Livery Companies Reception, National Army Museum

Thursday 27th September 2018

The National Army Museum has been transformed! Sitting alongside the Royal Hospital Chelsea, it has been for a great many years a rather unprepossessing prospect with exhibits laid out in a traditional style over multiple floors. School parties and tourists trudged in and out gazing at a great array of military equipment and uniforms in displays accessible only to those with knowledge of military history. The stories being told were remote and disconnected from the people there to hear and see them; men, women and children with no experience of war and no connections to the armed forces.

That has all changed following a recent refit of the Museum with £24 million being spent on refurbishment and the radical resetting of the displays. The money was raised from a number of sources including Livery Companies. Prominent amongst these are the Mercers, the Goldsmiths and the Armourers. The investment has produced a very modern setting for the Museum; opening up spaces, creating airy and light settings for displays and pursuing themes explored at the human level to give insight into how soliders and armies lived, worked and fought over the ages. Periods are addressed looking through the prism of real families where successive generations served. Without shying away from uncomfortable truths, there is a section that deals with death and injury and how the army has responded to these issues over the centuries to the modern day.

There are interactive features, directed at civilians to teach them how to march and stand on parade. There are sections that require the visitor to consider theatre-of-war landscapes and look for hidden enemies in the scenes. There are displays encouraging people to consider what it means to carry equipment and wear substantial and uncomfortable uniform and life-saving kit. As an experience, the Museum brings to life not just the history of military combat but the realities of being a soldier today. There is even a dedicated section to the Special Forces for those with an appetite for the extremes of warfare.

The effect of the newly styled National Army Museum is to make it interesting and engaging for modern society. It takes them on a journey from the distant past to today but in a way that keeps the visitor close to real men and women that served. It is brilliantly done.

One minor and interesting point for the Master of the Tobacco Pipe Makers was the fact that snuff was clearly enjoyed by the army, particularly in the late Victorian age. One cabinet holds a number of remarkable mulls collected from various messes, including one made from an elephant tusk and another from a tortoise.