Founded as the Imperial War Museum in 1917, the museum was intended to record the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of Britain and its Empire during the First World War. The museum's remit has since expanded to include all conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces have been involved since 1914. As of 2012, the museum aims 'to provide for, and to encourage, the study and understanding of the history of modern war and "wartime experience"'. The National War Museum Committee set about collecting material to illustrate Britain's war effort by dividing into subcommittees examining such subjects as the Army, the Navy, the production of munitions, and women's war work. There was an early appreciation of the need for exhibits to reflect personal experience in order to prevent the collections becoming dead relics. Sir Martin Conway, the Museum's first Director General, said that exhibits must 'be vitalised by contributions expressive of the action, the experiences, the valour and the endurance of individuals'. The museum's first curator and secretary was Charles ffoulkes, who had previously been curator of the Tower of London armouries. In July 1917 Mond made a visit to the Western Front in order to study how best to organise the museum's growing collection. While in France he met French government ministers, and Field Marshal Haig, who reportedly took great interest in his work. In December 1917 the name was changed to the Imperial War Museum after a resolution from the India and Dominions Committee of the museum.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the museum began to collect material documenting the conflict. In November 1939, during the so-called 'Phoney War', the museum appeared in the opening sequence of the GPO Film Unit production The First Days, in which children are seen playing on some of the museum's German artillery pieces captured during the First World War. With the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk in May/June 1940, however, the British Army's shortage of equipment saw eighteen of the museum's artillery pieces return to military service. The museum's trench clubs were used by the Home Guard, while other items such as sights and optical instruments were returned to the Ministry of Supply. The museum refused, however, to return some historic items such as a naval gun from HMS Lance (which had fired Britain's first shot of the First World War) or a gun served by Victoria Cross-winning boy seaman Jack Cornwell. The Imperial War Museum's original collections date back to the material amassed by the National War Museum Committee. The present departmental organisation came into being during the 1960s as part of Frankland's reorganisation of the museum. The 1970s saw oral history gain increasing prominence and in 1972 the museum created the Department of Sound Records (now the Sound Archive) to record interviews with individuals who had experienced the First World War. The museum maintains an online database of its collections. The museum's exhibits collection includes a wide range of objects, organised into numerous smaller collections such as uniforms, badges, insignia and flags (including a Canadian Red Ensign carried at Vimy Ridge in 1917, a Union flag from the 1942 British surrender of Singapore, and another found among the wreckage of the World Trade Center following the September 11 attacks); personal mementoes, souvenirs and miscellanea such as trench art; orders, medals and decorations (including collections of Victoria and George Crosses); military equipment; firearms and ammunition, ordnance, edged weapons, clubs (such as trench clubs) and other weapons, and vehicles, aircraft and ships. The museum holds the national collection of modern firearms. The firearms collection includes a rifle used by T. E. Lawrence, and an automatic pistol owned by Winston Churchill. The ordnance collection includes artillery pieces that participated in notable battles, such as the Néry gun, a field gun that was used during the 1914 action at Néry, and equipment captured from enemy forces. The museum's vehicles collection includes Ole Bill, a bus used by British forces in the First World War, and a number of vehicles used by Field Marshal Montgomery during the Second World War.
Accessible toilets are available on all floors except Levels 4 and 5. Step-free access to the museum via the West Entrance. Free wheelchairs for loan, subject to availability. All lifts in the museum are wheelchair accessible and have audio announcements Most lifts include braille signage. Guide and Assistance dogs welcome in the museum. Large print texts for The Holocaust exhibition are available from the Information Desk on level 0. Large print e-books for the First World War Galleries in a Word document, for Kindle and other devices. Live audio described tour of our First World War Galleries for visually impaired and blind people. Tours for a maximum of two people (carers welcome). Tours approximately 40 minutes long, available seven days a week during museum opening hours. Out of hours live descriptive tours for visually impaired and blind people on the first Sunday of every month at 9.30am. Exclusive, private access to the First World War Galleries with a Visitor Engagement Officer. There are English subtitles on all films and interactive media throughout the museum for the hearing impaired.
Location : IWM London, Lambeth Road SE1 6HZ
Transport: Lambeth North (Bakerloo Line). London Buses routes 159, 344 and 360 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Daily 10:00 to 18:00.
Free curator-led guided tour Wednesday at 13:00
Tickets : Free.
Some exhibitions charge with Concessions available (carers free)
Tel: 020 7416 5000