Second World War Exhibition

What will be featured after the redevelopment of this iconic hall?

11th February 2019

The redevelopment of the Second World War Hall is a project not entered into lightly. As the oldest and, to some, most iconic hall in the Museum, years of research, planning and consultation is essential to best represent this period of history.

The overall theme of the new display will be the British tank crewmen’s story told through a series of battles and campaigns set out in chronological order. A layout, featuring 59 vehicles, has recently been completed and the Museum’s in-house Exhibition Designer has started to create three-dimensional visuals for the first phase. The project will be phased over two years with the first phase opening in 2020.

Consultation

The choice of theme was heavily influenced by a period of visitor consultation, conducted in summer 2017. People were asked their views on the new display and an appetite to learn about battles, as well as the personal stories of the men who crewed the vehicles, was very clear. The project team, however, faced the problem of repeating well-known battles already covered in the Museum’s Tank Story Hall or elsewhere in the Museum. The decision was therefore made to opt for some lesser-known actions including the early desert campaign Operation Compass led by Richard O’ Connor, the Dieppe Raid in 1942 and the Great Swan where in 1944, Allied forces sped across France to the Belgian border and beyond. Theatres of war such as Italy and Burma were also selected to be covered in greater depth than previous exhibitions.

The choice of vehicles, made by the Museum’s Curator and Head of Collections was based on these specific battles and campaigns. The majority of tanks already on display in the current Second World War Hall will remain for the new exhibition but will be placed in new positions. Some vehicles, currently stored in the Vehicle Conservation Centre such as the Churchill AVRE and Dingo Mark I will go back on display. With 59 vehicles overall to feature in the exhibition, it will be one of the most vehicle dense displays to be created in recent years.

Research

In combination with design work, detailed research is being carried out by staff in the Exhibitions, Archive, Supporting Collections, and Education departments. Imagery, footage, audio, artefacts and documents relevant to each battle are being identified and recorded for potential use. Given the size of the Museum’s archive and the vast number of Second World War assets we hold, the job for the research team is no small task - but progress so far has been positive with names of individuals who took part in the battles emerging. These include Sergeant Alf Longstaff, a Military Medal winner at the Battle of Arras in 1940 and Sergeant Norman Phillips, Commander of Matilda I Daffodil, also at Arras. Sergeant Jake Wardrop who served in North Africa, Italy, Normandy and North-West Europe and who kept a diary throughout is also a key figure. The following is an extract from his time in the desert:

I was beginning to think we were doing fine when a shell burst just in front and the left track was broken. What saved our bacon was that it was getting dark and the shelling was going away from us. We sat for a minute or two, then I ventured forth to see what damage had been done. The track was lying about twenty yards behind and in coming off, it had ripped the ration box clean off the tank Tins of stuff were all smashed. The cruellest blow of all was the smashing of a bottle of whisky belonging to the commander.”

Next Steps

In 2019 the Museum will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Royal Armoured Corps with a temporary exhibition, Long After the Battle, featuring the stories of veterans and serving soldiers. Vehicle movement will begin in late 2019.