As part of our history syllabus for U4th, we visited the Imperial War Museum North in Salford. When I first entered the grey building I was not expecting a modern interior with jagged lines that stood out on the walls. When I usually think of museum I think of a big old building with lots of old paintings and huge explanations of what the artefacts are about; however, this was not the case for this museum.
Once the tour guide had shown us to the first floor of the museum we were free to roam around as we pleased. Upon entering the main room full of the different artefacts it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The lighting was fairly dim and the walls were stone, upon them there were different objects placed in a geometrical way. I thought it looked amazing. One of the things that stood out the most for me was a large pile of suitcases which had belonged to children in WW2. However the children were used for kinder transport so it gave an eerie effect by placing them allon show and knowing they had belonged to someone.
The other thing which I felt helped me learn a great deal more about WW1 was the fact that there were real objects which people had used once. This made the history we were learning feel more relevant and not that old. Later on in the day we had a talk lead by one of the museum experts, in this talk we were able to hold and examine real objects that people had used in the war. On the table I was on, we had medals and a letter which belonged to a man named Alfred who had fought in the war. The letter had the biggest impact on me as it was the real letter and not a copied version, he also wrote the letter on the day he died.
After arriving very early in the morning at school, we arrived at the Imperial War Museum North at around 10:15, excited to visit one big exhibition on 20th century wars and their effects on people.
The museum was one big room which we explored chronologically from left to right, starting at World War I before connecting it to the Second World War by looking at the intervening period, and then the WWII displays. Continuing on the right side of the museum was the Cold War and then information on wars being fought today. In the museum were six ‘silos’, partitioned rooms from the main exhibition, which contained specific artefacts and information about ‘Experience of War’ to ‘Science and Technology’ in war situations.
Soon after we arrived, a 360° video was played on rationing in World War II from ‘Horrible Histories’. It enlightened us about rationing, ‘the black market’ and the foul synthetic food people ate, for example sugared parsnips which they the mashed to replace bananas! The video also explained the dig for victory and how people became much healthier from rationing overall, due to the greater proportion of vegetables in their diets, with less sugar and butter. We were also informed by the video about the ‘make do and mend campaign’, which was very interesting. We’re not sure we could have lived in WWII with all the rationing; we quite like our chocolate and butter on sandwiches!
After the cartoon film, we had an education and artefact handling session with a member of the IWM which focused on World War I, which we have been studying. We split up into groups and sat at four different tables, each with pictures, artefacts and quotes on them. We were then told to curate these objects into a display which had a central theme, and explain their significance to other tables. After we had chosen the objects we thought fit our theme the most, we gave short presentations. The first table to present their exhibition was the table which had items from the Home Front in the war. They read a quotation from a letter to Lord Kitchener from a little boy about his admiration of soldiers and showed us a golden box that Princess Margaret sent soldiers, containing cigarettes or for non-smokers, sweets. The Western Front table showed us a bayonet and explained the evolution of the soldier’s cloth hat to a metal helmet during the war. Another group talked about the differences between the Western Front and the other battles, particularly focusing on Gallipoli and the conditions they faced of heat, sand and flies.
After the artefact handling session, it was lunch, which we all (oddly enough) enjoyed. As the group that had gone into the artefact handling session first, we then had loads of time to wander around the museum looking at the displays which interested us the most. We were free to peruse the exhibits at our own pace, concentrating on those that captivated us most. There were several more 360° films shown, including one about Children in War, which touched our hearts as we heard about the evacuations of the city children in WWII, and the bravery of the mothers and fathers who let their children travel from Germany to England in the hope that they might have a better life. The film continued, showing us messages and thoughts from children in this century, this year, who had been forced to flee their homes due to conflict. It showed us all that war still exists today, even though we live in a country at peace, and we must not forget that.
Once we had finished looking at the displays in the main hall, we went on a small excursion to the Air Shard, which is attached to the museum building. After we had remembered how to work a lift (you do need to press the button of the floor you want to go to, something we forgot for 5 minutes, leading the operator man to look at us very strangely!), we got taken up to a viewing platform made of metal mesh. This proved quite frightening for some, who didn’t like heights, but the view of Manchester was spectacular!
With our activities at the museum finished, we boarded the coaches home, only to get stuck in Friday evening M6 traffic. We finally arrived back at school, having had a wonderful trip to the IWM, and learnt many things.
Kirsten & Portia, U4H