Duke and Duchess of Cambridge launch our fundraising campaign

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with IWM Director-General

IWM Director-General Diane Lees explains the planned redevelopment work for IWM London

Last night, the IWM Foundation, an independent charitable trust, hosted its patron Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge at a reception to launch a £35million fundraising effort to transform our First World War galleries in time for 2014.

In a deeply personal speech, Lord Rothermere, founder of the IWM Foundation, highlighted the ‘devastating impact’ the First World War had on many thousands of families in the country, including his own.

His great-grandfather, the 1st Viscount Rothermere, Harold Sidney Harmsworth, tragically lost two of his three sons in the fighting.

Captain Harold Vyvyan St George Harmsworth was severely wounded while serving with the Irish Guards at Cambrai in November 1917 and died from his injuries the following year. He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in taking out two enemy machine-guns under heavy fire.

Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess of Cornwall speaks to guests in front of a portrait of Harold Vyvyan Harmswoth

Lieutenant Vere Sidney Tudor Harmsworth, of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, was also killed in action at the Battle of the Ancre in November 1916 aged just 21. Already a combat veteran, he was deafened by gunfire during service in the Royal Navy, captured at the bombardment of Antwerp in October 1914 and interned in Holland before escaping and going on to serve at Gallipoli.

Portrait of Vere Sidney Harmsworth

The Duchess of Cambridge discusses the family history of Viscount Rothermere with an IWM historian in front of a portrait of Vere Sidney Harmsworth

Turning down offers of safer jobs, he volunteered to return to the front line in France and was cut down by a shell as he advanced, wounded, across No Man’s Land – showing such endurance and courage, according to his commanding officer, that ‘the men of his battalion who survived the action are thrilled with pride in his name’.

Three weeks before his death he wrote a haunting letter to his family, saying:

‘We came into the trenches this morning and go over the top tomorrow. It will be about dawn… Whether I am to emerge from this show, I do not know. Fate has not definitely informed me… I may have been born to live my 21 years and then fade away. It may have been my mission in life. If I fall, do not mourn but be glad and proud. It is not a life wasted but gloriously fulfilled. The crowning consolation is the knowledge that one will have done one’s utmost to leave the world better than one found it.’

His words moved his grieving father, who was himself Director-General of the Royal Army Clothing Department during the First World War before being appointed Air Minister in 1917, to donate the building which houses IWM London today.

The present Lord Rothermere said of his great-grandfather, ‘He was determined that the selflessness and heroism of their entire generation would always be remembered, would always be honoured, would always – always – be part of our national story. I share that determination. If imaginative and intellectual engagement with the past matters, if a sense of personal connectedness to those who have gone before matters, which surely it does, then this museum and our centenary campaign matter too. And matter more than ever as the shadow of time passes over each new generation.’

What’s your personal connection to the First World War? Share your stories with us on Facebook.

You can make a donation to support the transformation of the First World War galleries by visiting our Just Giving page today

1 comment
  1. Mrs Katharine Serras says: August 4, 20123:15 pm

    I am concerned that the changes to the lower ground floor of the Museum might lose some of the atmosphere and meaning of the First and Second World War.

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