National Army Museum review
If there's one thing Britain is good at then it's fighting wars. Every country is good at something: for the Americans it's playing that girls game rounders (sorry, I mean baseball). For us it's winning wars. I think the reason we're so amazing at it is because we've been practising, practising, practising for a thousand years.
The first exhibition is called 'Have you got what it takes to be a soldier?' and I straight away know the answer to that: no. It begins with the medical, which sounds like torture to me, then the physical training (more torture), weapons training (more torture), daily drill (more torture), and finally what life is like during combat (which doesn't sound too bad in comparison).
The next section is all about the psychological effects of war... the shell shock, nightmares, loss of limbs, seeing their friend's headless torso in a trench, picking up their shoes and tipping out their feet. They certainly don't shy away from the sorry side of war. That's the weird thing about war museums: half of them are full of patriotic posters that are trying to sign you up, and the other half do their darnedest to put you off.
As you walk around the exhibitions you'll see a wide variety of uniforms and helmets and medals from the 17th-century up to the present day, from the English Civil War up to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But the big difference between the National Army Museum and the Imperial War Museum is the number of vehicles on display. If you want uniforms and medals and every kind of weapon from Zulu shields to Mughal blades then this place is great, but if you want Sherman tanks and Spitfires then you're better off going to the Imperial War Museum. The only vehicles I could find in here were a desert jeep, a guided missile launcher, and a cutaway tank turret that you can climb inside.
The National Army Museum seems to focus much more on the soldiers themselves, rather than the battle plans and politics. The only big fight they deal with in detail is Waterloo. They've got a mock-up of the battlefield and a few touchscreen TVs explaining what happened, plus a cabinet containing the actual hat that Wellington was wearing on the day. (If you want to see some more mementos from Waterloo then try the Guards' Museum.)
The final section is a collection of propaganda posters, movie posters and photos... everything from the classic 'Loose Lips Sink Ships' to Gregory Peck's chiseled chin in the The Guns Of Navarone.
So which one is better, the National Army Museum or the Imperial War Museum? I think adults will enjoy both places, but because of the lack of vehicles on display a child will almost certainly prefer the Imperial War Museum.
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