the shoulder of the soldier in front of them. Within the same exhibit hall, there was another artist by the name of Nash whose painting style I really admired. On the same floor there is an exhibit of Women War Artists. I skimmed this exhibit but noted the beautiful depictions of women factory workers and women working with the war wounded.

New to the Imperial War Museum is the Explore History Centre. It is on the floor up from the ground floor of the museum and has two museum staff stationed at a help desk, and another room with about twenty computers for research. They boast to have a user-friendly catalogue and interactive multimedia displays of the museum’s archives’ treasures. While I was there, a woman researching a person of interest discovered that that person earned medals. She was very excited, but the only glitch was that she’d have to travel to Canada to see them.

If I hadn’t had an appointment to tour the London Library, I would have explored the museum store. Nevertheless, the museum is a fifteen-minute walk from where I’m staying so I’ll have to try to get back there at some point.

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