When you think of a museum you picture lofty, old buildings. But on entering the Imperial war museum you are struck by a completely different setting.
It has undergone a massive transformation earlier this year. It was closed for six months while renovations were underway and was reopened on 17th July by Prince William.
The museum takes the visitor on a unique and compelling story of the British experience of the World Wars. As you walk through the exhibit you are fully immersed and captivated.
It is innovative in it’s approach to storytelling. You really feel a part of the war and experience it in a way never before possible. “War is an extremely emotive force.” says Suzanne Bardgett, Head of research.
The First World War is impressive in the level of multimedia and interactive aspects that are integrated into the displays.
Nothing is held back. Some parts of the exhibit, particularly in the holocaust section can be upsetting, so it wouldn’t be advisable for all audiences.
That in mind, I would still advise people to go along and see it as it delivers the story of the wars in a unique and interesting manner.
With the Holocaust the museum was keen to deliver an exhibit which “made people think, rather than simply got them upset. We wanted to make [people] understand why that terrible event happened.” explains Suzanne Bardgett.
There are some disturbing images in this section but it brings to stories to life. It brings it to the forefront of your mind and pulls at the heartstrings at the same time.
It also tries to integrate an aspect of internationalism. It tells a brief story of other nations involvement in the World Wars but the perspective as a whole is very British.
“The museum is changing all the time.” Suzanne Bardgett says, “and becoming more international in its outlook. We like to feel we are at the cutting edge and being experimental. It is in our message to be a museum that is courageous.”
This year is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a tribute to this, the museum has a piece of the wall displayed just outside of the building.
The Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917, and opened when the First World War was still being fought. Suzanne Bardgett, explained that the first appointed Director of the museum was assigned the role of gathering material from the trenches in the Western Front.
“Immediately after the First World War, [the museum] would’ve had a very special meaning for the people of Britain. ” Bardgett continues, “the museum in 1920 … would’ve been a museum displaying something terribly raw.”
It displayed everyone’s story, not just those at the front line but the women who moved into factories to take their husbands, fathers, brothers places. It would have displayed the technology boom which happened during the war.
When the Second World War broke out, the museum also would encompass that as well.
The museum also includes displays on the war in Afghanistan, which is the latest of the wars with British involvement. The two World Wars are significantly dominant throughout, particularly the British experience of these. Bardgett explains, “they affected British society so fundamentally, that scarcely a family in this country was left unaffected by the two World Wars.”
The building was built in 1815, originally as a the Bethlem Royal Mental Hospital. The atmosphere feels fitting in a sense, that a museum such as this should be set in a former mental hospital. It gives the eerie feel and adds to the madness of the war portrayal.
Feature Photo © Amie Filcher