As today is Remembrance Day, I decided to write about the two museums that my husband Jim and I have visited recently. One of the things that I really love about the country in which we live – England – is our ability to produce and maintain, museums which are packed with interesting, cultural, fascinating relics, icons, paintings and indeed anything that reminds us of our wonderful (and sometimes inglorious) past.
We were visiting friends in Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago and we discussed over breakfast on the second morning, where we could go, as the weather was a little inclement to say the least. We all decided to visit the National Armoury in Leeds. This may sound to be a rather stodgy collection of armour and spears. But oh no… But on the other hand…oh yes, but what a collection! It is all housed in the most beautifully modern building looking over the canal which meanders through the city of Leeds.
The National Armoury displays over 8,500 objects in five different galleries. The number of whole suits of armour is staggering and you could tell the suits which were made exclusively for kings and important soldiers, by the amount of intricate patterns emblazoned all over them. Some were even inlaid with gold, plus the odd dent. The swords were tremendously heavy and how the poor soldiers were able to swing them around like they do in the movies, is beyond me.
When we walked into one gallery, a member of staff was trundling in a rather heavy and lethal looking guillotine! They placed it on a small stage in front of a growing number of seated people including young children of about five years of age. Along came two knights in full armour and as they started speaking, I wondered whether they were going to ask for volunteers! We quickly moved on…
As we walked around the various galleries, we noticed that It didn’t just centre on knights in shining armour. It concentrated on every aspect of defence and warfare across the world throughout the centuries and of course culminating in the weapons of modern warfare. In all a fascinating look at the means by which we have all been protected throughout the ages.
The following day we drove to Camp Eden situated in Malton, North Yorkshire. Here is an excerpt from the Camp Eden website: http://www.campeden.co.uk :
“In early 1942 the War Office identified and requisitioned a plot of land on the outskirts of Malton (in North Yorkshire) with the view of building a camp to accommodate Italian and German prisoners of war captured from the battlefields of Africa and Europe. A small contingent of British Army personnel, led only by a Corporal, arrived at the site and set about constructing a temporary camp for the arrival of the first prisoners.This simple camp became the home for the first influx of prisoners, approximately 250 Italian P.O.Ws, who were tasked with creating a more permanent camp. Near the end of 1943 the Italian prisoner’s moved out and the camp was used as billets for Polish forces who were amassed in preparation for the invasion of Europe. From mid-1944 until early 1949 the camp housed German prisoners. It was then used to provide accommodation for displaced persons.In 1955 the site was returned to its original owner and later after being approached by some ex-Italian P.O.Ws seeking permission to look around their former home the idea of preserving the camp and opening it as a museum was born.
The museum first opened to the public on 21st March 1987 and comprised of 10 huts, equipped to tell the story of World War Two through the use of sights, sounds and smells.The museum slowly developed and displays were constantly being added too covering not only life on the Front Line, but also the Home Front. The intention was, to pay tribute to all people from the Forces, to women in the factories, school children and people at home.From 1990 to 1995 a series of 6 huts were opened (Huts 24-29) to create a “museum within a museum.” These huts are each dedicated to tell the political and military events of World War II from around the world, for each year of the war. During 1992 a prefab was constructed, along with a “Dig for Victory” garden to show how post-war housing was developed. Alongside the prefab a memorial garden can be found.
In 2000 Hut 13 was redesigned to cover all post-World War Two conflicts that British Forces personnel were involved in. A further diversification from World War II is Hut 11, which opened in 2001, telling the story of World War One. The new millennium also heralded the refurbishment and expansion of Hut 18, The War News Reading room, where the front page of a newspaper from every day of the war can be found. 2002 marked the beginning of a major refurbishment of Hut 10.This hut now houses the most comprehensive collection of P.O.W artifacts in the world and tells the story of P.O.Ws. In 2006 we created a new Medal Room, to display our ever increasing collection of medals and decorations, each with a unique story behind them.”Various other huts have been added in the years since 2006 and the site gives a wonderful insight into the lives of soldiers of the Second World War.”
Various other huts have been added in the years since 2006 and the whole gives an insight into the lives of soldiers of the two Great Wars. And as we stood for the two minutes of silence today to remember all those soldiers and civilians who lost their lives during that time, our visits to both these museums seemed really appropriate.