London 2014: First World War

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First World War Galleries

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First World War Galleries
Palm House, Courtesy of the Director and Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' at the Tower of London
First World War in the Air
First World War in the Air


London has been remembering the outbreak of the First World War for much of 2014, and there will be no let-up in the second half of the year, says Peter Watts.

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First World War Galleries


The biggest event of the year will be the reopening on 19th July of the Imperial War Museum after an 18-month refurbishment. A centrepiece of the museum will be the new First World War Galleries, which will use weapons, uniforms, diaries, letter, souvenirs, photographs, art and film to tell the story of the conflict through interactive digital displays and immersive space. The galleries will be divided into 14 sections, and will include tanks, airplanes, a recreated trench and sound archive to explore the war and analyse its global impact. The Imperial War Museum will also be showing Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War (19th July 2014 - 8th March 2015), drawing on the museum's huge collection of war art in the largest exhibition of its kind. More than 100 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints from some of the most important artists of the early 20th century will be displayed.


Forgotten Fighters


While memories of the First World War can focus on the considerable hardships of life in the trenches or the Home Front, the National Maritime Museum will examine the often overlooked naval war in a new permanent gallery, Forgotten Fighters: the First World War at Sea (from 2nd August 2014). The war at sea was fought on an epic scale with terrible human loss, and Forgotten Fighters will discover the personal stories of those who participated through a wide range of objects including weaponry, photographs, medals and models. The naval war was fought at a great scale, and the gallery will take visitors from the heroism of merchant mariners to the shattering realities of naval battle, from the Falkland Islands and the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and the North Sea.


Small Museums


This global context will be the focus of Empire, Faith & Kinship: The Sikhs & The Great War (9th July -20th September 2014) which will be at the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, examining the contribution of Sikh soldiers in the conflict, while the Fusilier Museum at the Tower of London has Outbreak 1914: Royal Fusiliers Go to War (4th - 31st August 2014), looking at the experiences of the Royal Fusiliers. Several other small museums will be contributing to the commemorations. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew has an exhibition at the Library in the Art & Archives Reading Room. Plants, People and the Products of War: a Centenary Tribute (1st July - 29th August 2014) will feature artefacts, photographs and letters from Kew's varied collections to provide a view into Kew's involvement in the First World War.This small exhibition will include coverage of those who risked their lives to collect plants from battlefields, personal stories of staff, the rise of women gardeners, an array of weird and wonderful plant materials that were 'products of war' and a look at Kew's role in advising on planting and landscaping of war cemeteries.


London's Great War Memorials


There can be few English villages that do not contain a memorial to their losses in the First World War, such was the profound impact the war had on the nation. In this spirit, Wellington Arch, run by English Heritage inside an archway and found at Hyde Park Corner opposite Hyde Park, will hold We Will Remember Them: London's Great War Memorials (16th July - 30th November 2014), looking at six London Great War memorials. Among these are some of the finest war memorials ever created, including the Cenotaph on Whitehall and the profoundly moving Royal Artillery Memorial next to the museum at Hyde Park Corner.

At the Tower of London from 5th August an evolving installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies, each representing a British and Colonial military fatality during the war, fills the dry moat creating a beautiful and moving tribute to those who laid down their lives in the Great War. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red is a visually striking installation by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper, for which poppies will be 'planted' by over 8,000 volunteers from across the UK with the last poppy put into position on Armistice Day, 11th November 2014.


Idiosyncratic Exhibitions


An entirely different perspective comes from the Bank Of England, with an exhibition called The First World War and the Bank of England (21st July - 31st December 2014) at the Bank Of England Museum. This will look at the impact the Great War had on the economy, and the effects on the Bank of England and its staff. Even more idiosyncratic is the exhibition at the Museum of Brands, Packaging And Advertising, which holds War Games: How Britons Kept The Home Fires Burning Playing Trivial Pursuits (July 19th - September 2014). This focuses on the war-themed games Britons played during the war, with titles such as Race to Berlin, Battle in the Skies or Running The Blockade. As the war progressed, toy shops filled with games reflecting the latest war events, involving recent inventions as tanks or with titles like War Tactics: Can Great Britain be Invaded? There were also numerous jigsaw puzzles and card games, reflecting the ways families and children kept themselves amused in an era before television, personal computers and even before radio.


Major Institutions


Finally, two of London's largest institutions will be taking a more tangential angle in their study of war and nation.  The British Museum has an exhibition called Germany (16th October 2014 - 25th January 2015), which will take the opportunity to address the significant knowledge gap in Britain about general German history and culture, providing visitors with a new insight into Germany's contribution to world history. The exhibition notes that this is also the 25th anniversary of German reunification, and will draw on objects from a 600 year period to explore the landscape, history, and culture of Germany from the height of the Holy Roman Empire and the age of Gutenberg through to post Cold-War contemporary Germany. Loans from across Germany will reflect the extraordinary shifts of borders and frontiers that define German history, and exhibition will feature the work of great German artists, from Riemenschneider, Durer and Holbein to Kollwitz, Barlach and Baselitz, as well as a wide range of objects that includes prints and maps, coin and medals, spectacular metalwork from clocks to armour, Meissen porcelain and Bauhaus furniture. Over at Tate Modern, Conflict, Time, Photography (27th November 2014 - 14 April 2015) will look at the relationship between photography and the sites of wartime violence, featuring images from a range of battlefields, some taken minutes and others years after a battle has ended.


First World War in the Air

A major new exhibition at the Royal Air Force Museum opens on 4th December 2014.

Royal Air Force Museum London, Grahame Park Way, Hendon, London, NW9 5LL

Tube: Colindale Station


Dates: 4th December 2014 to 31st December 2020


Eleven years after the first powered flight, aviation emerged as a force capable of changing the face of battle. In 1914 the Royal Flying Corps numbered just 1,500 people. By 1918, when the Royal Air Force was created, this had grown to more than 205,000. The full strategic value of air power had become all too evident - both on the battlefield and on the Home Front. The compelling story of the First World War in the Air is revealed in a major exhibition which includes the finest collection of First World War aircraft, medals, letters and uniforms on display in the Claude Grahame-White Hangar of the Royal Air Force Museum from 4th December 2014.

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