Simon Jenkins made his name as a journalist, most recently with the Guardian, but in heritage circles we know him as a highly successful chairman of the English National Trust from 2008 until earlier this year, and also as a 21st century Pevsner with his great books on English architecture, most notably England's Thousand Best Churches.
So when Jenkins writes in the
Guardian saying 1914: the
Great War has become a nightly pornography of violence, it is
worth reading. He goes onto say 'Britain's commemoration of the Great War has
lost all sense of proportion. It has become a media theme park, an indigestible
cross between Downton Abbey and a horror movie'.
Great stuff, and blogging
this from the UK , there is certainly no escaping the commemorations (not to
mention the 'stay calm and carry on' World War Two slogan which is in serious
danger of being completely overused). So I was keen to see the highly acclaimed
new World War One gallery at the Imperial War Museum
Firstly, whatever Jenkins may
think, there is no escaping the public interest. I had a four hour wait for
timed entry into the exhibition, and the Museum was heaving with people.
Secondly, it is a great
exhibition on a subject I thought I knew a lot about, but came away knowing a
great deal more. For instance, I didn't know that prior to the War the UK was
producing nearly 80% of the world 's battleships, or that when Kitchener called
for volunteers in 1915, he hoped for 100,000 and got 750,000, or that the
Germans very nearly won the war in early 1918.
Thirdly, it is well designed
with clear graphics and text, with content often repeated on other panels in
slightly different ways, so one does not feel one has to read everything
(impossible anyway given the crowds).
And finally, it has some
really great objects. As often happens the mundane ones are the most powerful,
a particularly striking one being an infantry officer's jacket with the left
arm blown off. Explore the rest of that great museum if you make it there, the
jacket having a parallel with a backpack that a soldier placed over a home made
bomb in Afghanistan three years ago, when he hurled himself and said backpack
on the bomb to save his comrades. Amazingly he escaped with bruising as his
flack jacket was inside. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, but his back pack
did not fare so well.
November 2014 sees the opening
of the World War One galleries at the Australian War
Memorial. From what I hear, they will rival those in London.
25 years ... and 25 iconic projects
5 years ago