What does the National Army Museum do that the Imperial War Museum doesn’t? Well one is about the history of war and the other is about the history of the British Army.
NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM
The National Army Museum has been in Chelsea since the 70’s but has been closed for the last three years whilst it underwent at multi million pound overhaul. Now its new glass doors are open. Top fact that I came away with? The British Army began at the time of the Civil War when the chaos of many private armies no longer worked.
COULD YOU BE A SOLDIER?
There are five themed galleries in the revamped museum. The first that you come to focuses on what it is like to be a soldier, from recruitment to demob. As you enter the gallery you are asked ‘Could you be a solider?’ and you walk through the yes or no gate, when you leave you are asked if still think you have what it takes. Given that one of the displays is of a solidiers toes that he lost to frostbite on an ascent of Everest, I’m not sure if I could!
GOING IN TO BATTLE
In the Battle gallery the changing nature of war is chronicled from muskets, to rifles, to tanks and thence to todays high tech weapons. This gallery holds the standout object of the whole museum for me, it is the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse Marengo and stands next to a cape that the Duke of Wellington had a Waterloo. There are of course tanks and guns galore, including an interactive tank that you can climb inside, I am way too tall to serve in a tank!
WHAT HAS THE ARMY GIVEN US?
Chatting, Plonker, Thingumajig and wimp. Are just four of the words that have come into our language via the Army. Chatting was the term for quietly picking the lice of another soldier. Plonker, a shell landing in a trench. Thingumajig, baffling technical device and WIMP is an acronym; Whinging Incompetent Malingering Person. This I learnt from the Society gallery along with how fashion and fiction have been influenced by the military.
WHAT IS THERE FOR SMALL CHILDREN TO DO?
All round the museum there are all manner of hands on things to try. Fancy standing in a sentry box dressed in a bearskin and scarlet tunic, there are uniforms in adult and child sizes for you to try on. Or how about exploring the many designs of cap badges? If you have children under 8, then there is a dedicated play area especially for them. Best of all, the National Army Museum is free, except for special exhibitions.
SPECIAL FORCES: IN THE SHADOWS
Special Forces are the subject of the special exhibition at present. What is a special force? Do you mean the SAS? Yes, I do mean the Special Air Service, but also the Special Boat Service, Special Forces Support Group, Special Reconnaissance Regiment and 18 Signals Regiment. Occasionally the SAS are involved in a high profile rescue like the one at the Iranian Embassy in 1980 but in the main the men and women who serve in special forces work under the radar. Indeed I was surprised to learn that protection from cyber attack is now one of the special forces main tasks.
The exhibition takes us through the recruitment process, which takes a long time and only 10 per cent of those who apply will get to join. Among the skills that recruits need is the ability to camoflage themselves. Can you spot the snipers in these pictures? Even with the answers it took me ages to spot anything that might be human!
Artefacts from past missions are on show including on of the Cockle Canoes that was used in Operation Frankton in France in 1942. Of the ten soldier who set out only two returned. So spectacular was the mission that a film ‘The Cockle Shell Heroes’, starring Trevor Howard was made about it. What comes across most strongly in the exhibition is that the special forces don’t need loud shouty, look at me “I’m a Hero’ type of people but rather grey, fading into the background people with extraordinary amounts of courage.
NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM NEED TO KNOW
- Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HT
- Open daily 10am – 5pm
- Admission: Free except for special exhibitions
- SPECIAL FORCES: IN THE SHADOWS runs from 17 March 2018 – 18 November 2018
- Adults £8, children £4, under 12’s free
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