The Imperial war museum (IWM) is not far from the Elephant and Castle. Set back from the road there is a beautiful park surrounding it, with the Tibetan peace garden off to one side. As you walk in, it's hard not to notice the two ship cannons that dominate the lead up to the entrance.
As you enter the building, you're on level one of the museum, the central section is open so that they could hang a spitfire and a harrier jet from the roof…I'll admit it's an impressive sight to walk in to. You can see other jets, boats and vehicles jutting out from the floors and as you look over the edge of the first floor balcony you're greeted with more vehicles which have been used or destroyed and a couple of bombs.
This particular spitfire flew in 57 combat missions during the Battle of Britain in 1940. 13 different pilots flew this plane of which 6 survived the Second World War.
Walking down the stairs to level 0 the most striking thing is the wreckage of a car which was used Ina suicide bombing in Baghdad. Almost unrecognisable as a car, the blast killed dozens of people in 2007. It's a hard reminder of the lengths people will go to for a staunch belief.
On this level you can also see a V2 rocket and a T-34 tank. On this level you can also view galleries about the First World War, how it impacted people's live being on the front line and at home and it's far reaching consequences. Uniforms and photos adorn the place with conscription poster and pro allies motifs. Long range and close quarter fighting weapons are in display and you can very quickly realise how difficult it was for the brave men and women who were involved in this ultimate family feud (George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Nicholas II were all first cousins). While I appreciate and am intrigued by the weaponry, it's the more ordinary things that completely enthral me. The letters home, the charms that soldiers carried to bring them luck, the diary accounts as this shows that these were ordinary people thrown in to the clutches of war and how they tried to cling on to a semblance of normal life which is punctuated by the terror and tension of action and attack.
At school, I can only really remember learning about trench foot for the First World War, and it wasn't until I was in my 20s and I read "All quiet on the western front" that I got a true appreciation for the people who fought in this war.
Moving up to level one, this covers the Second World War, the distinct change in weaponry and the run up to the event which lead to another world changing war. The first thing you see is a rowing boat which bears a plaque of Dunkirk 1940.
If you recently seen 'Dunkirk' you'll understand how small this boat is in comparison to the amount of people trying to get out of Dunkirk. Torpedoes such as the G7e T3 hang from the ceiling as you wonder around. Plane wreckages and fin tails are set up for viewing with photographic documentaries of where they were and what they did line the walls.
Here you can see the successful take down stamps on the planes side and the tail fin.
This area also focuses on the items and icons within the Second World War. Hitler's reign over this time was carefully orchestrated public assault to gather votes and followers, and the iconography and propaganda of the time played a huge part in this.
I feel this floor becomes a little jumbled as it doesn't feel the items follow a time line as such therefore memorabilia from the start of the Third Reicht is next to items from project overload and it starts to become a bit overwhelming.
There is a specialist section for the family at wartime which shows the make do and mend mentality along with the early radios, instructional posters, art work and rationing. This area has a really clear layout and design and is really easy to see the efforts that went in to keeping Britain alive and kicking.
Level two is dedicated to peace and security. This looks at some of the key and controversial episodes of more recent history. Items here are either from conflicts are artists who have made items to offer a different perspective. Here on this level is the atomic bomb. This should remind people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the changing way in which wars are fought.
Around this are artists rebellions against the bomb, the most outstanding is "Beach Girl" by Colin Self. This shows the artists own fear of the threat of nuclear war and it doesn't take a huge imagination to scale up the possible impacts which nuclear war could cause from one disfigured mannequin.
Moving through the atomic area and avoiding the "When the wind blows" book (that film made me absolutely hysterical at the age of 14 and gave me nightmares of radiation poisoning for weeks), there are photos from conflicts in Ireland and art work from the Falklands.
There is another very striking piece on this level, is a window from from the world trade centres which came down in 9/11. The twisted steel which was lifted from the wreckage of the north tower shows the violence that destroyed it.
This level, again feels jumbled but really interesting none the less.
There is also a section on communication through the war ages and the secret service. Interesting in itself, but a lot of information to take in and overwhelming with the amount to read. You probably would need a good few hours if you wanted to read and understand everything in this section.
Level three is dedicated to more modern warfare. A film about the Syrian conflict, along with a photographic log of life in Syria. There are also accounts of Guantanamo bay here, with accounts written and and photos. The most graphic being a force feeding chair for those that went on hunger strike.
Tubes would be put up the nose of the person strapped to the chair and high protein and calorie laden fluids made to be forcibly invested (humans are a despicable species at times).
Ovine through this area, there is then a section on the British control houses where 57 detainees were kept while investigated. Basically head under house arrest until proven innocent photographs here show the monotony of house arrest. Interestingly no one was ever charged as a result of this venture.
In this level there is also the only paid for exhibit, which currently looks at those who fought for peace through protest and demonstrations. It tells of protest walks and the literature and posters used to try and stop wars.
This exhibition ends on the 28/08/17 so if you're interested in going it's £10 to enter (there are concessionary rates). It's interesting and colourful and really gets to the heart of the anger felt over War.
Level four solely concentrates on the holocaust. The reasons it happened and the conditions and that the Jewish people were subjected to. It looks at the people involved and has some harrowing photos and letters. There is a train carriage from one of the trains which ran people in to the concentration camps and memorabilia of items which where used or collected at the camps.
The central piece of this exhibit is a model of Aucshwitz, well a section of it, which is where the gas chambers were. Photography was not allowed in this area so if you want to see anything from this exhibit you'll have to go and see if for yourself…and how I found out photography was not allowed…was through a heavy handed security guard telling me off for taking this photo…
The building itself if very interesting, with a aesthetic roof…
There is a fifth floor, but I was running out of time to view this, so this will have to wait for a second visit.
On leaving there is a section of the Berlin Wall outside.
Finally, a wonder around the Tibetan peace garden as honestly, while this museum is abundantly interesting it is emotionally draining and you really do need something good to come out to.
I would seriously recommend a visit here to anyone. It's a great free day out, although if you're planning on taking children I would recommend them being over 14 as some of this is quite hard viewing. Also if you are in any way claustrophobic or just not a big fan of people, this place gets busy and some areas can be very crowded and the exhibits are closely packed together.