Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1

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London is blessed with a large selection of excellent museums and galleries. The majority of these are free. The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is a good example of this. It is one of five Imperial War Museum locations in the UK, three of which are in London. Set up in the 1920s to commemorate the effort and sacrifice of Britain in First World War, it is now dedicated to the understanding of modern war, and confines itself to those conflicts in which Britain or the Commonwealth had some involvement.

The building is impressive, surrounded by the green lawns of Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, it is about a five minute walk from Lambeth North tube station. It has ionic columns at its entrance and an impressive dome. It also has its own interesting history, in the 19th Century it was the notorious Bethlem Royal Hospital, the psychiatric facility that allowed visitors to watch the inmates as public entertainment. It is this building that became the origin of the word bedlam.

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The museum is arranged over five floors. The top floor is the Lord Ashcroft gallery which has a large collection of medals awarded for bravery and the stories of many people who have been presented with them. It is an interesting investigation into the definition of courage and what inspires heroic acts.

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The fourth floor is dedicated to the holocaust and the rise of Nazism in the mid twentieth century. This contains a surprisingly in depth analysis of the political climate that led to the spreading of the ideology and a comprehensive presentation of its results. There is a scale model of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which really gives perspective to the magnitude of the crimes. This floor needs to be approached with care, the display is moving and distressing.

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The Third floor has an exhibit called Curiosities of War, which is a collection of unusual war related items. This is quirky and  comparatively light. The second floor is split between conflicts after WWII and a display about espionage. The recent conflicts exhibition is thought provoking, it brings current events sharply into focus. The spy section seems lightweight, I guess it is tough to say much about state secrets without giving those secrets away. This floor also holds a real size model of an atomic bomb, it is shocking how small it is.

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The two lowest floors hold the largest items, tanks, ambulances, rockets, large guns and planes….the remains of a vehicle that was once a car bomb. The descriptions of the items and the uses to which they were put is almost more interesting than viewing the items themselves.

The Hall of Remembrance, is a gallery that was proposed to be built containing artwork commissioned as a memorial to the war dead of WWI. The project ran out of money in the 1920s and was never completed. The Imperial War Museum holds all the artwork that was due to be shown in this gallery and has put it on their website in the form of a virtual gallery. This is a beautiful testimonial and well worth a visit, I have put a link here . 

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War is not entertainment and this will not be your jolliest day out in London. However, The Imperial War Museum is something that you really should visit when you come to the UK. It is wonderful that this city has such high quality resources and amazing that it offers them for free. The building has step free access and there is  parking for Blue Badge holders, but it needs to be booked. Recommended.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1

  1. I hold an ambivelence about museums of this nature (Washington, D.C. which is a day trip for us, has quite a few museums and lots of memorials along this line). I often watch the other folks in the museums to observe their responses… reverence? celebration? repulsion? at the glorification or cautionary tales that war displays may suggestion. I suspect that our response has as much to do with what we bring to the museum as to what the curators intended.

    Yet, I recognized from personal experience how such museums can influence one’s views on international conflicts. The image of a replica of one of the automic bomb reminded me of when I was 8 years old and our family visited Hiroshima, Japan. We toured the museum which has similar displays of objects and photographs of the bombings of Hiroshim and Nagasaki. The images of people’s shadows cast upon the sidewalks, steps, and wall of buildings when they were instantly incinerated by the explosion, and images of people’s skin melting off them of the from radiation poisoning left quite an impression of what we can do to each other through technology.

    If you or your relatives lived through the air raids of WWII, I need not tell you about what war can do to people.

    -Oscar

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, you are quite correct, and there was a time when I would have been more likely to be protesting outside than visiting. Having gone inside, although I dislike the idea that it might be being presented as entertainment, I think it is more of an educational place, and one can’t help but be moved by the exhibits and what they represent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a sobering, haunting experience.

    We visited The Canadian War Museum several years ago, and we were moved by the exhibits. These are tough exhibits to visit, but I think they’re necessary. They don’t replace the experience of war, but they give us an idea of how horrible it is.

    Liked by 1 person

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