Sitting atop my perch in the Belfast City Hall cafe, I am reminded of the hardship and political strife that formed the United Kingdom. This seams like as good a time as any to explore my visit to the Imperial War Museum.
I would like to begin with a few initial thoughts. First, coming from the United States where national pride lies more in World War I it was interesting to learn more about a war I knew little about from a different perspective. On that same note it was interesting how little the United Statees was discussed in the exhibits, considering how much economic and military arms assistance we offered to Britain during this time. Secondly, I found the lay out of the museum to not be conducive to the flow of visitors. Once you finished walking through the labyrinth of exhibit boards on one level you had to snake your way back through to the stairs to proceed to the next level. However, I do give the museum credit for the chronological order of the exhibits.
Through the exhibits it was clear how proud Britain is that they were the true heroes of WWII; after having truly suffered by being bombed on their own soil. While Americans assisted in the war effort, we were still disconnected from the first hand effects of the war since it was not occurring on our soil. We have yet to experience, with the exception of the Civil War, such a catastrophic series of events on our oil soil. While it could be argued that the terrorist attacks of September 11 compared, they pale in comparison to the prolonged hardship faced by ordinary Brits during and in the time following World War II.
The ground floor focused on Britain in World War I, which was of little interest to me, so I will skip along.
The first poster I came to on the first floor explained, “by late 1940 the war had moved to Britain. This was followed by the invasive bombing of London; forcing many families into unfamiliar situations. Through these shared hardships and dangers, residence became more determined that in the end Britain helped by its empire would win and survive” This showed the unity of the empire in relation to facing the evils of the outside world. This showed a unified front to those the British were fighting against. A video of women working in machine factory showed how the role of women changed during the war, when they were forced to enter into the workforce to not only support their families, but the war effort as well. Watching this video I drew similarities between that and the changing role of women in the United States during World War I, which lead to more economic and social independence for them after the war.
A poster entitled “Lifeblood” explained, “the demands of war forced Britain to import more material goods than ever. Britain looked to its friends across the empire and the USA for oil, food, ships, and armor. Some American goods were given as aid, but the result was still Britain gaining major debt. British intelligence struggled to t ack the submarines through their secret radio codes. Ships eventually moved under greater protection once a codes were broken.” Resign this, I was reminded of the movie The Imitatioon game, which highlights the fight by the Brits to break the German code in order to preempt and prepare to protect itself against attacks. The poster made a point to highlight how the German defenses were stronger and more actuate, but the British Royal Air Force still relied on bombing to strike Germany directly from 1940-44 and support the soviets. This shows how even though the British did not have the most advanced technology, they used whit and determination to stay competitive in the war. A projected news real on the floor showing arial bombings added an element of interest to the exhibit, but I would have like to have seen more interactive features thought in the form of interactive stories or informational tutorials.
The second floor focused on peace and security 1945-2014. A poster entitled, “your Britain 1945-63” explained how the Labour governments push to strengthen education and health proved expensive and the British government had to barrow money from America to stay afloat while fuel and food was still rationed. The poster explained that from 1947 to 1968 Britain became the commonwealth as countries demanded independence. At this time most news from abroad was brought via newsreels and home movies the sharing of information from the front lines was similar in both Britain and the US at the time, which I found interesting since the two countries had such different experiences in relation to the same war through their different positions in it.
At this point, the chronological organisation of the museum sealed to exist. While continuing for upward moment to the top floor, I was greeted by a video that was meant to resemble an old-fashioned news real that explained how Under the newly formed National Health System there was a push to ensure the physical and mental health of the people.
Another film clip explained how cheers and songs met with mixed motions as men are sent to far unknown lands. This showed the emotional tole that war took on the families left behind. There was also discussion of Churchill houses, which were the first form of council flats that were created as low rent alternatives for families effected by the war. In the clip, women were quoTed as illustrating how easy these cookie – cutter homes were to maintain.
The fourth floor focused on the Holocaust, which was interesting to see from the perspective of the British who again were more closely effect as a result of geography. While I am used to hearing stories of survivors and families who were effected, the tone seemed to change when stories came directly from people involved through a different lens. The stories presented made it feel more real and less like something that was happening in some far off land and not effective me, only in the stories I heard. There was also a robust discussion of the creation of the Yitish language which is a combination of Hebrew and German. This was of interest to me because I have reindeer who I will be visiting in Paros who were only able to communicate in sporadic Yitish when the first met and have now been married for over 30 years.
The first floor focused on the awards given to soldiers by the British armed forces. The George Cross is silver and is awarded to people who exhibit extreme bravery in war and peace. The Victorian Cross is awarded to those who exhibit extreme bravery under fire in s war setting. Together, these tw awards signify the British recognition of sacrifice and bravery by citizens to protect the ideals, values, and lands of the empire.
On the top floor there was a discussion of bravery and courage in the Lord Ashcroft gallery. Tory peer; international businessman, phinathrioist, author, pollster wrote the introduction to the gallery which was prominently featured at the front of the room the gallery was in. There was a quote in an unsuspecting corner that caught my eye. It had to do with sacrifice. The quote read, “it’s very simple; your life for someone else’s. No choice, no context. Give all you have to protect and serve. Nothing matters more.”Another quote about Initiative read, “someone has to act, someone has to take control.” Together, these quotes encompass what the museum is all about. This museum highlighted the strong tradition of military honor in Britain