… or rather, what I like to think of as a true British experience.
‘Twas another weekend in London with the Canadian lads and we made the most of a dim afternoon, what with going to the Imperial War Museum (IWM), a nearby curry shop for lunch and then to a local football game.
We didn’t meet until past ten at the museum, and by then Jack and I had seen a segregated entrance (for toilets, I think) on the street, and a foggy view of the Shard.
The War Museum was surprisingly engrossing. I guess the only time I’ve ever thought about military history with interest was for several months in university when 1) I had an amazing history professor and 2) my new friends happened to be history buffs. That was a while ago though, so this museum was quite the learning experience. Our walk around the museum began on the British side of things; that is, the first exhibits we checked out provided us with the British perspectives from World War Two. A chilling video of Hitler played at the entrance of the exhibit, and there were plenty of neat things like insides of planes, rows of tin hats and even an old codebreaker.
Because we were visiting on a weekend, the museum had to delegate different groups of people to different time slots for their World War One exhibit. Although it was crowded and there was a bit of wait to even enter, the displays were well worth the time spent. The picture below is of an exhibit I found particularly moving. Images of marching soldiers were projected onto life-size cutouts of men moving forward. As you stood observing, however, there came the whistling of bombs overhead, the frantic yells of men and the panicked heartbeats that grew to be the only sound, echoing, as the projected men fell into the green grass and at the feet of the cardboard men.
The rest of the exhibit also impacted me quite a bit. Both Allied and Axis powers faced trials and death, death everywhere, and what I admired was the fact that both histories were presented in equal detail. In trench warfare, it seems, all were made equal, with every mother’s son shooting only those were other mothers’ sons. One large display allowed you to try on parts of a typical army uniform and I found the weight of the hat and jacket sobering. Another display led you through walls that simulated a trench environment, and projections and sounds made you feel as if you had been transported back in time into a trench, though you didn’t know exactly whose side you were meant to simulate. Both sides suffered harsh times and defeat, and both sides fought with pride and desperation.
All in all, IWM provided a new and fascinating perspective on both world wars. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever so deeply considered the sacrifice of soldiers before and I can say that the more I learn (especially as I read up more to teach my classes about the contexts of books such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Private Peaceful), the more I am grateful for the men and women in our countries who take up a noble burden of fighting even for people they don’t know. I cannot argue for the justification of war, but I can look at the individual gifts of life who were soldiers then and who are soldiers today and say with better understanding: thank you.
Our time after was spent finding a curry shop and then attending a live football game. Curry was so hot and so good (I regret to admit that I don’t recall the name of the restaurant and therefore cannot do a review) and the game (Millwall vs. Nottingham Forest in a championship match at the Den that ended 0-0) was great fun. The most entertaining part for me was probably the crowd, because although the game yielded no goals, the zeal with which the crowd yelled and cheered and booed was tons of fun.