Thursday, November 06, 2014

I have been to... The Imperial war Museum WWI Exhibition

My dad was down to the smoke for the weekend to see the display of poppies at the Tower of London - he's bought one, but especially wanted to see the whole display... what better excuse for the southern branch of the family to meet the Scottish branch in London for the day, also an excellent excuse for me to go with him to see the recently refurbished and re-opened Imperial War Museum (you may remember that I had gone up last December and vast swathes of it were shut .. [clicky]), and especially the WWI Exhibition which I had heard so many good things about...

First and foremost, an apology, I particularly like to put pictures up here that I think might be useful for wargamers, but I can honestly say that on a grey wet day in London, the muted lighting in the museum roundly beat my little compact into a heap..  so, sorry about quality...

Anyone who has been to the museum in the past  will have seen the entry hall - but it still never fails to amaze..  V2 and V1, a Spitfire, and dominating them all a Harrier...

The museum is on five floors, and on the day I visited, because of the aforementioned weather, it was absolutely rammed with visitors.. entry to the WWI Exhibition was therefore by ticket, and as it turned out I had an hour to wait, I started off with a look round the The Lord Ashcroft Gallery dedicated to winners of the Victoria Cross and George Cross... fascinating to read the individual citations, 90%+ of them involving the recovery of a comrade while under varying levels of fire...  well worthwhile and very thought provoking, I dare anyone to deny they didn't think "could I have done that?". By the way I also particularly enjoyed the facsimiles of the old Victor comic [clicky] of my youth that featured a number of the recipients as it's front cover story - it was always my favourite comic - nice to see it again even if it was a replica....!

So down to the WWI exhibit at our allotted time and I have to say the entire exhibit, both content and layout, was brilliant.. the exhibits were laid out by year - beginning at the entrance with pre-war, what life was like, the importance of emigration (I was surprised the percentage of the population who were emigrating - but of course it had a massive positive impact on recruitment later from Australia and Canada and the other Commonwealth countries), average life expectancy (between 50 & 54 for the working class), and income...

We then moved into the war years after a good overview of how we ended up at war following the assassination of a remote Arch Duke..

I was particularly taken by the uniform displays showing showing how they changed as the war went on...

So 1914 - first German, and then the more colourful French..  (by the way - I hadn't realised that the spike on the traditional pickelhaube [clicky] helmet was designed that way to deflect sword blows by cavalry)

Once again - sorry about the quality....  note the red lettering - internet research indicate that the Germans used green from August 1914, presumably as it was less obvious

..and French - "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre", look at those red trousers..  superb...

Later on the uniforms start to morph - Canadians and Indian from about 1916 I think..  univeral shift to khaki, mud tones...

I forget but I think this was either Belgian or Dutch - they modelled their steel helmet very closely on the French pattern...

Turkish infantry..  Gallipoli campaign...  note the carriage mounted Maxim in the background - superb..

Later years now, and the formation of the storm troop theory - lots of grenades and short sharp assaults....

Late war...  US, British and French - the French alone continued to buck the trend towards mud coloured uniforms....  I read in the exhibition that the introduction of the soup bowl steel helmet by the British resulted in an almost 40% drop in the number of casualties as a result of head injury...

Once out of the exhibition it was time for a beer - but not before a gratuitous shot of the T34 in the main hall..  seemed a shame not to!

Close up on the track detail...

In a word the WWI exhibition is simply superb...  thoroughly recommended to anyone with an interest in military history, whether you have read on WWI or not...   I fully intend going back to have another look, hopefully on a quieter day when I can spend a little more time looking at the exhibits..

More details and far better pictures here:


  1. Lovely stuff, thanks for sharing.

    1. Cheers AJ... well worth going to if you get the chance...

  2. Sensational pictures Steve.

  3. I visited in late August and thoroughly endorse your praise for the WW1 exhibition. Even my wife was fascinated and she's not known for her interest in "war". There is a lot to see and read and we spent about two hours in it but could have taken longer, though the throng of visitors meant dwell time was a bit pressured. Must admit I was a bit disappointed in the rest of the museum compared to years ago when it was packed with WW2 vehicles/tanks etc and also had model soldiers dioramas. The labeling on some of the exhibits is now a bit confusing....or am i just getting old.....? Even so, the Duchess thought it was all tremendous.
    Chris G

    1. Thanks Chris... I've noted your observation about labelling in a number of museums just lately... I think the young people may be graduating from "museum school"... :o) Having said that, I much prefer the more dynamic and imaginative displays compared to those of my youth, far more immersive experience... PS. Time for another hussarette.... :o)

    2. I made a complaint about the IWM labelling whilst there myself. none of the exhibits are actually labelled and you have to refer to a wall plan to see whats what to find out any information. Very poor use of design IMHO

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  5. We went to the IWM at a time when there were no WW1 tickets available. The place was rammed to the doors as it had just reopened. I had a chance to chat to the library staff about the old reading room and doing research. Its still there but hidden away for serious academics. Sadly since then due to a £4M budget shortfall they have announced plans to close the reading room and library and make all the staff there redundant. Having remembered the old museum from the 1960's I cant say I was impressed with the new design and layout.I asked where the German surrender document was that used to be on display and was told that its in store now. They basically gutted the building to make three floors or open walk round space and removed 75% of the exhibits. Mind you we have had a few wars since the 1960's. If you have a general interest in history its worth a visit but dont expect to see much that will broaden your knowledge.