Postcard of the Week: the Imperial War Museum in London
Here’s another item for historically-interested Londoners to add to their weekend hitlist: the Imperial War Museum. The IWM is made up of three different sites around London, including the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall, the HMS Belfast warship on the Thames near Tower Bridge, and the main museum itself in Lambeth, near Waterloo. There are two more outside of London too, in Manchester and Cambridgeshire. The two images in this blog post are both great postcards, on the left is a wartime poster I just adore, and below is a war slogan silk scarf from the 1940s.
The First and Second World Wars are standard subjects studied at GCSE level in the UK, so many of you reading this may have already visited the Imperial War Museum on a school trip. I didn’t personally take GCSE History, as my talents lied more in Geography (I am a travel writer after all, so an affinity for Geography is practically a pre-requisite). Thus my education in British history extended to those lovely Tudors, but not quite as far as the 20th century. I grew up hearing stories of the Second World War from my grandmother, and I feel it’s essential that our generation properly understand the sufferings and sacrifices made by our recent ancestors in order to protect us. So I thought it high time that I properly learnt about the two world wars by visiting my city’s museums.
The Imperial War Museum itself is free to enter, with temporary exhibitions that you can pay to visit. Currently on are a number of photograph and art exhibitions relating to various wars. I’m keen to see an exhibition of photographs by Lee Miller, one of the most important female war photographers, which opens on 15th October 2015 for 6 months. When I visited there was an exhibition on 1940s wartime fashion, which I confess was an admirable attempt on the part of the museum to entice more women to take an interest in our country’s past. I imagine that the museum’s normal visitors are overwhelmingly male and ageing. The curators clearly took inspiration from the V&A’s very successful fashion-exhibition-formula, but unfortunately I personally felt like they were dumbing down the Second World War to attract women. Perhaps that’s just the feminist in me that’s frustrated that people still believe the only way to appeal to a female audience is to dress it in pink and add an element of fashion – how patronising. (Feminist rant over, I promise). The rest of the museum is fantastic – really interactive and engaging, having only just received a £40 million renovation in 2014.
You should also pay a visit to the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall, which houses the Churchill Museum. During the Second World War the cabinet office moved underground to avoid the bomb threat, and after nearly forty years of abandonment after winning WWII, in 1984 they opened up this rabbit’s warren of rooms and passages to the public, to reveal where Winston Churchill held many of his cabinet meetings, where he took vital decisions and where the war was plotted on the walls of the mesmerising Map Room. In a large room is a really interesting museum dedicated to Churchill’s entire life, plotting his unremarkable early years and unusual rise to popularity, before his shock defeat in the 1945 general election so soon after winning WWII. Once again it’s very recently renovated and full of interactive displays and touch screens. In my book, both museums are fantastic examples of a compelling collection, and I was really impressed. Nothing stuffy and boring about the IWM.