Sunday, 17 December 2017

Fighting for Air Visit to the Imperial War Museum

Six of our volunteers had a busy day on Tuesday 12 December as we visited the First World War (FWW) Galleries at the Imperial War Museum, London; then went to see archival material at the Museum of Croydon. Both trips gave us a great perspective on the national and local response to the war and aerial attacks on civilians. We’ll start with the Imperial War Museum. . . 

Sopwith Camel and airship gondola in FWW gallery
Paul Cornish, a Senior Curator who worked on the galleries, explained that the reopening and redisplay of the FWW was part of a wider refurbishment project that is tied into to the centenary of the war. He pointed out that most of the objects and archive material on display is original, though some – such as postcards – had been printed on metal so people could pick them up; others had a copy printed over the top of the original so exposure to light was not so intense.

The exhibition as a whole works in a horse shoe shape around the bottom of the lower floor of the Museum. Around the outer side is information about the fighting and fronts, mainly the Western Front and trench warfare. On the inner-side is information and material about the Home Front. The point is that without the support and energy of the Home Front, the soldiers would not be able to fight due to lack of supplies as well as morale.

Interestingly, Paul stressed that only contemporaneous point of view of were used, i.e. just what people thought or reflected at the time and not with hindsight. This is because so much has been written about the war and there are many different historical viewpoints.

Some points, such as information about the YMCA, I’ll weave into later posts about photographs of
Charred map of London from L31
Croydon during the war. The main information here is to do with the war in the air on the frontlines and the aerial attacks by the German military on Britain. It was news to be me, though I’d visited before, that from an aviation point of view the Battle of the Somme was a success since the British and French had control of the skies and assisted the artillery on the ground.

There was a significant section on Zeppelin and airship raids on Britain. Interestingly, the museum has a lot of material from L31, the Zeppelin shot down over Potters Bar on 1 October 1916 – the same Zeppelin that HCAT archives have a piece off. The material
Material from Zeppelin L31
includes a charred map of London, as well as an ammunition box binoculars and a lot of fragments of the airship. It was the third airship to fall victim to the British air defences.

The Sopwith Camel on display was the plane from which Flight Lieutenant Stuart Calley shot down the last German airship to be destroyed in the war on 1 August 1918. I assumed it was shot down on the western front.


Upstairs in the Ashcroft Gallery was a display on people who had been awarded Victoria Crosses. Norman spotted the section on William Leefe Robinson, who was responsible for shooting down the first Zeppelin over Britain
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