Friday, 28 April 2017

The National Army Museum

Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 4HT

Thursday 27 April 2017

The newly re-opened National Army Museum passed the first test for 50% of us, by having good cycle racks. This enabled me to recover from the tetchiness which beset me when I found that I was not allowed to walk through the Royal Hospital Grounds (Closed for the set-up of the Flower Show)

The new building is spacious and bright, the facilities excellent, the cloakroom for leaving bags convenient, and so we were all set to explore. 

We were advised to start on the top floor, and that is where many of the interesting exhibits are. It is called 'Society and the History of War'. The layout is basically chronological, with recurring topics treated within each time-section.  And they certainly didn't pull many punches, pointing out that armies have always taken 'souvenirs' or 'loot' from their enemies, whether in the 1640s (where the story begins) or in the present day. Similarly, behaviour which shocks the modern woolly liberal is not avoided. We did not know that expanding bullets date from the 1890s, and that it seemed more acceptable to use them against recalcitrant 'savages' than western enemies. 'Is there such a thing as civilised warfare?' asked the captioning. The Geneva and Hague Conventions of 1864 and 1899 seem to have been rather less applied in colonial wars.

This was the first of several opportunities to use an interactive to 'vote' on what we thought. If I may voice a tiny criticism, the page that gives you how the vote has been going says 'visitor's responses', rather than 'visitors' responses' but no doubt they will sort that out.

We saw arquebuses, as well as the heavy breast plates, or cuirasses, which gave French Heavy Cavalry their name. French regimental flags, as presented by Napoleon were alongside the eagles with which they were replaced as Bonaparte began to think of himself as a Roman Emperor. The skeleton of his horse, Marengo, was also there!

When it came to the first of our several and always disastrous campaigns in Afghanistan, there was a section about Major General Sir William Elphinstone 'the most incompetent soldier who ever became general', according to his contemporary, General Sir William Nott.  (They do all seem to be given titles, just the same...)

The Crimean War told us about the beginnings of useful medical care for the wounded, and the establishment of the Royal Army Medical Corps.  We have an uncle who was in the RAMC during the Second World War. The medical kit on display reminded us how glad we are to be living now, not then.

The 'load and fire a rifle' interactive was under repair, which we didn't mind too much, but we were pleased to see that weapon of enlightened Imperialism, the Maxim Gun. I had hoped to find you a link to the full text of Belloc's 'The Modern Traveller', but all websites seem to quote just the two well known lines ('whatever happens, we have got The Maxim Gun and they have not') . The disaster at Isandlwana also had a section (another inadequate commander, I am afraid) and the display of uniforms which accompanies all the sections turned from red to khaki.

One of several ongoing themes was the effect of armaments research on technology, and the development of communications for war was one example. There was an interesting section about the onset of total war.  Apparently during the First World War the soldiers hated snipers more than any other enemy:  the thought that someone was deliberately targeting individuals was less acceptable than indiscriminate industrial killing. We had never considered that before.

Then we came to the Second World War, which focussed on the Normandy Landings. There was some reference to the need for accurate meteorological forecasting, and a brief mention of the fact that many ships brought the troops across, but, as this is the Army's museum, no other mention was made of Operation Neptune and the remarkable achievement of 15,000 naval vessels (but you have heard me banging on about the neglect of naval history before, so I shall desist)

The obligatory 'dressing up' section, which all museums seem to have, was about camouflage, very well done and actually informative: against a choice of backgrounds (desert, jungle, snow) you could put on some kit and see if you blended. I could wish that other museums spent some time thinking about what dressing up is FOR.

There were then sections on Korea, Malaya, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan.  We learned that it was during the Malaya conflict that General Templer coined the term 'hearts and minds' in an attempt to persuade populations not to back insurgents. Rules of engagement were discussed here, and we saw some kit for remotely dismantling explosive devices.

The section about war films and other popularising media was very interesting: from the tableaux of 1815 London to much more recent show-biz.  The 'hit parade' included The Grand old Duke of York, Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major, and the Manic Street Preachers.

'Landscape of Legacy' offered another view of how war shapes the modern world, with pictures of Blenheim Palace and other monuments to and about war.

Recruiting posters, toys and games also featured, as did advertisements for Cadet and TA opportunities.  Recruiting posters from all periods were alongside a range of prosthetic limbs and 'Help for Heroes' material.  

The 'Wear a Flanders Poppy' poster was dated to the mid 1920s.  We had known that the first few Armistice Days after 1918 were opportunities for parties, and it took some years for sober remembrance to replace them.  This was where we heard some war poetry from the 1914-18 war. A display about Wootton Bassett, newly 'Royal', again took us back to the price that needs to be paid for war.

They we came to a section of anti-war (and anti-army) posters and photos, again spanning a wide historical scope, which was a good opportunity for interactives about what the army is for and how soldiers should behave. 

A section on the reporting of war was also helped by an opportunity to decide whether we would take the press corps with us into action.  We also enjoyed a little game about codes, including the kinds that soldiers of the First World War used to tell their families things that the censors might block.

It was interesting to be reminded of the way that war terminology seeps onto the Home Front.

By the time we headed downstairs to the first floor, we felt we had seen and taken in a great deal, so we rather skipped the Art Gallery, and glanced only briefly at regimental badges and more uniforms.  There was an opportunity to match insignia badges to ranks, but we were only told our score,(low) not the 'right' answers.

This is where there was a brief section about women in the army, illustrated by two iconic posters, one from each of the World Wars, but we felt that there was more that could be said on this issue.

