Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Once Upon A Wartime

Another interesting thing to do on a rainy day in London - particularly if you have children (probably those aged nine and upwards would find it most interesting) or are interested in children's literature - would be to visit the Once Upon A Wartime: Classic War Stories For Children exhibition at the Imperial War Museum near Waterloo Station.

Source: Imperial War Museum Website

I visited it last week on a particularly rainy day (it would rain, then stop, then start again and be even heavier than it was before) when I couldn't bear to stay in the house any longer. I was particularly interested in visiting as I have been re-reading Carrie's War in preparation for reading it with Year 5 next term as it's a set text on the National Curriculum.

The exhibition focuses on five great children's books which are about experiences of war. The books highlighted are:

War Horse - Michael Morpurgo
Carrie's War - Nina Bawden
The Machine Gunners - Robert Westall
The Silver Sword - Ian Serraillier
Little Soldier - Bernard Ashley

The displays have been creatively curated to tell each story using artefacts from the museum's collection and relating real facts to the fiction of each book. It also delves into each author's wartime experiences to show the inspiration behind their story. Nina Bawden, for example, was evacuated, while Robert Westall grew up in Tyneside during World War II. 

Discovering more about the authors and reading the fictional texts alongside objects from that time, helped to bring these stories, most of which I had read in my own childhood, to life. Since visiting the exhibition, I have found Carrie's War much more vivid and 'real' than I had when reading it before.

If you do visit, I would try to leave enough time to see The Children's War and 1940's House exhibition which looks at children's life on the Home Front during the Second World War. It considers topics such as evacuation, the black-out and bombing and the impact this had on the lives of children. You also get the opportunity to walk through the 1940s House (used in a Channel 4 documentary in 2001) which helps to bring the home front experience to life - although I think it is probably a lot 'posher' than my grandparents and probably most working class people's houses were at the time.

Both exhibitions are ideal for children entering Year 5 (aged nine to ten) as they will usually study the Second World War and a linked novel during that year. Children at secondary school would probably also enjoy it as they may already be familiar with the books and topics and will usually cover the Second World War again in Year 9. There is a lot of reading in both exhibitions but there are also lots of hands-on activities that can be enjoyed by all ages.

I've visited the Imperial War Museum a great many many times over the years (I visited their archives lots of times when working on my A Level History Dissertation) but still enjoy going there every year or so. I think it is one of those museums which can entertain the whole family - boys and Dads will love the planes and reading about tanks, while girls and Mums are possibly more interested in the affect that war has on people. There is something there to everybody to see and enjoy - and best of all, most of it is free.

Once Upon A Wartime: Classic War Stories For Children - Closes 30th October 2011. 
There is an admission charge to visit this exhibition

The Children's War and 1940's House - Closes 3rd January 2012. 
No admission charge.


  1. Love that they use books - what a brilliant idea!

  2. That sounds like a wonderful exhibit... I love the idea of combining real objects with the fiction inspired by the time/circumstances they are from. And what a perfect activity for a rainy day!

  3. Sounds really interesting. I've never read Carrie's War but would like to if I can find it in a charity shop. And Warhorse. Hope the kids enjoy it :)

  4. I'll have to remember this when my girls are a bit older and are learning about the war at school. I think they'd enjoy it, they enjoyed "Evacuation" the Cbbc program that was on the other year.