A visit to the refurbished Imperial War Museum

Checking out the imperial War Museum after its redevelopment

Familiar museum with a new look

I’ve visited the Imperial War Museum (IWM) more times than I can remember. It was a favourite day out with my father in the 1960s and 70s. So a new improved version was a must see. Overall I really liked the new look and interpretation. Not least because some of the old favourites are still there – including the flying bombs of the sort that fell at the end of my mother’s street in the Second World War!

The main entrance and the naval guns
The main entrance and the naval guns

What’s changed at the IWM then?

A general feeling of more space with more coherency combined with a diversity of objects. For example the Cold War display has an artist’s response to the threat of nuclear destruction.

I liked the way there’s a map of each display with interpretation backed up with individual labels. The introduction sets the scene and the map orientates you.

Example of an introductory sign and map
Example of an introductory sign and map
Talking of the labels they are stuck on cases which makes their connection with the object clear. From what I saw some are beginning to suffer wear from visitors testing how well stuck they are. I also felt some of them lacked contrast making reading harder.

Interpretation labels stuck and becoming unstuck
Interpretation labels stuck and becoming unstuck

Family connections

Having uncles who served in Bomber Command I enjoyed seeing the Lancaster cockpit on display. It seemed huge but had to fit most of the crew in. The current secret service exhibition is fascinating in its own right and the coding and decryption section rang a bell with another uncle’s postwar service.

The Lancaster cockpit
The Lancaster cockpit
I also visited the Holocaust Gallery. Seeing it for a second time I spent more time absorbing the exhibits than being stunned by the enormity of what it depicted. The inclusion of all groups attacked by the Nazis shows just how many people were affected by these political and ethnic policies. The section with a diagram showing how all branches of the government were part of the annihilation was particularly chilling.

On a personal note I found the items and film from the liberation of Belsen interesting. This was because my father was amongst the troops rushed there to try and resolve the chaos left when the Nazis abandoned the camp.

The First World War Exhibition

Ok, I’ll admit it: I was dreading another recreation of a mid war trench. Much to my relief this exhibition is impressively inclusive. Both in terms of covering all the war  chronologically and in looking at all fronts. This included the home front and I found lots of interesting objects and interpretation. I definitely left feeling I learnt something!

The variety of uniforms was impressive as it included all periods and most fronts. Even some Balkan States uniforms are there. The early war German did look a bit like he had Ugg boots instead of natural leather marching boots! What I really liked was the mannequins for the uniforms are fairly abstract black shapes. This gave an anonymity to the uniform displays which made me think of all the unknown soldiers.

A busman’s holiday

Naturally being a museo myself I had to look at things from a work point of view. I found all the staff really friendly and knowledgeable and happy to talk about the redisplay. I also was interested in how the IWM has brought print on demand into their shops. Again the staff were pleasant and helpful when I asked about this.

The print on demand shop area
The print on demand shop area

Was it all brilliant then?

Well, it was pretty much ten out of ten. I think seeing familiar objects alongside recent acquisitions was one of the strengths. That continuity made me feel long time visitors were valued by the redevelopment team.

The thoughtful attention to detail is a nice touch. For example using odd spaces in the upper main hall to display odd objects. This was a bit like museum Easter eggs!

Yes, I did try the cafe which is fine and the staff are friendly.

By Rick Lawrence

Making models and playing tabletop games since the late 1960s, and still enjoying it! Now working in heritage and dabbing around with photography, with quality cafe time when I can.

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