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1st Cameronians tea in trenches.

The 1st Cameronians at a frosty dawn in the trenches, making early morning tea. 18th November 1914. Houplines Sector, France. (c) IWM Q51531

On the first Remembrance Day of the Centenary, Isaac Rosenberg’s acclaimed poem ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ is set alongside images of troops at dawn during the First World War. A moment of quiet and reflection, before the business of the day began, for troops from the fields of France to the deserts of Egypt and Palestine.

Isaac Rosenberg, from the impoverished East-End of London and of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, had gone to war as a private soldier primarily to provide his mother with the separation allowance – a payment given to soldiers’ families due to the loss of income of them going to war. Determined to continue with his poetry, with mentors and patrons including traditionalist Edward Marsh and modernist Ezra Pound, he wrote to Laurence Binyon in Autumn 1916,

‘I am determined that this war, with all its powers for devastation, shall not master my poeting; that is, if I am lucky enough to come through all right. . .’

Rosenberg was killed on patrol in the early hours of 1 April 1918. He was featured in IWM London’s exhibition In Memoriam, that ran for a year from September 2008. Information from the exhibition and much of Rosenberg’s poetry is held in the Museum’s collections.     

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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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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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Marking stone on the Piskaryov cemetery.

‘No-one is forgotten and nothing is forgotten’ (Olga Berggolz): marking stone on the Piskaryov cemetery. Courtesy of author.

 

Visiting researcher, Dr Yvonne Pörzgen, writes about uncovering stories of the Siege of Leningrad in IWM’s collections.

Where do you go to research the Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944)? As it turns out, IWM London and the University of Bristol are excellent places for such a project. The Goethe Institut’s programme “Scholars in Residence” brings young scholars from different countries in touch with each other to work on related projects. I was happy to support Alys Cundy in conducting her project on the representation of twentieth-century conflict in museums in Germany in 2013. In spring 2014, Alys introduced me to the scholars at the Research Department of IWM and at the History and Russian Departments at the University of Bristol who supported me with my research.

It was just the right time. On January 27 2014, St. Petersburg celebrated the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege that  killed over a million inhabitants of the city. How do you commemorate such an event that  changed the city forever and whose traces are still to be found all over Saint Petersburg?

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 Arabic Monitor 1941 © BBC

Arabic monitors at the BBC Monitoring Service’s early wartime home in Wood Norton Hall, Evesham, 1941 © BBC

 

Former IWM Collaborative Doctoral Award Student, Laura Johnson, describes her exciting research into the BBC Monitoring Service. 

The BBC Monitoring Service played an indisputable role in British intelligence during the Second World War. Their reports of international radio broadcasting, now held in the storage areas at IWM Duxford, provided the British Government with a daily assessment of news, information, propaganda, and indications of the intentions of other nations.

The fact that the Monitoring Service mainly reported on open, publicly available radio broadcasts has, however, resulted in its long absence from intelligence literature. This is because intelligence has traditionally been associated with secrecy. Whilst conducting my PhD research on the role of the BBC Monitoring Service during the Second World War, I was struck by a tension between the roles of openness and secrecy within its operation. 

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Tank ascending a slops

Tank F4 ascending a slope at the Tank Driving School during the special training for the Battle of Cambrai at Wailly, 21 October 1917. Tanks were one of the major engineering developments of the First World War and a key achievement of the ‘boffins’ © Imperial War Museums (Q 6299)

Our guest blogger Taylor Downing is a historian and writer. His latest book, Secret Warriors: Key Scientists, Code Breakers and Propagandists of the Great War will be published by Little, Brown on 1 May 2014.

Taylor will give the Churchill Lecture at the Churchill War Rooms on Tuesday 29 April 2014 at 7pm on the topic ‘Churchill and the “Boffins” of the First World War’. For details and how to book click here.

So much writing on the First World War concentrates on the trenches and the fighting on the Western Front. That is understandable. The terrible stories of suffering and loss, in which so many died for so little gain, reach out to everyone who has an interest in war. But there is another side to the war that hardly ever gets a look in. This is the subject of my new book, Secret Warriors. It is the story of the scientists who made a little known contribution to many aspects of the fighting. In the next war these men were given the affectionate nickname of ‘boffins’. Although that word was never used in the First World War, the ‘boffins’ in that conflict played an important role, too.

