7 min read

The Imperial War Museum, London

I love London, it is one of my favourite cities and with so much to see and do I always try to visit somewhere different each time be it an attraction or a museum. On my last visit to London, The Imperial War Museum was closed and undergoing a major refurbishment. It reopened in 2014 to coincide with the centenary of the start of the First World War. I made sure this time it was top of my list of must see places.

The Imperial War Museum was created in 1917 to collect and display material relating to World War I. In 1939 the Museum started adding artefacts from the Second World War and eventually it began its current policy of including memorabilia from all modern British conflict.


The museum has occupied the former Bethlem Royal Hospital also known as Bedlam on Lambeth Road since 1936. The 15-inch guns you see outside the museum; one had been mounted on the Royal Navy’s HMS Ramillies and the other on both HMS Resolution and HMS Roberts. Both have been fired in action during the Second World War.

Admission to the Imperial War Museum is free although to visit some exhibitions you will have to pay. Entering the museum, you see ‘Witnesses to War’, nine iconic objects including a Harrier, Spitfire and V-2 rocket suspended from the ceiling.

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The wreckage of a car destroyed by a bomb during the Iraq War.


Also on the ground floor is the new permanent First World War Galleries, a highlight of which is a trench complete with periscopes, sounds and projections recreating what life was like behind the front line on the Western Front.

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The White Feather Movement was a propaganda campaign in England during WWI to encourage men to enlist in the army. White feathers (a symbol of cowardice and failure to fulfill their male duties) were given out by the women of the Order of the White Feather to any man they saw who seemed capable of joining the army that was out of uniform. The idea was that men would be shamed by realising women viewed them in this way, and other men would be so afraid of receiving a feather that there would be a great movement of men all over the country being persuaded and intimidated into joining the army.

IMG_5677I had no idea about this until I saw it included in the display but have since noticed it happen in scenes of the period drama’s Downton Abbey and Home Fires.

Onto the first floor we find Turning Points: 1934-1945 with key stories from the Second World War.

The iconic R75 Motorcycle


BMW designed it’s R75 motorcycle and sidecar with the German Army in mind. The 750cc engine powered both the rear wheel of the motorcycle and sidecar. This enabled the bike to work well off-road as on regular surfaces. Armed with a machine gun it could quickly move ahead to scout in front of advancing troops. The one shown was made in the middle of the war, production of the R75 ended in 1944 when Allied bombing destroyed the BMW factory.

Also on the first floor you find ‘A family in Wartime’ a permanent exhibition. It tells the story of the Allpress family, ordinary Londoners and how they faced the challenges of life at home during the Second World War.The exhibition has reconstructions of rooms as they would have been in the 1940s and shows how the war affected life at home. Its shows how they coped with rationing, evacuation, war work and events on the home front from the London Blitz to VE Day. It really was fascinating and I enjoyed how they used members of the family to narrate parts of the exhibition it made it feel very real.

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The family had an Anderson shelter in their garden to protect them during air raids. Designed to fit six people, Anderson shelters were named after Sir John Anderson, the cabinet minister responsible for Air Raid Precautions. They were made from corrugated steel sheets sunk into a pit then covered with a thick layer of earth. By September 1940 more than 2.300,000 had been distributed. Many people grew vegetables on the roof of their shelter, the Allpress family grew flowers.

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Continuing on to the 2nd floor you find two permanent exhibition’s ‘Secret War’ which explores the undercover world of espionage, covert operations and the work of Britain’s Special Forces. Here you can see many previously classified objects, on public display for the first time. ‘Peace and Security 1945-2014’ reveals how conflicts have been fought and communities divided in places such as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan from 1945 to the present day.

On the 3rd and 4th floor you find the Art & Photography galleries and the museum’s outstanding Holocaust exhibition.This award-winning exhibition traces the Nazi persecution and murder of Europe’s Jews from 1933 to 1945. No photography is allowed. I challenge anyone visiting here not to be affected by this poignant and extremely moving exhibition. Over two floors this in itself would take a good two hours to go through properly and I was kicking myself I had not allowed myself more time here, a return visit is definitely a must to appreciate fully this fantastic museum.

Last but not least on the 5th floor a bright, enclosed roof space leads to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery. This space tells the story of those who’ve won the Victoria and George Crosses. A quick look around here I’m afraid but it would definitely be something to have a closer look at when visiting again as it seems a very impressive collection with many interesting stories.

One the most impressive museums I’ve ever experienced, it is a definite must for anyone who is interested in history.

Has anyone ever visited here? What is your favourite museum?

As always I would love to hear your comments.