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. 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.
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!
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!
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 o another soldier. Plonker, a shell landing in a trench. Thingumajig, baffling technical devise 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.
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.
NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM
Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HT
OPEN: daily 10am – 5pm