What Is the Imperial War Museum?

B. Turner

The Imperial War Museum is a series of historical museums located in and around London, England. The museum was founded during World War I, when every aspect of life in Great Britain was greatly effected by war. These museums were created as a celebration and record of the British society and its sacrifices to the war effort. The original Imperial War Museum location in central London has since been joined by four other branches. Both the original central London location and a new North London location offer free admission, while visitors must pay to explore the three other branches.

Many of the exhibits at the Imperial War Museum focus on World War II.
Many of the exhibits at the Imperial War Museum focus on World War II.

In 1917, the British government authorized the first Imperial War Museum to serve as both a record of the war and a memorial to the soldiers lost in battle. By 1936, the museum was relocated to a site near the former Bethlehem Royal Hospital, where it remains to this day. In 1939, the government expanded the focus of the museum to incorporate records from World War II. By 1953, the Imperial War Museum's mission had changed to focus on conflicts beyond the World Wars. Since that time, the museum has maintained records and exhibits of all wars and conflicts involving the UK since 1914.

While many of the exhibits at the Imperial War Museum focus on World War I and II, some exhibitions are designed around the Cold War and the more recent conflicts in the Middle East. Visitors can also find displays about the Korean War and other events that involved British troops. The London branch of the Imperial War Museum covers all of these wars, and is the largest of the five branches.

A second branch, the Churchill War Rooms, feature underground tunnels used British troops during the first and second World War. Exhibits in these tunnels focus on these two wars. The HMS Belfast serves as the third branch of the Imperial War Museum. This war ship is anchored near London's Tower Bridge, and includes displays related to World War II.

The Imperial War Museum Duxford features exhibits related to military aviation. The fifth branch of the museum, known as the Imperial War Museum North, is located in Manchester and features a wide variety of exhibitions and themes. This North location is the only branch that was built specifically to serve as a museum.

All branches of the Imperial War Museum are operated by a government-appointed board of trustees. In addition to the permanent exhibitions, the museums also house numerous temporary or traveling displays involving war and the United Kingdom.

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