This week we are taking you back to England with another review of one of another incredible museum! There are so many museums in London and we have been to several of them so were looking for a new one (for us) to check out on our latest trip. We thought as our guy is getting to a certain age, we should check with our 15 year old nephew to see what his opinion was. He suggested that we head to the Imperial War Museum – London. He had been there on a class trip recently and thought it was amazing. This museum is part of a larger group of museums throughout England. The other parts include the Churchill War Rooms, HMS Belfast, the Imperial War Museum – North (Manchester), and the Imperial War Museum – Duxford (Cambridgeshire). We visited the Churchill War Rooms that last time we were in London and found it amazing. We have reviewed the Churchill War Rooms in the past and you can read about them here. This museum does not have an entrance fee and the majority of the museum is free of charge with fees for special exhibits.
For war buffs and historians the Imperial War Museum is an amazing place. It is chock full of weapons and stories of war. In it’s 5 stories you will see displays on how war has affected the people of Britain, mainly during the World Wars, but there are also displays about the current war being fought in the Middle East.
One of our favorite sections was about the spies that inform various governments about nefarious actions being taken. They talked about some of the most famous spies of the MI-5. No wonder James Bond is so incredible with inspiration like the people featured!
The museum is home to an incredible exhibit dedicated to the Holocaust. The recommended age for viewing this is 14. We were stopped at the door with the warning for our nearly 10 year old because there are some very graphic things on display. This is a part of our family’s history though, we had a very serious talk about things he would see and he said he would be ok. My husband’s uncle survived the camps and often spoke at various events about the loss of everything and how he survived. Our son knows his story and we were fine with him walking through but told him if it got too much he could tell us and we would head out. He didn’t tend to read things as much as we did, but he looked everything over. At the very least he has an overview about what happened and what his great uncle went through. They do not allow photographs of any kind in this exhibit out of respect and we honored that. I would suggested checking this out though. Outside of the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, this is the best exhibit on the subject I have seen.
The rest of WWII is a massive part of the museum, but they have dedicated a large portion of the building to WWI – The War to End All Wars, which reshaped the world and the way it works. They have various military uniforms on display so you can see what the different soldiers looked like, a display about some of the medical heroes of the war, including Edith Cavell, a nurse who would treat any soldier who came her no matter which side they fought for. She was also incredible in getting Allied forces out of specific areas. She was tried in 1915 as a traitor and executed by a German firing squad, but later exonerated and held up as a hero. They also tell the story of the Lusitania and how the German U-boats sank her. There is a section where you can get a sense (sort of) of what it was like to be in the trenches. I think most incredibly, the difference in what they are able to do with prosthetics these days versus what was available at the start of the 1900’s is something that will strike anyone. The prosthetic arms looked a bit “Steampunk” in design and incredibly heavy with crude hooks. The material they used to mimic a nose looked super rough and I can’t imagine it was easy to go back out into society with the many very serious injuries the men who fought endured. We have come a long way in treating our soldiers with massive injuries to the body. The injuries to the mind are things we are still working out and that is something else they talk about – the “shell-sock” men came home with and how they struggled. This isn’t something that was brought up in polite conversation back in the day, but we are starting to help people to overcome the trauma they have faced.
There are a great number of vehicles from the wars, not just the 4-wheeled variety but also boats and planes. Upon entering the building you will see a Land Rover that was hit with a bomb which was carrying press for the TV and new outlets. The international correspondents in war zones have incredibly dangerous jobs and while the men in this car survived, they were injured seriously. There are other cars that show what happens when a bomb hits them and the people don’t survive.
The whole museum is very impactful and it is massive so it takes a while to walk through it. I will be honest that it was all a bit much for me to handle after a while. I am known to be quite sensitive to these sorts of topics and towards the end my heart hurt and I needed a break. I can’t imagine what people must feel when they are actually in a war zone for year on end, seeing the death and killing first hand with no break. There are some very important lessons here. The irony that the display on Peace was a fee to see what not lost on me. If only Peace were more profitable.
As it can take hours to go through all of the rooms in this museum there is a cafe there that we found very good for lunch. They had a lovely selection of hot foods for purchase and it made for a nice break from what we were seeing.
We highly recommend this museum but certain things for younger children will need to be explained or avoided. I feel like this museum is best for kids older than 8. Teenagers will get the most of out it and will really understand the circumstances that lead up to the major conflicts presented.