On June 8th, 2017 my fiancée Jennifer Holik and I visited the Imperial War Museum in London. Jennifer was in London for the first time and I have visited this museum many times before. I think the first time I went must have been 45 years ago.
First of all, the grounds, the building and the entrance are very impressive. Two big naval guns dominate the view and make it instantly clear you are about to enter a War Museum, not an Art exhibit or anything else.
Entrance is free, as is customary with British museums. After the obligatory security check (there are lockers available to get rid of your bag and coat) the entrance to the exhibits is a bit messy. Turn left you go into a gift shop which leads to the WWII exhibit or you can take the stairs down to the Main Hall. It may confuse some people.
To begin with, the Main Hall. The exhibits in this hall change from time to time and, to be honest, the items that I remember being there were more impressive than whet there is now. Hanging above you are still the Spitfire used in the Battle of Britain as well as V1 (buzzbomb) and a Harrier jet. On the ground there is a wreck of a car used as a bomb in Iraq and a V2 and, slightly tucked away, a Russian tank.
Gone are the items that stuck in my mind most and had been there for years: A Messerschmitt Bf 109, a London bus used in WWI, a British WWI tank and a German Jagdpanzer tank form WWII with a few holes in it. In my mind the gun on this thing was massive (same gun a used on the Tiger tank). I find the main hall not as impressive as it used to be. I was disappointed.
On to the WWI exhibit. I remember the very impressive Trench Experience but that is gone as well. Another disappointment. The amount and quality of the WWI items on display are impressive and the explanations are very well done but WWI is the only conflict they have done that for. No such thing for WWII. Also the explanations on certain WWII items are very sketchy and not complete.
Two exhibits are really well done. One is the Holocaust exhibit which is very emotive. I went to this exhibit for the first time when it was recently opened and it sent chills down my spine. It remained one visit and I have avoided going there in my subsequent visits as it was just too much emotionally. Jennifer visited the exibit and wrote an article called The Spiral of Healing. The other one is the SOE/OSS and Special Operations exhibit. Some great items and weapons on display here with good explanations and stories.
There are several shops (not all items on sale are available in each shop), a bookstore and a café. The shops sell a large variety of items as posters, cards, fluffy animals, WWII sweets, Churchill memorabilia, T-shirts etc etc.
For the first time visitor, it is still a pretty impressive museum although some areas will leave you puzzled. For a long time visitor the IWM is not what it used to be. I don’t need to go again. Shame.
© 2017 World War II Research and Writing Center