Imperial War Museum review (Oct 2011)
This is out-of-date! I have been here again since I wrote this review
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I quite like the Second World War. It seems like it was a lot of fun, getting a boat across the channel and giving the Hun a good seeing to etc. Take that Hitler! Take that you evil Nazis! Maybe I watch too many old war movies, but my visit to the Imperial War Museum today just made me like it even more. I think if I had a time machine I'd hop aboard and travel back to 1925. That seems like the perfect year to be born.
When you step inside the main hall the first thing you see is a load of old tanks and planes swooping down from the ceiling. And they are all full-size too -- proper old battle tanks like the Sherman and Mark II. You can't go inside them, or even look inside them, which is a bit of a shame, but it's nice to get up close. You always see the soldiers riding on the tank tracks in 'Band of Brothers', sitting up there and having a fag whilst they trundled through the towns, and you almost want to jump up and do it too. But they'd probably have you shot -- maybe by one of the big field guns and artillery pieces they've got alongside.
Once you get past the main hall you get to see the little stuff -- the guns and grenades, medals and memoribilia. I have to admit that I skipped a lot of the World War I exhibits, and therefore I missed the "Trench Experience", which was a bit of a blow. I didn't even know it was there until I read the guidebook on the way home. Apparently you can walk through a life-size mock-up of a World War I trench, complete with smoke and sounds and Madame Tussauds soldiers. It's sounds good... but I didn't see it!
The museum exhibits in the Second World War section are pretty good. You've got all the normal kind of stuff in there that you'd expect -- lots of uniforms, medals, guns, knives etc etc. But they've got a few stand-out pieces too, like an Enigma machine and the actual iron Eagle that stood on the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. You can even see some bullet holes in it from where the Russians and Germans did the street fighting.
The best thing of all, in my humble opinion, was a full-size house from the 1930s, which they've rebuilt inside the museum. It's actually full-size! You can peer into the living room, the kitchen, the hallway, and then go up their stairs and have a look at the bathroom and bedroom too. It's all kitted out in period detail with stuff from the era...everything from the carpet and furntiture, to the clothes, books and music playing on the wireless. It's quite dark and gloomy too, which only adds to the atmosphere when they've got the proper music piping through the rooms.
The exhibits continue on through the 1950s with the Suez crisis, and all the way up to the Falklands and the Gulf.
After that it gets a bit depressing because it's upstairs to the Holocaust exhibition. It's not exactly a barrel of laughs, as you can imagine. There's a big sign out the front saying it's not suitable for kids, but there's stuff in there that's not suitable for adults either. They've got pictures of the dead and dying, and people so starved that their bones are showing through their skin. They had one big pic of a Russian so desperate to leave the camps that he'd jumped onto a barbed-wire electric fence. They've got shots of the ghettos, and big pits they've dug and filled with corpses. Another one showed a firing line, the moment before they pulled the trigger. One victim seemed to be begging and crying for his life, whilst another one just stood and smiled and told them to get on with it.
[Edit: I've since been back to the Imperial War Museum and seen the Trench Exhibition. It's pretty good... it's like a long, dark, life-size trench in the middle of the night. And you walk through it and hear the bombs overhead and soldiers on their radios. You can look into the little rooms and see people on the buzzer talking to the boss behind the lines, and soldiers peering over the edge of the trench, stuff like that. Unfortunately, I noticed that they've also demolished the 1940s house -- and I thought that was the best bit! They've replaced it with a dry exhibition instead, with all the furniture, books and items placed behind glass cabinets. Definitely not good. Let's hope they bring back the house again.]
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