Imperial War Museum review
I'm back at the Imperial War Museum today. It's been closed for quite a while because they've been refurbishing the inside, so I'm quite interested to see how it's turned out. I like a bit of war (as long as I don't have to do any of the fighting). I am from a generation where Nazis were just the bad guys in Indiana Jones movies, and not the ones rampaging across Europe killing millions of Jews, so war still has the derring-do of Commando comics to me.
The entry hall has been totally redesigned. They've still got the big green V2 rocket and Spitfire hanging from the ceiling, but now they've got a flying V1 and a Harrier Jump Jet as well. Lord knows how they managed to hang that up there -- or maybe they flew it up vertically. Unfortunately they've also moved the collection of tanks and field guns they had parked up on the floor... but maybe I'll see them later.
The big new exhibit that they are currently plugging is all about the First World War. Normally I would just skip straight past this stuff because I'm not a fan of the Great War (I think that's because it lacks the panto villain and hero of Adolf Hitler and Churchill), but this new gallery is very good. And it certainly doesn't shy away from showing the dirty side of war. You will walk out glad that you didn't have to fight it.
The next floor is home to their World War II collection, starting with the home front. They've got mock-ups of people's parlour rooms and kitchens with all the old stoves and wirelesses, which you can tune-in to listen to period news. They've got lots of old wartime sing songs playing out of the speakers as well, and with the low light level inside it really does seem nostalgic (not that I ever experienced it in real life, of course -- but it gives you a decent idea). If you're of a certain age then I'm sure you'll love it -- a trip down memory lane. The last time I came here they actually had a full-size house built from top to bottom, and you could roam around every single room and climb the stairs, but sadly that has gone now.
They've got plenty more WWII-era tanks and jeeps upstairs, and one of those iconic little motorbikes with a sidecar attached, that you always see Nazis riding in the cinema. They've got the wreckage of a Japanese kamikaze plane as well, riddled with holes, plus a couple of one-man subs and the cockpit of a Lancaster bomber. It's all objects though. They don't have a lot of information on the actual battles themselves, or the personalities involved. They definitely did the last time I came, but they seem to have whittled it all down so they can focus on World War I instead. If you want a good grounding in the Second World War then I recommend going to the Churchill Museum inside the Churchill War Rooms -- there's a lot of very good stuff in there. (The Churchill War Rooms are actually part of the Imperial War Museums, along with HMS Belfast, so maybe they've made a conscious decision not to double everything up.)
The next level moves onto atomic bombs and nuclear bombs, and a mangled strut of steel from the World Trade Center.
Then it's the floor that I don't even want to write about -- the Holocaust Exhibition. Don't take your kids in -- that's all I will say. And don't take any adults in either. That is how depressing and awful it is. It's like all the horror movies you've ever seen, rolled into one. They don't shy away from anything in there.
There's just one little criticism that I will make of the Imperial War Museum, and that's this: they've got a bad habit of removing my favourite exhibitions. If you read the review I did two years ago then you will hear about a better trench exhibition and the Anderson airshelter scene, where you could walk through a life-size bombed out street. They have both gone now. And I have already mentioned that excellent 1940s house which has disappeared. Maybe those things didn't suit the museum's chief focus, which is the awfulness of war. That's the main aim of this place now, it seems -- to educate us all that war is not nice, like we didn't already know. But surely this building is big enough for a few bits of entertainment and home front nostalgia? There's nothing left for the kids. I remember my parents bringing me here as a child and thinking it was pretty cool, but I'm not sure that it would have the same appeal now. You can't even climb inside any of the vehicles.
This is how I would sum it up: in the past it made you want to join the army. Now it makes you want to join the priesthood.
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