The best military history museums, exhibitions, and digital features of the autumn, as chosen by Military History Matters magazine.
Foe to Friend: the British Army in Germany since 1945
Until 1 July 2021
National Army Museum, London
Earlier this year, the Union flag was lowered at Catterick Barracks Bielefeld, marking the withdrawal of the last British troops stationed in Germany. It was truly the end of an era: in the previous 75 years, many thousands of British troops had been stationed throughout the country as it slowly rebuilt itself.
This major new exhibition at the National Army Museum, brought about by the publication of a book by historian Dr Peter Johnson, looks back on the British-German relationship during those 75 years, from the collapse of the Nazi regime through the Cold War to the present day. The story is enhanced by several artefacts, including a medical kit from Bergen-Belsen (pictured) and medals won during the height of Cold War tensions at the Berlin Wall.
Women in service: the war art of Molly Lamb Bobak
Canadian War Museum
Molly Lamb Bobak was the first Canadian servicewoman to become a war artist, and the only official woman artist to serve overseas, where she painted her fellow members of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) in Britain and the Netherlands. By the time of her death in 2014, she had become one of the country’s most admired painters.
This exhibition features 19 of her works, providing a fascinating insight into the lives of the nearly 50,000 women who served in the Canadian Army, Navy, and Air Force during the Second World War, be it during basic training at home, or in canteens, garages, and offices overseas. The gallery is one of several initiatives launched by the museum to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
US Philanthropy during WWI
The National WWI Museum and Memorial
As first a neutral country and later an active participant, the US greatly contributed to humanitarian efforts overseas during the First World War. This online exhibition explores how a minority of wealthy and influential Americans helped flush much-needed aid into war-torn Europe and beyond. But philanthropy took many forms.
The most effective method of raising funds from the majority of citizens was through advertising, and the exhibition is replete with an impressive collection of evocative original artwork from the period, urging people to donate, help fundraise, or buy war bonds. This was not all benign: as the exhibition also details, American contributions to post-war rebuilding helped deal the country a hand in deciding the future of the world.
Al Weiwei – History of Bombs
Until 24 May 2021
Imperial War Museum, London
Closed for months due to the pandemic, London’s Imperial War Museum has now reopened with a series of new exhibitions on the plight of refugees. Launching this series is a new installation in the museum’s iconic atrium, titled History of Bombs, by Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei. Over 1,000 square feet of the museum’s inner heart has been decorated, giving visitors the chance to study over 50 aerial bombs and missiles, some of the most destructive weapons in history.
Accompanying the IWM’s collection of authentic aircraft, the exhibition further enhances an already striking entrance to a museum renowned for its quality and depth. Advanced booking is recommended.
First in War
First Division Museum, Wheaton, Illinois
The 1st Infantry Division of the United States Army, nicknamed ‘The Big Red One’, has the claim to fame of being the first unit to be deployed and engaged in battle during both the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War. Established in 1917, the division is the longest continuously serving in the US army, so it’s little surprise it now has its own museum.
Its ‘First in War’ series of galleries explores the division’s long and eventful history – in the muddied fields of France, the deserts of North Africa, and the jungles of Southeast Asia. A walk through the museum’s tank park is the best way to round off a visit.
Conservation Centre Open Week
9 – 14 November 2020
Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford
RAF Cosford in Wolverhampton is an historic site, having played an important role in Britain’s defence during the Second World War. It is also the home of a large and unique collection of historical aircraft from both that period and others.
Every year, the museum’s conservation centre opens its doors, allowing visitors to look behind the scenes, explore rare planes, and inspect the work being undertaken on them, while technicians and volunteers are on hand to take questions on current projects.
The museum has implemented new measures to ensure the event can go ahead safely. As such, the number of visitors is limited, and advanced booking is recommended.
Museum of the American Revolution
From the first rumblings of colonial unrest in the 1760s to Washington’s triumphant victory at Yorktown in 1781, the story of the American Revolution is rarely better told than by this museum of the same name in the heart of Philadelphia.
Recently reopened to the public, it boasts a rich collection of weapons, diaries, and works of art – as well as documentary films and interactive features – to bring the fascinating period to life. If you are reluctant to visit in person, the museum’s immersive virtual tour, narrated by actor Michael Douglas, is an exciting way to replicate a visit.
PODCAST: We have ways of making you talk
In this weekly podcast, historian James Holland (pictured) – winner of the MHM Book Awards 2020 – joins comedian and author Al Murray to discuss all matters Second World War. This eclectic show is an amusing and alternative take on the largest conflict in history.
ONLINE COURSE: The origins of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Ever wanted to brush up on your history at a leisurely pace? Study the tyrannous rule of Charles I and the origins of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms with this online learning course. One of countless such classes provided by the Open University on their excellent website.
READING: The defence and loss of Crete
The National Archives
In 1940, Britain wanted to use Crete as a military base, and a garrison was soon built there – only to be captured by the Nazis the next year. This two-part blog compiled by researcher Michael McGrady utilises original documents and maps to chart the arduous struggle for the Greek island.
This article was published in the October/November issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.