Behind-the-scenes: Imperial War Museum to showcase 1,300 new items after £40m revamp

A Spitfire swoops across the atrium

A Spitfire swoops across the atrium

First published in News
Last updated
Sutton Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Chief reporter covering Wandsworth

The brutality of war has been given a human face at long last in the £40m revamped Imperial War Museum (IWM).

A stalwart of Britain’s former military prowess, the Spitfire, is still suspended from the clinical, but nonetheless spectacular, atrium designed by Foster and Partners.

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The new atrium 

Other military icons including a Harrier Jet, a V-1 rocket, a T-34 tank and a Reuters news agency Land Rover damaged by a rocket attack in Gaza, also welcome visitors in the atrium.

However, it is the museum's smaller items such as diaries, letters, clothes and even toys that are the most poignant specimens in the new museum, open to the public on Saturday, July 19.

Over 1,300 objects are on display, many never seen before, including a trunk belonging to a Jewish couple, Leonhard and Clara Wohl, who sent their two youngest children to Britain before the outbreak of the Second World War.

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Reuters news agency Land Rover

They planned to escape Nazi Germany to South America, and sent their trunk ahead of them, but two weeks later war broke out and the couple died in Auschwitz in 1943.

IWM, which has been closed for six months, now tells the history of the last century of war chronologically as you travel up the angular staircases to different floors.

To mark the start of the centenary of the First World War the museum is opening new, permanent First World War galleries chronicling soldier’s stories and tales from the home front.

Truth and Memory, a temporary exhibition, features quintessential artwork of the First World War such as Paul Nash’s oil paintings but also lesser-known artists such as Anna Airy and her painting of a busy, cluttered munitions factory.

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The museum explores more recent conflicts including Northern Ireland and the Falklands 

British artist Mark Neville’s work brings the museum into the present with stark photographs of Afghan children in their war-torn home and baby-faced British soldiers sent there to fight.

Director-general Diane Lees said: “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.”

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Maggie's Spitting Image puppet 

Other exemplary pieces amongst the exhibition include Baroness Thatcher’s Spitting Image puppet, a mural of Saddam Hussein and a suicide bomber’s vest.

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A mural of Saddam Hussein 

From the days when Britain ruled the waves through to the so-called war on terror the predominantly grey-coloured museum feels more like a memorial than it did before – charting the sacrifices and battles of the last century.

Britain’s decline as a military and diplomatic power is no more evident than in the IWM however its redesign undoubtedly consolidates the museum’s place on the world stage.

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