On Monday I went to the newly re-opened Imperial War Museum on a top secret spy mission (well if you insist upon living in reality – a job interview). Afterwards I decided to take a look around some of the fabulous new galleries and exhibits. I was on quite a tight schedule and the queue for the First World War galleries was rather long, so I took a look in the A Family in Wartime section. The domestic aspects of the Second World War are something that I have always found fascinating and humbling. The changes on the Home Front that emerged as a result of war created a mesh across the country which conected everyone. I love the organisations that were proactive at this time such as the WVS and local community groups. However, I know it wasn’t all tea dances and victory rolls. I remember asking my grandmother if she ever went to any dances during the war and she just said, ‘no, we were all too tired’. I think this speaks volumes about the realities of war for some, beyond those aspects which are largely popularised by American representations of the 1940s.
So, A Family in Wartime was right up my street (excuse the pun). The exhibit is centred on the Allpress family who lived in Stockwell during the war. There were ten children in the family, most of whom were adults by 1939, with some living away from the family home. All had different experiences of the war and these stories form the narrative of the exhibit. The centrepiece however is a beautiful model replica of their house, complete with furniture and soft furnishings and even an Anderson shelter in the back garden. This is a wonderful exhibition that really (again excuse the pun) brings home the realities of war for families in Britain at this time. There are several mock rooms displaying the paraphernalia of domestic life and the obviously labour intensive procedures many of them required. I overheard an older man describing to a boy, who I presume to be his grandson, what the mangle was and how he had one in his kitchen as a child.
There’s also an Anderson shelter that you can sit in and experience what would have assuredly have been the claustrophobia-inducing space.
There’s much more to be discovered at the new IWM and I’ll certainly have to take a few trips down to take it all in. Then again if I get that job I’ll have all the time in the world, when I’m not doing my top secret spy stuff obviously.