The Stories Behind the Warfare at the Imperial War Museums

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I went to the Imperial War Museum in London last week as part of pre-Christmas get-together with some bloggers I know that are a part of BritMums.  I’m glad the event was at IWM because frankly I would never have visited this museum otherwise.  With the words Imperial and War in the title, I assumed it would be a reminiscence of the good old days when Britain was empire.

I was completely wrong.  The Imperial War Museum is actually about the social history of war – who it impacted both on the front lines and the people back home.  It was really fascinating and does not glorify warfare. There are lots of objects, videos and interactive exhibits to really hone in on the human element of war.  This Reuters press van on the ground floor is riddled in bullets.  I can not imagine it ended well for the people who were inside.

reuters press van

Here are 3 the exhibits that I found particularly fascinating:

1. Sectarian Armour

This steel jacket was created by Belfast-born artist John Kindness to represent the conflict in Northern Ireland.  Symbols from both the Protestant and Catholic sides are represented on the jacket.  The back of the jacket has pictures of funerals for both sides.

steel jacket

2. Twin Towers Steel

Out of context, this twisted shape could easily be a sculpture welded by a contemporary artist in his industrial live/workspace.  If only.  Instead it is a piece of the steel window frame taken from the North Tower post-9/11.

9/11 steel sculpture

3. World War I exhibit

The new World War I exhibits are part of a £40million renovation.  Similar to the World War I exhibit at Scotney Castle, I found them really thought-provoking.  Whereas the Scotney Castle exhibit told the story from the perspective one man and his village, the IWM exhibit shows a lot of different perspectives, the leaders, the men in the front lines and the people at home.

first world war centenary exhibit

The petty jealousies and jostling for prestige by the nation-states of Europe in the late 19th century are told in a cool interactive format in the World War 1 exhibit.  Each of the different viewpoints is well-represented, such as in this example of what the British Empire meant for different people.

In the end, war is all about individual people even if it is the leaders that move armies around like chess pieces.  This museum does a good job conveying the nuances of the people that lived and died during those conflicts.

I’ll be taking the children to see the Horrible Histories Spies exhibit next week.  For Christmas they have asked for a bunch of the toys from SpyNet (thanks Cartoon Network!) and are completely into protecting their turf (i.e., their room) from invasion (i.e., each other).  They might as well learn about real spies if they are going to play at being one.

Horrible Histories poster


The Imperial War Museums are actually a group of 5 museums (IWM London, IWM North, IWM Duxford, Churchhill War Rooms and HMS Belfast).  IWM London is open daily and admission is free.  The Horrible Spies exhibition is a paid special exhibition lasting until January 5, 2015.


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1 thought on “The Stories Behind the Warfare at the Imperial War Museums”

  1. I didn’t get a chance to look around the museum, since I had the baby in a carrier and she was feeling especially heavy, but I’m looking forward to seeing it all (and the Horrible Histories exhibit) in a few days.

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