Finally, we came to a wall of very interesting statistics, though we were not clear whether the money values listed were 'modern equivalent' or actual.

We just about had the energy to admire Anna Redwood's Desert Rat Sculpture before heading off home. 

We shall certainly visit again, possibly starting at the bottom to do justice to the areas we rather skimped this time. We thought the Museum had done a good job of bringing itself up to date while remaining thought provoking and challenging.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Salvation Army Heritage Centre

William Booth College,
Champion Park,
Camberwell, London SE5 8BQ

Thursday 21 April 2017

Firstly apologies for the break in service due to a combination of health and holidays coming together with both bloggers otherwise occupied, but we are now back in business though struggling with our remaining museums – many of which have limited opening times or require visits by appointment rather than just turning up…

Jo was nursing a  cold so Linda decided to visit the Salvation Army Heritage Centre which she had not known existed ( not on the LIST you see) until she spotted the notice from the bus – William Booth College lying on a couple of regularly used bus routes  (185 and 176) and opposite Denmark Hill station. Roger kindly took the photos, learning the lesson we had known for some time that photography through glass does not work well…

Any similarity between the College and Battersea Power station or Cambridge University Library is due to the hand of the architect Giles Gilbert Scott, whose design this is. William Booth’s son Bramwell had it built in his father’s memory  and it opened on the centenary of his birth. We  were told you could visit it in more detail during London’s Open House events but the bits we saw today – entrance hall, lift and landing – were excellent examples of Twenties civic architecture. The Museum is on the third floor adjacent to the Library and Archives.
Just inside the museum is a ‘mutoscope’  (a flip book of photos so not quite film) showing the Booth funeral.

As you might expect, the Museum starts with a focus on William Booth, born 1829, and whose observations of the Pawnbroking business made him aware of social injustice. He was already a member of the Methodists (no surprise after our visit to John Wesley’s Chapel) and on his move to London spent time along the Whitechapel Road as an itinerant and very evangelical preacher initially for the Methodists but eventually breaking away from that movement via the Reformed Methodists to the start of The Christian Mission in 1865 which later came to be called the Salvation Army. By this time William had met and married Catherine Mumford, like himself originally from the East Midlands. Unusually for the time Catherine was a preacher also and was very robust about the equal role of women in the church; she was also good at fund raising amongst the richer of the congregation while William preached to the poor. She had also brought with her strong non-conformist views about the evils of drink so abstinence became one of the tenets of the Salvation Army. Tea was always on offer.

Because of this the early meetings and preachers met fierce opposition from the brewing industry in particular and the exhibition has several displays devoted to the opposition ‘skeleton army’ as it was known and posters for and against are shown. However prosecutions for unlawful assembly proved unsuccessful.   
Many of the early meetings were outdoors but as time went on buildings were found – places of worship generally known as ‘halls’.

Music plays a large role for the Salvation Army and there is a significant area devoted to the different instruments (they had their own factory which did not close until 1972) mainly brass of course as this is what sounds best out on the streets. Originally they played the Methodist hymns, but soon developed a repertoire and compositions of their own. Rather sweetly they had a 1960s guitar and vocal group called The Joystrings,  who had hits and appeared on Top of the Pops. They played in uniform which looks very quaint now but even the early Beatles wore matching suits and went through a pseudo military phase before ‘Give Peace a Chance’ took over..

For me the most significant positive of the Salvation Army was their commitment and sometimes pioneering approach to social work – yes it was very paternalistic and I’m sure the homeless they took in hated being preached at to ‘take the pledge’ but their approach was founded on good principles. William opined that  no-one would be receptive to God on an empty stomach and that philosophy has prevailed. They diversified into all aspects of social work from Aids work to Family Finding and tracing. 

At a very early point in their working with different communities they recognised what was then known as the  'White Slave Trade'  (what we would now call Child Sexual Exploitation)  and two of the officers were even prosecuted as they tried to expose to the government what was going on by ‘purchasing ‘ a 12/13 year old from her mother…

This work continues today as they offer help and support to victims of ‘modern slavery’  alongside continuing work with the Homeless. In 1891 they bought Hadleigh Farm in Essex to offer ongoing employment to men who had passed through their shelters, and this had both a dairy and a brickworks. Today it has diversified into having a Rare Breeds centre and a venue for mountain biking (? Essex?).

From social work it was a small step to an emergency response  role and the photographic display has numerous examples of the Salvations Army’s presence  at many of the key disasters of the last century. Their role, which they also carried out during both world wars, was to offer tea and support not only to the victims, but also to the emergency services who can frequently suffer from the after effects of working in such intense environments.  Staff are trained for such eventualities and though coming out of a mobile canteen they have appropriate training and counselling skills.

Like most of the evangelical religious groups the  Salvation  Army sent missionaries abroad and the movement is now established in over 120 countries worldwide – not surprisingly most strongly in the ‘old dominions’ of Australia and New Zealand. I was pleased to see that when they present at an overseas emergency the Salvation Army ‘uniform’ is reduced to a shield on a T-shirt  for hotter countries.Attempts were made to adapt to lcoal cultures - as in these Chinese fans..

Like many longstanding voluntary organisations we often take their work for granted and forget that it is grounded in a frim philosophy and belief and worship system. I tend to think the quasi-military

 set up of generals and captains sits rather strangely with some of their work  but is I suppose well embedded in the institution which is the Salvation Army and which this little neatly presented museum well explains.