Imperial War Museum enlists Prince William to launch revamp of World War One Galleries

By Richard Moss | 09 December 2010
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a film still showing a man carrying a wounded soldier on his back through a trench
An iconic image from the film, the Battle of the Somme. © Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum in London has enlisted the help of Prince William to realise ambitious plans to revamp its World War One galleries in time for the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.

As patron of the Imperial War Museum Foundation, the Prince will front a charity set up to raise funds for a far-reaching, ten-year phased revamp at the museum beginning with the impressive First World War collection, which will be overhauled and redisplayed in time for 2014.

The 1914-18 war is very much the touchstone of a museum whose collection covers 20th and 21st century conflicts.

In 1917, with the carnage of the Western Front at its zenith, a Canadian Captain was dispatched to the Western Front by the War Office to collect items that would form the basis of a National War Museum.

Nearly a century later the collection, which continues to grow through donations, is arguably the best holding of contextualised First World War objects and artefacts in the world.  

a panoramic painting depicting a line of blinded soldiers walking along a road lined with wounded
Gassed by John Singer Sargent, 1919. Part of the extensive First World War art collection at Imperial War Museum.© Imperial War Museum
William professed to be “truly honoured” by the appointment. "The creation of the First World War galleries, just as the last of the generation who fought in the Great War has passed away, could not come at a more important time," he added.

“The galleries will play a vital public service in ensuring that future generations never forget what happened in the Great War. The Imperial War Museum will bring alive the sacrifice and the horrors of the war, so that the millions who died for our nation are remembered and honoured for generations to come.”

At approximately twice the size of the current galleries, the museum needs to raise about £29 million to make changes to the general atrium and permanently display more of its First World War artworks, films, sound recordings and photographs from the conflict.

Original objects such as personal items, letters and diaries will be revealed in what it describes as “highly interactive, multimedia displays” focussing on the personal stories of those who lived, fought and died in the First World War.

a photograph of a diorama showing soldiers climbing over the top of a trench
The Trench experience is a popular exhibit at Imperial War Museum London© Imperial War Museum
Further redevelopment projects taking the estimated total bill to around £71 million are planned to take place during the next decade, fundamentally improving and regenerating the Museum’s London site.

Working with architects Foster + Partners, a masterplan has been developed which encompasses a wide range of exciting new galleries and exhibition spaces within the footprint of the existing building.

“We are excited by this unique opportunity to regenerate Imperial War Museum London,” said Diane Lees, the Director General of the IWM. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to start the transformation than with the creation of new galleries to mark the First World War centenary in 2014.

“The new galleries will allow us to continue this work in the 21st century and help current and future visitors to learn and understand more about the causes, course and consequences of the Great War.”

The Museum is currently fundraising to support specific redevelopment projects within the masterplan, starting with the £29 million needed for the new First World War galleries and initial improvements to the museums atrium.
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