The National Army Museum is the leading authority on the victorious and colourful history of the British Army, with its rich tradition of regiments, its important role in Defence, Wars, Civil Disasters and State Occasions. It contributes greatly to Weddings, Funerals, Jubilees and Trooping The Colour by providing organisation and glorious pageantry and music. The British Army is much admired and often requested to send instructors overseas to train new armies on its model.
The Museum was originally founded by Royal Charter in 1960 to preserve and collect objects and records relating to the Land Forces of the British Crown. The idea was conceived in the 1950’s and Sir Gerald Templar raised original funding and put in much dedicated work. Its first home was No.1. Riding School at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. It then moved to a purpose built building on the site that formed part of the Infirmary of the Royal Hospital. The collections were arranged chronologically and the building was rather unwelcoming and gloomy.
The Collections relate to the overall history of the British Army, the British Colonial, Imperial and Commonwealth Forces and the British Indian Army and they reveal the impact made on national and international history. Unlike other Military museums the collections emphasise the individual Corps and Regiments where comradeship and allegiance was crucial to a successful army.
Architects BDP and Design Agency, ‘Event’ have transformed the site and created a light an airy environment with five exciting, new and thematically arranged Galleries.
There is a large temporary Exhibition space, Study centre, Learning Centre, attractive cafe, shop and a Play Base for 0 to 7 year old children.
Janice Murray, Director General of the Museum, said that the design and displays are based on the feedback of visitors over the years, who found four hundred years of history presented chronologically too much! The displays are now thematic. She said there is an emphasis on a soldier’s personal experience, thoughts and emotions. This is important as consideration of mental suffering on soldiers returning for traumatic events has not always been given much attention.
The Exhibits in the ‘Soldiers Gallery’ are personal and tell of training, punishment, combat and non combat roles and the return home. There are portraits, posters and uniforms, flags and horse shit cigarettes!
The Army Gallery is significant as it charts the history of the Army as an Institution during the chaos of the British Civil Wars. Charles 1 believed in ‘The Divine Right of Kings’ and considered he was appointed by God to rule. He was opposed by Oliver Cromwell together with the Parliamentarians ( Roundheads ). Charles was supported by the Royalists ( Cavaliers ). Oliver Cromwell, after suffering several defeats reconstructed his army into the first standing professional army, ‘the new model army’. Hitherto, armies had been private, some owned by Barons, and they had to be paid.
Interesting Exhibits in this Gallery include the Regimental Colour of the 4th West India Regiment (part of the regular Brtitish Army) which show a black soldier, Khudad Khan V.C.. He represents others in that Regiment. He was the first black soldier to win the VC.
‘The Battle Gallery’ explores the British experience of battle since 1640 to the present day. It emphasises how technological development can spell victory but tactics have to keep up or there are huge scale casualties.
‘The Siborne Model’ of the Battle of Waterloo is excellent and the film show is very informative. Do not miss the quick firing 18 pounder field gun Mark 1, 1906 from the Battle of the Somme. The skeleton of Wellington’s horse, Marengo, is on display. It was captured by the British but lived a quiet life for some years after.
‘The Society Gallery ‘has many new acquisitions never been displayed before. It is concerned with presenting the army as a cultural force as well as a military one. Its influence on our customs, values, toys and music is interesting., together with its effect on fashion. Notice the Earl Haig fund(Scotland) badge. Poppies were noticed and written about by John Macrae in 1930. The Royal British Legion adopted the poppy symbol.
‘The Insight Gallery’ draws our attention to the fact that no other army has seen service in so many countries. This Gallery changes its display regularly. It is currently looking at the Army’s connection with Germany, Scotland, Punjab, Ghana and Sudan. Notice a Nazi car pennant and an actual piece of the Berlin Wall.
The new building, the thematic displays and interactive activities are truly impressive and certainly state of the art. Perhaps, just a passing thought, but maybe in this age, the army should maintain a certain mystique, create awe and not be camouflaged by popularity.
Admission is free.
Opening times: Daily. 10 am – 5.30 pm.
Last admission: 5.00 pm.