Fascinating exhibits at the Imperial War Museum in London
by rick olivares
Last week, I visited the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. As a military buff who enjoys traveling to famous battlefields or even museums, this was a treat to see relics, memorabilia, and grisly reminders of why war is hell.
The IWM in Southwark, South London (there are two other IWM in England) that opened in 1936 today features exhibits from World War I up to modern day conflicts and when we say today that means the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as diseases such as the Ebola virus.
Here are some of my favorite exhibits from that trip.
A Family During Wartime.
This exhibit occupies a huge hall and features a replica of the home of the Allpress family that lived in London during the blitz. Like every family living in England, life changed the moment Britain went to war with Germany. The Allpress family endured rationing, blackouts, and air raids.
What got to me was the bomb shelter where they hid themselves. It is small. No larger than a small bus stop with a bench and some pillows for relative comfort. The thin corrugated metal sheets didn’t provide much protection in the basement. I wondered how Britons dealt with fear and claustrophobia.
The replica of the home may be quaint and the photos on the wall of people long gone may have them smiling. But I truly wonder what it was like because their smiling visages do not begin to tell the whole story when the air raid sirens screamed and the bombs whistled from high above. Chilling.
|The Spitfire is in the back while the V1 rocket is in front|
The Mark 1 Spitfire.
This actual Spitfire on display was assigned to the No. 609 West Riding Squadron stationed at Middle Wallop in Hampshire in July of 1940. It fought during the Battle of Britain and was flown by 13 different pilots and tallied eight German aircraft destroyed or damaged.
As a kid, there were these paper models that were sold to us kids of various fighter aircraft. The Spitfire, then as it is now, remains a favorite. To see that particular fighter suspended from the ceiling of the IWM was fascinating. It was like it was flying off to defend the Sceptered Isle.
What is a fishing boat doing in a war museum?
Easy. Tamzine, a fishing boat, took part in the historic evacuations at Dunkirk, France that saved thousands and thousands of British and French soldiers from annihilation. The small boat was constructed in 1937 and preserved. In 1965, the boat took part in a reenactment of the crossing from southern France to the English channel. It has since them found a place in the museum.
I wonder about the men who were aboard this boat. Did they survive the war? What lives did they lead after the war?
The car bomb
This is one of the modern exhibits and shares a slice of life in dangerous Iraq today. A car bomb exploded in Baghdad on March 5, 2007, killing 38 people. The car was destroyed by a bomb and was later preserved by English artist Jeremy Deller.
The rusting and mangled carcass of this car is powerful and frightening.
The wreck of the Zero fighter
The Japanese Mitsubishi Zero was discovered in the Pacific 30 years after the end of World War II in the island of Taroa. This is one of three Japanese fighter wrecks recovered by American businessman John Sterling who has this fascination for studying and preserving wartime planes. Taroa was never invaded by the Allied Forces during the war and was largely ignored until the latter stages of the war. It is believed that the Zeros assigned to this atoll were those that shot down the aircraft of Lt. Louis Zamperini who story is told in the book and film titled, “Unbroken."
The Harrier Jump Jet GR9zD4651.
This is the first of the London exhibit that featured a war machine that fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was also assigned for a time to the US Marine Corps and launched off the deck of HMS Invincible. Always like the Harrier for its vertical take off. First time for me to see one up close although it was hanging from the ceiling of the IWM.
The German V2 rocket
Between September of 1944 and March 1945, 1,054 V2 rockets hit Britain. This particular rocket, the world’s first ballistic missile, was recovered by British Army Corps of Engineers in Neinburg, Germany during the closing stages of World War II. Apart from the V2’s destructive capabilities, its invention also paved the way for developments into space travel.
The Avro 683 Mark 1 Lancaster was a British bomber. This particular model featuring the foreward fuselage was nicknamed “Old Fred” and was assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force based at Bottesford, Lincolnshire between May and November of 1943. It took part in 49 bombing sorties across Europe.
There are many more things to see in the museum that is stretched across three floors. But these ones are my favorites.