Today I had company on my sightseeing adventures! I got to spend the afternoon with my friend Helen and her housemate Geoff, who were both a lot of fun. As much I like being on my own and discovering things that way, having some company has its advantages, too. 🙂
Our first stop was something that not many people get to see: Henry VIII’s wine cellar. Well, one of them anyway! This particular cellar used to be part of the old Whitehall Palace, which (if you remember from my Banqueting House post) burned down. The entire room was moved at one point to its current location, in the basement of a modern, working office building. That’s one of the reasons why it’s not open for visitors most of the time; people actually use the building for business purposes, and I was told that events are sometimes still held in the wine cellar. I was lucky enough to know someone who could show me around during “off” hours. I’m glad I had the chance, because the place is really cool! It’s unbelievably well-preserved, and I had no trouble picturing it in use back in the 1500’s. Would you like to see for yourself?
After the cellar, we went to the Imperial War Museum. This wasn’t on my original list of things to see, because I’m not that into military history. I figured that it would be all about battles, and tactics, and machinery, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! This place was AMAZING.
We went to the Children’s War/1940’s house exhibit first. I was blown away; the “Children’s War” section features all sorts of information about what it was like to be a kid in Britain during the second world war. What really made it special were the personal things: toys, clothes, and small gifts given to the children by their parents, often before they were evacuated to the countryside. Many of these items were lent to the museum by the same people who owned them during the war; the fact that they’re still in such fantastic condition is a testament to how treasured they really were. It’s sad to think that something as seemingly unimportant as a tiny stuffed animal might have been a child’s only connection to a home and parents left behind.
The 1940’s house is basically what it sounds like; a series of rooms set up to look like they would have during World War II. What was especially cool was that most of the furniture and household objects used in the displays were actual period pieces from the 1920’s through the 1940’s. Again, I was amazed at the condition that everything was in, and I loved the whole “I’ve gone back in time” feeling that being there gave me. Here’s what your living room might have looked like, if you’d lived in England during World War II:
I wanted to make sure that I saw the permanent exhibits on both the world wars, with World War I being my priority. We just don’t learn much about that one in the States, and I’ve always been curious about that time period. Much like the museum of London, you follow a chronological path through the early 20th century and the beginning of the first world war, through the interwar years, and onto the second world war. As I already mentioned, this wasn’t all military history. There were uniforms, flags, notes, telegrams, and items that people actually used, along with information about their owners, when available. It was HUMAN history. It wasn’t all about battles and decisions and politics; it was about people, and lives, and how they were uprooted and changed forever by these colossal global events. This museum didn’t just focus on the history of its own country, either; there were displays and information about many of the countries that fought in both wars…..including Germany and the Nazis. That was hard for me to see, after taking my Nazi history class not too long ago and really digging into what they were all about. I’m not sorry to see them included, though; history shouldn’t ignore unpleasantries.
Today really made it hit home for me how little we as Americans are taught about history. We tend to focus on our own contributions, and all too often, other things fall by the wayside. Take World War II, for example. Pearl Harbor was undoubtedly a tragedy, and it’s fantastic that there’s not only a memorial in Hawaii to help us remember, but a holiday as well. Still…how many of you reading this know that an estimated 20 million Russians died during the war? According to the IWM, they did. That’s like the entire population of London being wiped out, twice. All those children that were sent into the English countryside to avoid the bombings? Not all of them ended up in pristine country homes; some were treated little better than servants, and some didn’t have homes or parents to go back to after the war was over. It was even worse for some of the German children who were sent away from home, thanks to Nazi policies. This stuff is IMPORTANT, people. I’m all about being proud to be American, and I don’t deny the importance of learning about what we as a country have contributed to world events. WORLD is the key word here; nothing that we’ve been a part of on a global scale has been all about us. None of the history classes I took in my younger school days acknowledged this stuff in any kind of a significant way, which is sad. WE JUST DON’T GET IT. We don’t get what it was like to live with war in our backyards every day. We don’t get what it was like to get up every day, wondering if this is the day that the our houses or our neighbor’s houses or our friends’ houses are going to be bombed. We never had to send our children away to keep them safe, to my knowledge. While we obviously know what it’s like to send our loved ones off to fight in a war, we DON’T know what it was like to have over a million of them not come back again, within the span of only a few years. Today….I got it, as much as a non-European can understand these things in one museum visit. I can’t really put into words exactly how powerful this place and the lessons it has to teach us are, even though I certainly tried. You really have to see it to believe it. If you’re ever in London, do yourself a favor and visit the Imperial War Museum. I think you’ll see what I’m talking about, and it’ll be a learning experience that you won’t soon forget!
Whew…that was kind of heavy! I really hadn’t intended my blog to be anything other than a light, fun account of my trip. I also hadn’t intended to post every day, but I think this is the fourth or fifth day in a row that I’ve written something. I need a break, and I think that you guys probably do, too. So, I’ll try and do something less interesting/significant tomorrow. Also, I’ll try and be less wordy next time. 😛