Image of IWM logo with photographic background IWM Research Blog

“11.30pm HE bomb exploded Walcot Square. Serious damage to property. Known casualties. 1 killed.” Civil Defence incident report from Post 9, 195 Kennington Road, 17 September 1940

Take a stroll around the side of IWM London and onto the Kennington Road. Walk south for a few minutes until on your left you see Walcot Square. Turn into this street and walk up towards the Square itself. https://goo.gl/maps/pbiFH Turn around and look back. Notice the lampost on the right and the tree to the side of the built out bay window on the house on Kennington Road. Notice the shapes of the houses backing onto Walcot Square. All looks settled, peaceful, normal.

Now look at this photograph.

Walcot Square 1940. Press & Censorship Bureau Photograph Library. © IWM

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“It is difficult enough to justify your action to higher authority and it is made no easier when you fail to obey orders issued for the comfort of your troops and in addition fail to ack[nowledge] or reply to my messages.”

Major General W D A Lentaigne to Brigadier J M Calvert DSO, 9 July 1944.

Brigadier Mike Calvert (left) gives orders to Lieutenant-Colonel Shaw, while Major James Lumley stands with M1 carbine under his arm,after the capture of Mogaung in Burma during the second
Chindit expedition, June 1944. IWM MH7287.

The large and important collection of papers kept by Brigadier J M Calvert DSO* (1913-1998) during his long career have now been catalogued, making them much more accessible to researchers who are interested in Special Forces, notably the exploits and development of the Chindits (AKA “Wingate’s ‘Ghost Army’” or “Wingate’s Raiders”) [1] and the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) who operated behind enemy lines during and after the Second World War.  Calvert’s own papers and extensive correspondence with many leading military figures provide a unique insight into the British Army. They are particularly of interest in examining the development of its use of special operations, which have been the subject of much debate and research.

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Collaborative Doctoral Award student, Rebecca Coll, writes about the IWM’s historic commitment to progressive methods of research and collecting.

“…a remarkable thing about the war museum is that, despite the nineteenth century type name…right from the beginnings, which were at the end of the First World War, they collected material relating to say women and empire people and so on. Not just the male white generals that you might expect that, that kind of place might do, they, they always wanted to show how the war affected everybody.”

Margaret Brooks, Research Assistant 1973-1983, IWM and Keeper of the Department of Sound Records 1983-2010, IWM (Interview with Margaret Brooks by Robert Wilkinson, February-September 2013, Oral history of oral history in the UK, track 01, Sound & Moving Image catalogue (http://sami.bl.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/x/0/49/) reference C1149/30, © The British Library). 

With the recent opening of the new First World War galleries at IWM London, it is important to recognise the museum’s past and present commitment to new and progressive forms of research. The 1960s and 1970s are considered to have been a period of reinvention for the IWM, and the development of the Department of Sound Records was a prime example of this.

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Queues outside the Imperial War Museum, July 2014. Photo: © Imperial War Museum

When IWM London’s First World War Galleries re-opened on 19th July 2014, the queues extended past the big naval guns and out of the gates to the north of the building. On the first day, over 8,000 people came to visit the museum and 60,134 people had come to visit within the first week. Timed entry was also allocated to visitors to prevent overcrowding within the new exhibition.

Photographs from 40 years ago show almost identical queues. However, these were for the Radio Times Colditz Escape Exhibition.

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IWM’s Parveen Sodhi investigates the reports of the Indian Soldiers’ Fund to find a new point of access for the history of Indian troops during the First World War. 

‘Very many thanks for the many comforts you have sent for this Company… the men were very pleased at being remembered by anyone connected with India…’ From an Indian Labour Company, France, 18th January 1918.

Lord Roberts initiated the supply of home comforts and gifts in kind by the Indian Soldiers’ Fund as early as October 1917. Roberts – who served in India for over forty years and who was the last Commander in Chief of the Forces – took the greatest personal interest for the provision of the Indian soldiers ‘whom he loved so well’, who had been hospitalised in France during the course of the First World War.

