The building itself was not quite what I expected, however. While aesthetically pleasing, it doesn't seem grand enough, somehow. What I didn't realise, before my visit, was that it was not purpose built for the IWM: it was originally Bedlam. I suppose I'm comparing it with the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Both of these were built after the First World War; they are wholly or in part memorials to the war dead, and both are visually very striking. I am reliably informed that the IWM has a memorial function as well, at least in intention, but I have to say this didn't really come across -- not when compared with the AWM, for example, which although it too is mainly a museum, is centred around the Hall of Memory (with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), leading up to which is a long reflective pool and an eternal flame, enclosed by cloisters, along the walls of which are the names of over a hundred thousand Australians who have died in war. I wonder what it says about the different ways in which Australians and Britons remember their wars?
Those huge guns, by the way, are from the battleships HMS Ramillies and HMS Resolution and are of 15-inch calibre. And, to be fair, I must point out that the biggest gun at the AWM is only a 12-inch one, from the battlecruiser HMAS Australia :)
Alright, enough of that, get on with the cool stuff already. This is (part of) the Large Exhibits Hall, the first room visitors see. And yes, they are all large exhibits! In this photo there's a He 162 "People's Fighter" (though as far as I know, there wasn't one in every garage) and a Sopwith Camel (to which the roundel at the top of the post belongs); below them, a Polaris sub-launched ballistic missile (AKA Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent); and around that, a T-34 tank, a Jagdpanther tank destroyer and a French 75.
I couldn't work out what this was at first. It was obviously something aerial, First World War-era by the looks of it -- I'm ashamed to say I had to read the sign to find out that it's actually a Zeppelin observation car, which was dropped on a long cable underneath the airship in order to get location fixes below cloud cover. That is to say, with a man inside, who would give directions to the Zeppelin by telephone. It is thought to have been lost from LZ90 on the night of 2 September 1916.
Genesis of the Daleks? Well, no, actually it's a Churchill Mark VII infantry tank.
Now this was rather impressive. It's a British 1650-lb bomb -- from the First World War, not the Second. It's over 6 feet tall. According to the caption, four bombs of this type were dropped by O/400 bombers -- presumably from Trenchard's Independent Force -- in an October 1918 raid on Kaiserslautern (which was to suffer much more destruction from the air in 1944). Behind are naval and artillery shells ranging from 14 to 18 inches.
A close-up of the Jagdpanther pictured earlier. According to the sign, it was knocked out by Allied gunfire and I assume these holes are the damage.
I spent most of the rest of the afternoon in the basement, in the permanent displays relating to the wars of the twentieth century -- I thought they did a very good job of contextualising the items on display. This is a bronze eagle from the Speer-designed Reich Chancellery -- Hitler's office building -- (in)complete with bullet holes from the Battle of Berlin.
Take cover -- it's a Zepp! Just kidding, it's only a photo of a model of a Zeppelin, L33, which was forced down at Little Wigborough on the night of 24 September 1916 after a raid on London, and reverse engineered into the successful British airships, R33 and R34.
The badge and pennant of the Blackshirt Automobile Club; Malcolm Campbell supposedly displayed something like these on Bluebird.
Some of the most interesting displays were those relating to ARP. I had no idea about things like the mustard gas detector paper shown above. Mustard gas is actually usually a liquid under normal conditions, with a boiling point of just 14° Celsius. So it is persistent and lies around in pools and drops, waiting for some unprotected soul to blunder into it. Hence the detector paper:
If after a raid you notice suspicious patches on walls, floors, doors, etc., fix of piece of Gas Detector Paper about 5 ins. x 3 ins. to a stick, and apply to the suspicious patches. If Mustard Gas is present the Gas Detector Paper will instantly turn PINK.
A charred roof tile from Hiroshima.
Back in the Large Exhibits Hall. A Spitfire showing off its elliptical wings.
A Be2c of the Royal Flying Corps. You can see the roundels on the top of the upper wings from underneath, which shows how thin the canvas is.
The Spitfire's rival in beauty, the P-51 Mustang. Drop tanks ftw.
I didn't catch what these were about -- children's drawings near the entrance, evidently something to do with the camouflage exhibition so maybe it's this. They all seemed to have an anti-gun theme (not anti-war as such), so I wondered if that was spontaneous or had they been coached to draw to that theme? Still, they were rather touching.
I didn't get a chance to see the IWM's art collection, or the Falklands exhibition, or a bunch of other things. Nearly everywhere I go, I keep saying "I'll have to go back", but that's looking less and less likely as my time here draws to a close!
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