For the first time yesterday I visited the Imperial War Museum in London. I decided it was high time I visited one of London’s leading attractions and get myself informed. The Imperial War Museum “is unique in its coverage of conflicts especially involving Britain and the Commonwealth from the First World War to the present day.”
Wars, tanks, canons, fighting soldiers, killing machines and so forth have never interested me in the slightest, I have always recoiled from anything to do with the killing of ones fellow human beings. I used to find it shocking that my little brother was so especially fascinated by war as a boy, he used to devour all the books he could get his hands on and I found this chilling but I put it down to what being a boy is all about I suppose. I realise now that I am older that it was the strategy of war that so fascinated him and I am sure all the knowledge of history and battles he soaked up as a kid has served him well in his field as a litigation lawyer because he certainly did not become a soldier.
I was seriously impressed with the museum, it is so extraordinarily well organised and tastefully laid out, so much information has been gathered and donated there, it is steeped in history, so many people are mentioned and given credit. Their war related stories were there for us all to read, hear and see along with their medals. This great building is a great national tribute to the living and the dead in war time. The building itself is light and airy and to walk around it is not too strenuous. There is so much to take in. We saw only a small part of the Crimes Against Humanity section because after going through the Holocaust we did not have the stomach or the energy to see any more in that area. I felt physically sick at what I saw there on film and in photographs. It turns your stomach when you think what man is capable of doing to his fellow man.
On the top floor of the museum is the Lord Ashcroft Gallery which was built by generous donation from Lord Ashcroft. The exhibition in the gallery is called “Extraordinary Heroes” which houses the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses and a significant collection of George Crosses. For those of you who do not know, The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy, awarded to British and Commonwealth armed forces. The George Cross is the highest civil decoration of the UK, it is the civilian counterpart of the Victoria Cross and the highest gallantry award for civilians as well as military personnel in actions which are not in the fact of the enemy.
The highlight of my visit yesterday was definitely The Lord Ashcroft Gallery which was profoundly moving for me. I was completely bowled over by the bravery of so many of these men and women who risked their lives many times over. I found myself unbelievably moved as I walked along each row reading one incredibly courageous story after another. I can’t begin to share all that I read here but I highly recommend everyone visits this museum. I may not be in favour of war but I do recognise the courage and bravery of many who go to war and I think it is important that we all know what has gone before and that we seek not to repeat it. It is only right that we honour our soldiers for their courage and bravery, how unbelievable their experience in the war zones must have been and still are, how incredibly terrifying and yet many rise above this and perform feats that to us are simply beyond belief. We owe much too to those who recorded all that we have here, to the photographers some of whom have lost their lives in sharing what they saw with the rest of the world.
I shall be going back to the museum again soon to see all the parts that I did not get to yesterday but I leave you now with a quote from one of our finest soldiers Field Marshall Montgomery.
“I shall take away many impressions into the evening of life. But the one which I shall treasure above all is the picture of the British soldier – staunch and tenacious in adversity, kind and gentle in victory – the man to whom the nation has again and again, in the hour of adversity owed its safety and its honour”.