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UEA graduates in World Art Studies and Museology

University of East Anglia Graduation Ceremony for World Art Studies and Museology Masters Students. Courtesy of Emily Peirson-Webber.

A triumphant flinging of mortar boards as the 2014 graduates of the University of East Anglia’s School of World Art Studies and Museology received their degrees recently. Among them was IWM Research Manager Emily Peirson-Webber, who graduated with a Master of Arts with Distinction in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies. Emily’s dissertation focused on the uses of Great War memory in the construction of modern British identity. Congratulations Emily!

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To mark the publication of his new book, ‘Black Poppies’, Stephen Bourne reflects on researching Britain’s black community and the First World War. 

Black Poppies Cover

The cover of Stephen Bourne’s new book, ‘Black Poppies’.

He felt British. He was descended from slaves taken from West Africa but English was his first language. His schoolbooks were written by British people; he lived under British law; he was brought up to admire British poets and British musicians and British scientists and British politicians and British nobility. His allegiance was to King George V, to his Mother Country and to British people all over the world. When Britain declared war on Germany he felt included.

                                 Jackie Turpin, writing about his father Lionel, a Guyanese Merchant Seaman in Battling Jack: You Gotta Fight Back [Mainstream Publishing, 2005].

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To mark the publication of IWM’s guide to Researching the British Empire in the First World War, Anna Maguire reflects on the challenges of remembering war and empire. 

On 12 June 2014, I attended a workshop on war, citizenship and public memory. Convened by Vron Ware and hosted by Autograph, the arts organisation based in Rivington Place, Hoxton, a number of historians, curators, campaigners and educators took part in discussions about the process of remembering war, public memory and commemoration. The discussions centred around the contribution of soldiers from empires in both world wars, and during other twentieth and twenty first century conflicts.

The session began with everyone sharing an image to represent their area of interest. These were fantastically stimulating, ranging from Ministry of Information photographs of colonial troops during the First World War, to book covers such as that researched by Stephen Bourne for his new book Black Poppies to images of current recruits from the Commonwealth in the British Army chosen by Les Back. These were then displayed on the wall as a visible reminder of our own individual perspectives and stories, but also of the collective desire to learn and teach and share more about colonial and postcolonial experiences.

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IWM London - Side View New Atrium © Foster+Partners

Side view of the atrium at IWM London © Foster+Partners

‘The description ‘permanent exhibitions’ is perhaps misleading for our main displays, since it is not the exhibitions which we regard as permanent but rather their themes and content’

Initial Brief for Redevelopment of Main Building of Imperial War Museum, November 1980 (IWM EN4/41/CF/1/1/4/8)

Making an exhibition about the First World War at IWM (Imperial War Museums) is no mean feat. Although IWM has been doing this for 97 years (and 78 years at the museum’s Lambeth Road site) as part of its remit, various factors during this period have influenced what is said, and how and even why it is said. My Collaborative Doctoral Award research focuses on these factors, through examining some of the permanent and temporary IWM First World War exhibitions between 1964 and 2014.

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Image of the main entrance at Budapest's Hospital in the Rock.

The Main Entrance at Budapest’s Hospital in the Rock, 1944 © hospitalintherock

Research Manager at IWM London, Emily Peirson-Webber, describes the history of Budapest’s Hospital in the Rock after a recent trip to the Hugarian capital.

During my recent trip to Budapest, I discovered the enigmatically named ‘Hospital in the Rock’. The site, which appears in the New York Times list of the top ten places to visit in the Hungarian capital and was nominated in the 2014 European Museum of the Year Awards, is still in its infancy as a visitor attraction – it was first opened to the public on a one-off basis in 2007.

The history of the Hospital in the Rock is compelling. Housed in a natural cave system spanning around 10km and located under Budapest’s Castle Hill (a 1km-long plateau situated 170m above the Danube); the site has been in use since the medieval period. However, it was during the Second World War that the caves took on a particularly important role for the city, due to their uniquely sheltered position.

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