Firstly, consider aviation. In 1914 aviation was only just beyond its infancy and flying was still a seat-of-the-pants type activity. Engines generated little more than 100 horsepower and most aircraft could only stay airborne for 40 or 50 minutes. The dramatic progress in the science of aeronautics during the war meant that by 1918 some aircraft could draw on 1500 horsepower engines, could carry a heavy bomb load and stay airborne for up to 17 hours. The armed services possessed 272 aircraft in 1914. By 1918, the RAF had over 22,000 machines. The First World War created the modern aviation industry and Britain would become a major player for the next hundred years.

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Rod Suddaby

Rod Suddaby at a FEPOW round table meeting hosted by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine on 15 February 2010 (detail from a photograph by Nick Parkes). Photograph by permission of Meg Parkes.

‘Never stray too far from your sources’.

This was the invaluable guidance of Rod Suddaby whom I had the privilege to have as my PhD co-supervisor for the last two years of his life – focusing on the stories of Far Eastern prisoners of war (POWs).

At first it was daunting to be Rod’s student. His knowledge was immense, and being an English graduate I had not studied history for at least a decade.  But Rod could not have been a more generous, patient, or thorough advisor, and my trepidation turned into delight. Rod put himself through the task of reading everything I churned out at least twice. First he did his ‘ring true’ test, to check whether what I had written was convincing historically. Only when he was sure of that did the pencil come out, and he would go through every sentence again, every footnote, and every reference with the utmost precision.

We would arrange to go to the museum café where an argument about him insisting on buying me a cake became customary, and as I nibbled my way through the cake he would make his way through each page – explaining his annotated comments, and the reasons for the suggestions he made. During a particularly tricky draft in which I tangled myself in theory, he cheerfully offered one concise comment: ‘I skipped all that’. Rod never strayed from his sources.

I laughed and learned a lesson he was keen that I understood – to keep my words grounded in the history of what POWs lived, to be sure of what we know by double checking everything against available records, and to let the stories of POWs speak for themselves.

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Image of The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945.  The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble.

The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945. The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble. Courtesy of Lambeth Archives.

Barely 150 metres from Imperial War Museum London is the site of the most destructive explosion in Lambeth during the Second World War, which killed 43 people.  Just before 8.30pm on the night of Thursday 4 January 1945 a huge explosion destroyed an apartment building, Surrey Lodge, on the corner of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road.   The old Lambeth Baths and a chapel on the opposite side of Lambeth Road were also severely damaged.  The blast also extensively damaged the northern and western sides of the  Imperial War Museum as well as many surrounding buildings.

There was no warning – no air raid sirens or sounds of approaching aircraft – just the explosion.  However the initial detonation was followed by a distinctive roaring noise and a sonic boom, because the disaster was caused by a German V2 rocket – the world’s first ballistic missile – diving into the building faster than the speed of sound.

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Image from the history of IWM: the galleries at Crystal Palace, 1920-24.

The History of IWM: the galleries at Crystal Palace, 1920-24.

Steeped as they are in stories of the past, it is not often that museums get to step back and take a look at their own history. The History of IWM Workshop, held at IWM London on 2 May 2012, brought together IWM staff, external researchers and several of IWM’s AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) students to review the current state of research into IWM and discuss avenues for further investigation.

Roger Smither, Research Associate, began with a look at the pioneering work of IWM’s Film Archive. Thanks to forward-thinking individuals such as Edward Foxen Cooper and IWM’s first Curator, Charles ffoulkes, the museum had been a leader in the field of film collecting. Next came Dr Toby Haggith who looked at memory within the museum – arguing that IWM has always been, through its collections and its displays, and the thousands of interactions between staff and the public, a site of both personal and collective remembering. Dr Catherine Moriarty of the University of Brighton, ended the first panel by describing IWM’s programme of art commissions between 1981 and 2007. Her conversations with former IWM Keeper of the Department of Art, Angela Weight, revealed how this creative programme allowed artists to draw inspiration from IWM’s unparalleled collections and added an extra dimension to the museum’s displays. Dr. Moriarty ended by urging future researchers to explore the lesser known stories within IWM’s history.

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