The idea for this museum began in 1917 while the first World War was still being fought. In 1920 the Imperial War Museum was officially established by Act of Parliament. It was closed to the public from 1940-1946 because of the way and much of the collection was housed elsewhere for protection. The collection was expanded in 1953 to include "all military operations in which Britain or the Commonwealth have been involved since August 1914" (http://london.iwm.org.uk/server/show/nav.194).
The Imperial War Museum displays many items ranging from vehicles, weapons, gear, uniforms, letters, books, art galleries, and more. Throughout the museum there are computers that allow a more thorough viewing of items and exhibits. The interactive displays encourage people to delve further into whichever topic is being covered. In almost every room there were videos or audio recordings being played to enhance the items on display. Their collection was extensive and very impressive. One collection that I was touched by is the Children's War. It shows the war through their perspective in a very interesting way. It touched on life before the war, the evacuation, air raids, daily living, school, work, play and after the victory. There was a replica home on display that portrayed how people lived during these times, especially interesting with the rationing.
photo from http://london.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/50/children/Exhibition/homes.htm
The most heart wrenching exhibit was The Holocaust Exhibition. Although I have studied this topic extensively in the past and have visited many a museum dedicated to this tragedy-it never gets easier. The videos of Hitler speaking were so powerful it was almost sickening to hear. Many common items were left behind-for example; broken eye glasses, a pocket watch, a rusty key ring. It was eerie to see these everyday items knowing they once belonged to a human being, and painful to think of what happened to that person. There was a large glass case almost full of old shoes. To think of the people behind these artifacts...well let's just say I walked around with tears in my eyes all day. Behind the glass case was a large table with an intricate model of a concentration camp. It's incredible that so much effort went into the murdering of humans.
*photo courtesy of http://www.iwm.org.uk/
The museum works with schools and teachers to enhance their curriculum by working on current exhibits. Online resources are available for schools from nine museums, including the Imperial War Museum. Visit http://www.theirpast-yourfuture.org.uk/ for more detailed information on this. Alongside many of the larger exhibits there were plaques highlighting how local students completed a project based on that particular display, and what they learned. It was very interesting to see how involved the local schools are, and the children looked so happy and accomplished in their pictures on display. The entire time I was thinking that I wanted to bring the children in my life there to see everything! The photo below explains how a group of students pieced together their own history research and used that to make an inference on the effects of war in modern time. There were many plaques like this demonstrating student's projects ranging from various subjects.
There was one display that I did not have time for, which I regret. It is based on a children's series titled "Horrible Histories" by Terry Deary. Apparently you can experience life in the trenches, climb through a mining tunnel, try on soldiers gear and see into no man's land. I heard from fellow classmates that this was the best exhibit of all time! There is an interactive gallery where you can test your survival skills. It is meant to show people how soldiers worked and lived (miserably) in the trenches during the war. Do you think you would have survived?!
Something I found interesting about this exhibit: it is free to UK school groups. What lucky kids! Each section of the website has a link for teachers with suggestions for age group, information on concepts each exhibit corresponds to, and further links for learning.
Check them out online at http://www.iwm.org.uk/