WWI at the Imperial War Museum

Obsessed as I am with WWI, the best way to end a recent trip to London for the Historical Novel Society Conference was a visit to the Imperial War Museum’s WWI exhibit. With the centennial on, we should have known it would be crowded. Organized as a grand winding path, this exhibit sweeps you from pre-war days through each year of the conflict and the aftermath of the Paris Peace conference. Each artefact, picture and memento is displayed for easy viewing often punctuated by the sounds of war. A compelling reminder of what happened to the world in that great catastrophe.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

War scene from IWM exhibit

British encouraged to do their part at home
British encouraged to do their part at home
WWI rations
WWI rations
WWI wireless machine
WWI wireless machine
From a soldier's letter home
From a soldier’s letter home
Encouraging the Americans to get involved
Encouraging the Americans to get involved
Invented by New Zealander John Pomeroy, these bullets ignited the hydrogen gas in Zeppelin airships
Invented by New Zealander John Pomeroy, these bullets ignited the hydrogen gas in Zeppelin airships
Women encouraged to participate
Women encouraged to participate
Dublin munitions factory
Dublin munitions factory
Women's war work was critical
Women’s war work was critical
WWI gas masks came in various designs
WWI gas masks came in various designs
Poison gas cylinders
Poison gas cylinders
Underground listening device
Underground listening device

WWI quotation

Sniper's camouflage suit
Sniper’s camouflage suit
Barbed wire
Barbed wire
The call for recruits went out to all of Briton's colonies
The call for recruits went out to all of Briton’s colonies

Quote 1 from IWM WWI museum

Peronne Museum dedicated to WWI

When I visited the war museum in Peronne, France, I was struck by its compelling simplicity, the displays laid out in simple frames on the floor, cream walls unadorned except for posters and a few simple shelves. Blind Regret – current work in progress – includes a trip to this museum, my protagonist in search of her grandfather’s mysterious past accompanied by a French man whom she has recently befriended.

~~~

Peronne was a larger town, its streets and squares decked with hanging baskets while citizens strolled about enjoying the sunshine. Housed in a medieval chateau, the museum’s collection was laid out sparingly for maximum impact. On the floor surrounded by ten-inch wooden frames were full uniforms and kits for French, British, Canadian and German soldiers. Similar frames housed rifles, ammunition clips and light trench mortars, a display of medical instruments, ambulance supplies, and signalling equipment. Further on, a display of camouflage techniques showed a hollowed out tree trunk used as an observation post and a range of ingenious materials to disguise artillery and command posts.  Along the walls were posters exhorting civilians to donate to the cause or help in some other fashion.

“What does this say, Pierre?” Grace pointed to a sign that seemed to be telling French citizens what to do during an air raid.

“Turn out all lights. Stay away from the windows. If possible, go to the basement. To avoid being hurt by breaking glass, open the windows but only if you have shutters.”

She chuckled. “Well, those are clear instructions.”

“We French love our regulations.”

They followed two men, one walking with a cane, the other holding his companion’s arm to assist with a short flight of stairs. The men stopped in front of a wooden leg displayed on a glass shelf next to a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. When the older man tapped his left leg with his cane, Grace heard a hollow thunk, thunk.

She looked at Pierre. He drew his lips together and nodded.

Near the exit were two rough tables full of debris. A sign indicated that every piece had been found in the trenches and battlefields of the Somme. Water bottles, helmets, boots, bully tins, pickaxes, knifes, petrol cans, breastplates, barbed wire – all rusted and dirty.

Grace sucked in her breath. “My God. This makes it real.”

“Mmm hmm. Almost as much impact as all the earlier exhibits combined.”

They said nothing more, merely stood and stared at the remnants of war.

~~~

By the way, the banner you see for this blog is a picture I took of the last exhibit Grace and Pierre see.

A note about the posters: The first poster concerns what I think is a magazine available for sale during the war. La Revanche means The Revenge. The second seems to invite Parisians to an art show featuring works done by artists on the front lines. Profits to go to the war effort. The third poster encourages women to make or buy dolls and send them to children in the Alsace and Lorraine areas. The final one needs no words of explanation.

Note: the photos are on a rather odd angle because they were mounted quite high on the walls.