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London Imperial War Museum

Hi all,

A friend has suggested I visit this museum when I travel to London in May 2015.

Has anyone visited this since the reopening in early 2014??

I am more interested in the effect of wars on people and society than in machines, battles, etc. Is this museum more about battles, planes, tanks, etc or more about wars' effects on humans??

Thanks!!
Virginia

Posted by
8293 posts

Yes, it is about war & battles & weapons, as the name implies. It is war history not social history you will find there ... But you might be interested to know that the building was originally "Bedlam", the insane asylum.

Posted by
4126 posts

We just visited in September and found it fascinating . Of major importance is the new exhibition that is dedicated to the Great War. To answer your question about the focus of the museum , evidently in an institution such as this , there is indeed a major examination of the hardware of war , There are sections that focus on the human interaction . Frankly , I don't think they can be neatly separated . Just prior to leaving for London , I had read an in depth book entitled " The War That Ended Peace " by the Oxford historian , Margaret MacMillan . The book dealt with the historical , economic ,political and social antecedents of the war , and certainly brought the physical displays into deeper context . Understanding the issues of the materiel that enabled twentieth century industrial warfare is most enlightening . We actually visited the museum twice ,due to its scope . Located in Waterloo , a few blocks from Waterloo Station and our hotel , It made a deep impression on us . I would highly suggest that you go , If you find it not to your interest , you can leave at that point ( like many museums in London , there is no admission fee ) . Again , the points of focus are so closely intertwined , I have difficulty separating them . I think you will get much from a visit , give it a chance .

Posted by
203 posts

Thank you both for your comments. I have read about the new Great War exhibit there, and it sounds VERY interesting!!!

Thank you very much,
Virginia

Posted by
10139 posts

I was there in September. As the others have stated, it does focus on war. One area is about WWII and the holocaust. I found it to be very well done and there was plenty about the human cost of that war.

Posted by
11507 posts

We were there this past summer. It was our favorite museum by far.. and we enjoyed many others.. but really.. we loved this museum.
We arrived at 10.15( it opens at ten) and stayed till 4 pm.. with a short lunch break on the grassy area beside it ) It was worth every ache and pain in our feet!

I disagree that its mostly about machines etc.. I spent hours in the Holocaust and WWII sections.. very much focused on the people .. the way people lived through it( or didn't). I am not into the weapons etc so admit to breezing through those other areas.. but really.. this place should be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants a better understanding about what the war was like for those who experienced it.

Posted by
419 posts

Virginia--if you went to an automobile museum, would you expect to see exhibits about car crashes, accident victims or the effects of the automobile on daily life throughout the world?
Let me just add this, for whatever it might be worth. The staff at the Imperial War Museum are absolutely excellent. Please keep in mind that it is a WAR museum, not a peace museum, not trying to find solutions or comfort about what happens in a war.
My husband and I were there several years ago.. He was interested to learn what happened on a particular day in WWII when someone in his family was killed , while in the military,
We were in London, phoned the War Museum, told them what we were looking for, made an appointment and when we arrived
everything that was pertinent was laid out for us and we were able to as much research as we wanted.
Great service--just left us wanting to do more.

Posted by
203 posts

Thank you everyone for all of your VERY helpful comments. I sincerely appreciate each and every one of them.

Yes, it would be a very poor war museum if there were not any exhibits about battles or machinery.

I am just glad to hear that there are many exhibits that do not deal solely with battles and hardware.

I am particularly glad that it doesn't glorify war.

My husband and I are very much looking forward to it!!

Many thanks,
Virginia

Posted by
449 posts

Hi Virginia:

I spent 18 days in London this past summer and visited the Imperial War Museum three times. The first time was with a meetup group and when we arrived at 1:00 pm it was already too late to see the World War I gallery that opened in July 2014. I returned a second time to arrive at 10:00 am and got a pass for the 10:15 admission to the WWI gallery, and visited a third time to view the exhibits on the upper floor (eg. Holocaust, Victoria Cross awardees.....). One of the other responders said that she was at the museum from 10 to 4. When I add up the times for all three visits it added up to at least six hours. Thank god admission is free.

Maybe by May 2015 the novelty of the new WWI gallery will have worn off and there will be shorter waits to get to this gallery.

Have a good trip.

Posted by
203 posts

Hi Geor from Seattle,

Thank you very much for your comments.

It's good to know that there is the possibility of getting entry tickets to the new WW I exhibit. I read alot about it on the museum's web site, and it sounds really excellent!!

Hopefully there won't be a need for tickets, though.

Many Thanks!
Virginia

Posted by
11507 posts

Virgina.. when we went you HAD to have a timed entry ticket for that gallery.. they hand you one as you enter.. we got one for about 12.30 as I recall.. ( and as I said we arrived about 10.15) , hopefully once its not brand new anymore the waits will die down.. but its also partly the way its designed.. you sort of trail in a line through it..

Posted by
2147 posts

I would only add, don't hesitate to talk with the museum guards. Many of them have had personal experiences or have had the chance to chat up grandparents or veterans and seem delighted to share their stories.

Posted by
14460 posts

Hi,

The IWM is not a museum that glorifies war. Its message is that war has been a phenomenon of the 20th century and the museum's purpose is to present its history in a cold blooded manner. Of all the war museums in Europe I've tracked down, visited and revisited, I don't think any would qualify as glorifying war. Maybe the Battle Gallery at the Chateau Versailles, even that can be disputed.

