To mark the start of the Centenary of the First World War, IWM London
is opening new, permanent First World War Galleries. Visitors can discover the story of the war through the eyes of people in Britain and its empire, both on the home front and the fighting fronts. They will see how the war started, why it continued, how the Allies won and its global impact.
The ground-breaking new First World War Galleries are part of the wider transformation of IWM London which includes a newly configured Atrium with iconic large object displays and a number of new exhibitions, public spaces, shops and cafes. This £40 million transformation has been made possible with the support(i) of a number of funders, sponsors, trusts, foundations and individuals, including a grant of £6.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £5million from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
Drawing on IWMs First World War collections, the richest and most comprehensive in the world, visitors will see over 1,300 objects on display, many of which have never been seen before. They range from weapons, uniforms and equipment to diaries and letters, keepsakes and trinkets, photographs, film and art.
Diane Lees, Director-General of IWM says: Each of the objects on display will give a voice to the people who created them, used them or cared for them and reveal stories not only of destruction, suffering and loss, but also endurance and innovation, duty and devotion, comradeship and love. Visitors will see what life was like at the front, and experience the sights and sounds of a recreated trench, with the Sopwith Camel fighter plane and Mark V tank looming above them. They will learn of the terrible strain the war placed on people and communities and will be able to consider some of the questions and choices, ordinary and extraordinary, that people of Britain and its former Empire had to face in this first total war.
Stepping into the Galleries, presented with three large ship models, visitors will be introduced to Britain at the turn of the 20th century, a maritime power dependent upon its empire, seaborne trade and the mighty Royal Navy to protect that trade. They will then see how tensions and rivalries were developing in Europe, and crucially, as the crisis of summer 1914 led to war, why Britain felt it had to fight.
In Shock, as visitors hear the scream of shrapnel shells they will come face to face with a French 75mm field gun, which contributed to the deaths of a million men in just four months of fighting in 1914. They will see objects on display for the first time from the Christmas Truce, including a button from a German tunic that was given to a British soldier as a souvenir.
On the Western Front, trench warfare takes the fighting below ground, as armies try to escape the murderous hails of shrapnel and bullets. In Deadlock trench signs, such as Hellfire Corner and Piccadilly Circus helping soldiers navigate the complex network of trenches, are shown alongside objects telling the stories of innovations in trench warfare; from the geophones used to detect the enemy in mineshafts beneath the trenches, through to a hollowed out fake tree which became a camouflaged look out post in no mans land.
Drawing on IWMs rich poster collection, Your Country Needs You focuses on the campaign to recruitment a New Army. Visitors will see a doll of Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, figurehead of the recruitment campaign, letters from an adoring fan asking him to marry her, and a letter from 9-year-old Alfie Knight pleading to allow him to enlist as he can ride jolley [sic] quick on my bicycle and
am a good shot with a revolver.
World War, where visitors can explore the war at sea and campaigns in the Middle East, Africa and Gallipoli, is dominated by the naval gun from HMS Chester at which young Jack Cornwell VC was mortally wounded in the Battle of Jutland. In Feeding the Front, visitors will be required to make food, boots and shells through large, digital animations at an interactive Supply Line table over 4 metres long, which shows the unprecedented scale of production required on the home front to keep the troops fed and fighting.
At the centre of the Galleries with the towering 9.2 inch howitzer gun Mother on display, Total War will explore the Battle of the Somme, the five month long costly battle that started in July 1916 and marked a pivotal point in the war. The scale of casualties is represented through a chilling map showing the numbers of British and Empire temporary graves in just one sector of the battlefield, and a Union Jack used by a regimental chaplain to conduct burials on the Somme. Visitors will also be able to watch the original 1916 documentary film of the battle - in its entirety and for the first time with the original musical accompaniment.
Life at the Front will look at what life was like for the troops in and behind the trenches; how they coped with hardship, discomfort and loss, what they ate, how they entertained themselves with plays, vegetable shows and sports days, and the souvenirs they collected such as a scrap of wallpaper pulled off the walls of a German trench.
Visitors will then walk through a trench one of the highlights of the Galleries with a Sopwith Camel fighter plane swooping low overhead and a Mark V tank looming above. Projected silhouettes of soldiers and a soundscape will evoke the drudgery, discomfort, danger and comradeship which characterised the experience of a British Tommy on the Western Front, from a sudden thunderstorm to a gas attack.
At all Costs explores how a total war on the battlefields, meant a total war on the home front as women stepped into roles in factories, hospitals, transport and agriculture and even children helped the war effort, as shown by a jumper belonging to a Sea Scout coastwatcher who looked out for German spies. Visitors will also learn how Britain came under enemy air attack, how, during the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, it faced rebellion on its own streets and how Germanys fateful decision to launch a campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare ultimately brought the USA into the war on the side of the Allies.
In 1917, as the war raged on, visitors will discover in Machines against Men how the armies of Britain and its empire looked to new technology and tactics to win the war. The area will feature the stories of two famous air aces, British Major James McCudden VC and the German Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen, and fragments from the planes in which they met their deaths will be on display. It will also look at how, even as communications technology became more advanced, animals were still used to send battlefield messages with a collar worn by a messenger dog as well as a pigeon message book. Before focusing on the iconic mud clotted battle of The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), where visitors will see how the efforts of photographers and war artists to record the shattered landscapes of the Western Front, created an indelible impression of what the war looked like.
The terrible strains that people endured will be explored in Breaking Down through objects such as Siegfried Sassoons letter protesting at the continuation of war and items of German clothing made out of paper as the British naval blockade contributed to a severe lack of resources, hunger and even starvation.
Finally in Seizing Victory the dramatic story of 1918 will be told. Visitors will see how after almost another year of war, from near defeat, allied forces were able to defeat Germany and its allies. The Galleries conclude in War Without End, showing how the war changed the world forever, from the enormous human cost, the new world order that emerged, the indelible changes which the war had on British society and the Empire, through to the commemoration and remembrance as people looked back ten years after the war.
Professor David Stevenson, (London School of Economics) and Historical Advisor to IWM says, The remarkable new 1914-1918 galleries at IWM London will be one of the highlights and most enduring legacies of the First World War centenary. They integrate text, artefacts, and audio-visual material into a compelling total presentation that while properly focusing on the experience of Britain and its empire is global in scope. Though taking full account of the latest historical research, they leave it open to the visitor to gather the essential information and to draw their own conclusions about the outbreak, development, and impact of that terrible conflict.