Today featured a visit to the National Army Museum, which you’ll find right next door to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea Pensioners.
Arranged over five floors the museum explores the role of British infantry on battlefields from the 1700s onwards. Particularly impressive is the ‘Changing The World’ section, which primarily focuses on the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars. The Napoleonic section features artifacts drawn from all sides in the conflict, and for fans of toy soldiers there’s a particular treat – a scale model of the entire battlefield at Waterloo, which lights up in sections during a voice-over to reveal formations of soldiers moving too and fro across the fields. In The Crimean War area you’ll even find a display case containing a saddle and spurs used during the famous ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ during the Battle of Balaclava. It goes without saying that the two World Wars feature heavily at the National Army Museum. This floor is where most of the large dioramas are displayed, including heavy artillery being loaded by a group of British gunners, troops trudging through paddy fields and a very spooky recreation of a First World War trench.
Also worth seeing is the art gallery on the 3rd floor, it walls covered with grand portraits of notable military figures through the centuries. Just next door is another gallery that will appeal to all of us who played soldier when we were boys – a hundred or more examples of original hand-drawn artwork selected from more than 50 years of the British ‘Commando Comics’ series, which continues publication to this day. The top floor of the building also contains what I think is the museum’s most effective and thought-provoking area, ‘Conflicts Of Interest’, where you’ll find a wealth of information on military action from the Falkland Islands to Kosovo shown from a variety of different perspectives.
The National Army Museum isn’t very large and so they’ve had to make maximum use of the space – the connecting corridors between floors also contain discreet displays. My favourite is the one between the second and third floors which will no doubt put a wry smile on your face if you linger to read some of the material here, as it recounts the era of National Service which lasted from 1949 to 1963. I’m sure that anyone with male relatives in their late 60s and older will have heard a tall tale or two about this particular period in our recent history.
In closing, I’ll mention the short-lived display that’s currently occupying a space next to the cafe and shop on the ground floor which is dedicated to the ‘war horse’. It looks at both the stage play and recent Hollywood blockbuster as well as the role that our equine friends have played and continue to play in Army life.
The National Army Museum is free to visit and is open seven days a week, and if you’re coming by public transport it is only a brisk ten minute walk from Sloane Square Station. Taken together with visits to the other big three – the Imperial War Museum in Borough, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (which has large areas dedicated to naval warfare) and my favourite, the RAF Museum at Hendon, you can get a pretty comprehensive picture of our country’s involvement in warfare over the centuries. I can highly recommend a visit to the National Army Museum if you get the opportunity. If you don’t you can get a taste for the place with the other images I took today, which you’ll find here.