London’s War Museums

London 160 In London, we took in two different museums that are part of London’s Imperial War Museum complex.  The first was the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms Museum, located at the bunker compound used by Winston Churchill and the top British military during World War II.  And the second was the main Imperial War Museum complex (photo above).  Both played important roles in our tour through Europe’s World War II history.

Winston Churchill wrote a six volume history of World War II.  You’d have to be highly motivated to learn more about that period to take on these works, but an afternoon at the Churchill Museum provides just the motivation for learning more about such an important person in history.

The Churchill Museum provides full background on Churchill’s fascinating life.  He was head of the British Navy in World War I, and failed so miserably in this role that he was removed from his duties.  He scraped and clawed his way to some level of political redemption afterward, and then in the 1930′s was the British politician most consistently pointing to the dangers posed by Hitler.  As Hitler’s power rose, Churchill’s credibility soared.

London 171 As Hitler’s empire expanded and Germany conquered Poland, Britain declared War on Germany.  Churchill again ran Britain’s Navy, and the first major World War II naval encounter was another major British disaster, but the blame was allotted to then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.  Chamberlain resigned, no other leader was willing to step up, and Churchill became Britain’s new Prime Minister.  He worked round the clock on the war campaign, provided leadership around the globe for the free world, and developed close working relationships with U.S. Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. 

Did Churchill’s effective leadership solidify his political standing in England?  Hardly.  In 1945, he was defeated in an election for Prime Minister, a defeat hardly in keeping with his contributions to save the free world.  He retreated from the political limelight, but re-emerged over time as a powerful voice throughout the world.

As we walked the halls of Britain’s World War II bunker compound, it was quite clear the sacrifice made by everyone in England during World War II.  The top military commanders worked round the clock and were often in harms way.  Churchill himself demanded to be part of D-Day’s landing brigade but was over-ruled by others.  And the English population, exposed to daily bombing raids, fought valiantly across the board, with deep sacrifices.

London 163 We saw a great exhibit at the Imperial War Museum called “The Children’s War” which described the impact of World War II on the children of England.  Some 7,700 children are estimated to have been killed during the war, a similar amount seriously wounded, and about 1,000,000 children in total were relocated from London and coastal areas to safer locations — ranging from Britain’s countryside to other countries.  These childrenLondon 166 were parted from their families for periods of years to lifetimes.  And some enlisted in the British military at ages as young as fourteen.  As we stood taking this in, with our almost-twelve year old boy and ten-year old girl by our side, we could only be thankful that they’ve not been exposed to such wartime horrors, and pray that they never are.

And the Imperial War Museum has a very powerful display on the Holocaust.  We had already walked the grounds of Auschwitz, so seeing the very powerful photographs and short documentary films at the War Museum was all the more moving for us.  They featured interviews of several Auschwitz survivors, as well as some of the only surviving photographs of daily life in Auschwitz. 

The Auschwitz exhibit at the Imperial War Museum was our last activity, apart from normal trip logistics, of our ten-month journey around the world.  I’m sure some would question the appropriateness of exposing our children to the horrors of Auschwitz and, at the very least, ending our fabulous trip on this note.  The museum at Auschwitz doesn’t recommend children under 14 as visitors, for example.  But our objective in this trip wasn’t to entertain ourselves, but to educate ourselves.  And we want our children to understand the full range of experiences the world has to offer, from the sublime to the horrific.  And, most of all, we hope they, we, and all readers, will understand that certain things are so consequential, so precious, so fleeting that they are indeed worth fighting for, even dying for.

Leave a Reply