I don’t like war movies. The closest I have been to watching a full movie about wartime is the Sound of Music, and even in that, I hated the part where Rolfe turned out to be a Nazi, trampled over Liesl’s heart, and almost robbed the Von Trap family of their freedom.
You see, I dread the thought of a war, and not in the war is bad-peace is good-let’s all sit in front of a campfire holding hands and sing cumbaya kind of way. I find it dreadful because I think that it is the perfect setting for the worst kind of human nature to break free. Yes, the tactical moves, and fights, and war casualties are awful enough, but what makes my skin crawl are accounts of ‘normal’ people doing despicable acts during these times.
From medical trials on prisoners to making furniture out of human skin, and from countless tales of betrayal to the dehumanising nature of power, wartime comes to show you that the worst kind of crimes can be committed outside of the battlefield.
This is why I found the Imperial War Museum’s ‘a Family at Wartime’ so heartwarming. The exhibition, fantastically curated in the far left corner of the ground floor, is a metaphor for all the good that shines through the human evil. Each family member stands for different ways that people in Britain (and I assume throughout the world) made the best out of the worst, made life liveable and saw the everyday as another day that their heart kept beating.
The exhibition is centred on the Allpress family who lived in Stockwell, where every member played a minuscule, yet important role in the war, having to cope with rationing, evacuation, war work and events such as the London Blitz and VE Day that shaped everyday life and the story of a nation.
The exhibition features a model house of the Allpress family home, a family tree diagram, photos and interviews, as well as recreations of the era billboards, settings, iconic propaganda posters and films.
Visitors can also get in a replica of an Anderson shelter, scan the airwaves for radio shows from the archives, and see a range of interactive exhibits that we’re really popular with the little ones (yes, and me…).
However, the show stopper has to be the corridor that leads to the exit. On your left, a map of the area with marks on the bombing sites, explains the different levels of destruction that these metal cones of death caused. On the right wall, you will find paintings from the wartime, that literally paint a picture of overcoming terror by unity.
A few steps down and I am in the specially constructed gift shop, and I want to buy everything. The whole space is reminiscent of a home from that time, with vintage games, cushions, and cookbooks from the war.
I leave the museum with a bag of sweets. As I sit on the park bench outside, I open the bag, munch down a couple of jellies, and gaze at the giant cannons in the middle of the courtyard. I wonder if we learned. I wonder if we ever will.