My last time there at IWM was in 2012. It is a museum with its permanent displays and special exhibition that focuses on war history and the effect on society. Yes, you do see machines...tanks, planes, machine guns, PAK guns, the jet fighter, artillery (incl. the 88mm FLAK gun all set up), They could do more here. If you read French and German, the respective displays would be even more enlightening. No tickets to the IWM, free admission., just walk right in. To do the museum justice, be prepared to spend min 4hrs going through all the floors.

Now, should you want a museum in London that focuses on more battle history, etc., I would suggest the Guards Museum near St James Park.

Posted by
5293 posts

Progressively over recent years many of the 'big machines' have tended to be relocated away from IWM London to IWM Duxford which has a lot more space for them to be displayed properly. IWM London has always had a side looking at the civilian effect and impact of war and the exhibits over the last 20 years probably emphasises this further. From the Second World War onwards the collection was built up as the wars were in progress.

Posted by
203 posts

Hi Marco,

Thanks for letting me know about the museum in Duxford. I have read that there is a 'branch', (probably the wrong term) in this town, but didn't know much about it before your reply.

Much appreciated,
Virginia

Posted by
203 posts

Hi Patty,

Thanks for your insight into the museum personnel.

My husband and I will be sure to try to talk with several of them.

Many thanks,
Virginia

Posted by
449 posts

Virginia:

Be sure that you do not miss the large painting "Gassed" located on one of the upper floors. When I visited the IWM back in 2012 I attended a short (ie 20 minutes) lecture on this painting by a museum docent. This is one of the museum's show pieces.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gassed_%28painting%29

As Marco indicates the museum has moved its heavy hardware around over the past few decades. The IWM that I first saw in 1998 is not the same museum as the one I saw in 2012 which is not the same museum as I saw in 2014.

If you have time I would recommend a visit to the Royal Air Force museum which located on a tube line but out in Zone 4, 5, or 6 (I don't recall). It has an impressive collection of military aircraft. When I visited a few months ago the museum had pulled all of its World War I aircraft such as the Sopwith Camel for a special display that was not open at the time.

If you go the the RAF museum the bonus is that you get to see a relatively tourist free part of London.

Posted by
14460 posts

You must be referring to the RAF Museum in north London. The Tube stop is Colindale. True, it is a part of London not inundated with tourists. For fighter aircraft if there's no time for Duxford, then go to Colindale, well worth seeing, esp for the jet fighter.

Posted by
15543 posts

Ancillary suggestion. You may find the Churchhill War Rooms interesting. What I enjoyed most were the videos of interviews with some of the men and women who worked there during WWII and recounted their personal experiences, like not being able to tell their families anything about the highly secret work and knowing Churchill was in the building by the odor of cigar smoke.

Posted by
32272 posts

The Churchill War Rooms - previously known as Cabinet War Room - is a branch of the Imperial War Museum, but this one has a charge to enter. It is within a hop skip and a jump of Number Ten, and very close to the Houses of Parliament. It was the secret underground hideout of the government during bombing raids, and some people lived down there, others commuted through air raids.

I was there a couple of weeks ago and bowled over. I'd been there about 20 years ago and expected to be in and out in 90 minutes. No way - it has had much more space opened, including a huge museum of the effect that the war had on people - it even has an Enigma machine. The whole complex is fabulous, and worth every penny.

We were there over 3 hours and could easily have spent double that. It is well worth a visit.

Posted by
5293 posts

From the 2000 BBC article: "Mr Buzek asked Britain on Monday to change the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Enigma to credit the Poles for their role in breaking the system."

Since the Encyclopaedia Britannica has been an American publication since 1901 maybe he should have asked President Clinton to get it changed rather than the Duke of York.

Posted by
32272 posts

I didn't have the time to read all the exhibits and didn't read the Enigma displays carefully but there was certainly plenty of reference to Poles in the museum.

Posted by
203 posts

Hi Nigel,

My husband and I visited the Churchill War Rooms in 2001, and like you, were completely bowled over!! All of the displays, from the phones to the maps to the bed where Churchill slept to the records that you listed to as you walked through the exhibit were fantastic!!!

Were you saying that this has been greatly expanded since 2001? If so, we might make time to visit there when we travel to your country in May 2015.

Thanks!
Virginia

Posted by
5293 posts

The bits added to the Churchill War Rooms after 2001 were the Churchill Museum, plus some additional accommodation rooms. The latter were complete reconstructions, as that space had been gutted after the war and used as storage. The entrance has also been remodelled.

Posted by
17345 posts

Thank you Fred,
The Polish work appears to pre-date the British success and work on a less satisfactory method. Pretty fascinating stuff. Curious why in that period in Central and Eastern Europe there were so many brilliant people of Jewish decent in an era and a region that oppressed those same people. http://ww2warstories.tripod.com/id18.htm

Posted by
74 posts

I visited the Imperial War Museum in, I think, 2012 and enjoyed the visit. So too with the War Rooms. I am sorry that I am not in London to see the World War I exhibit.

Posted by
203 posts

Hi Marco,

Thanks so much for letting me know about the additions to the War Rooms!! I was not aware that they had changed this at all, much less adding 'the Churchill Museum, plus some additional accommodation rooms'.

We'll think about visiting here in May next year.

I really appreciate your advice!

Happy Holidays to you!

Virginia