LONDON.- Imperial War Museum London
opens the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, its first major permanent gallery for ten years, this November.
The new gallery, paid for by a £5million donation from Lord Ashcroft, KCMG, will house the Extraordinary Heroes exhibition containing the worlds largest collection of Victoria Crosses (VCs), which has been established by Lord Ashcroft since 1986. The 162 awards, which range from the Crimean to the Falklands wars, will go on public display for the first time alongside 48 VCs and 31 George Crosses (GCs) already held by the Museum. The VC is Britain and the Commonwealths premier award for extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy, while the GC is Britains most prestigious civil decoration.
Visitors to the Lord Ashcroft Gallerys Extraordinary Heroes exhibition will discover the personal stories behind each decoration in a state-of-the-art new space filled with interactive touch-screens, multimedia platforms and original interpretation.
Alongside the precious award groups in the gallery will be many objects on display for the first time. They include the extensively damaged backpack worn by Lance Corporal Matt Croucher GC. In Afghanistan in 2008, during a covert patrol of a Taliban bomb factory, Croucher threw himself onto a grenade smothering its explosion. This quick, decisive action saved the lives of his comrades and thanks to the pack he too, remarkably, escaped with few injuries. Also on display for the first time in years will be the diving suit worn by Acting Leading Seaman James Magennis in his VC action. Magennis overcame exhaustion and danger to make several dives in the Johore Straits to place limpet mines on a target in 1945. The first VC acquired by Lord Ashcroft was awarded to Magennis.
To mark the opening of the Lord Ashcroft gallery, the Imperial War Museum has also commissioned significant new works for its Collections. Among them is a portrait by acclaimed war photographer Don McCullin of Private Johnson Beharry VC, whose series of brave actions included moving his column out of an ambush and carrying wounded comrades to safety in Iraq in 2004.
To find out more about the motivation behind all the awards, visitors can choose from a range of interactive touch-screens, life stories, video montages and sound clips to delve into the life stories and actions of all featured recipients.
In contrast to the multimedia offerings, visitors will also be confronted with a number of large models recreating aspects of some famous VC and GC actions. For example, a life-size shark, relating to Cadet David Hays 1941 GC action of saving shipwreck survivors from shark infested waters, will hang from the exhibition ceiling so that the enormity of the task faced by Hay will be literally unmissable.
The 241 VC and GC decorations featured in the gallery will be arranged by seven different qualities leadership, sacrifice, aggression, skill, initiative, endurance, and boldness encouraging visitors to examine an individuals reaction to the difficult decisions behind their feat of bravery. The Lord Ashcroft Gallery aims to intrigue, inspire and amaze by re-telling forgotten stories of bravery that show how, when faced with extreme situations, some people can do extraordinary things.