Unseen Enemy tells the story of IEDs at the National Army Museum

By Culture24 Reporter Published: 19 July 2013

Exhibition preview: Unseen Enemy, National Army Museum, London, until March 31 2014

A photo of army personnel in camouflage gear walking through a river
This photo of members of the Royal Engineers Search Team (REST), walking through an irrigation ditch in 2011, is part of a new exhibition at the National Army Museum© NAM
Improvised Explosive Devices have been the weapons of choice for insurgents in Afghanistan.

Their profligacy makes their danger routine to the men and women who search for them, giving a matter-of-fact feel to the reflections of service people exposed to life-threatening risk.

“I started screaming,” says Captain Dave Henson, one of the personnel who spoke as part of this exhibition, remembering the moment he stepped on an IED.

“But it wasn’t like a scream of pain. There wasn’t really that much pain at that point.

“It was a scream of just sheer frustration, because it was at that point you realise that things are going to change quite significantly."

Given unprecedented access to the Army and Navy in combat, photographers pictured the bombsuits and robots charged with giving detectorists an element of confidence in their safety.

But the aftermath when those fail, from the point of injury to treatment at Camp Bastion hospital and rehabilitation in Britain, is an unthinkable test of resilience. Sometimes, soldiers and those responsible for planting the devices are even treated in the same room.

“Before I went on tour, I made sure I’d climbed a mountain so I could tick that box off of my things to list, just in case it happened,” says Henson.

“And then I actually lost my legs. So I was very aware of the possibility – that helped a lot, I think.

“All the guys seem to, you know, make jokes about losing their legs before they go, but I think I really knew that was a possibility. And I’d accepted it before I went.”

  • Open 10am-5.30pm (closed December 24-26, January 1). Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @NAM_London.

More pictures:

A photo of soldiers in combat gear on a muddy road
EOD teams try to render devices safe remotely. The Wheelbarrow is a highly-valued Remote Controlled Vehicle which combines strength, dexterity and robustness. It carries a variety of cameras and weapons to deal with IEDs© NAM
A photo of a dog sitting on sandy ground in a battlefield setting
Search dogs are trained to roam in front of their handlers while sniffing out IEDs. Corporal Robin Ardis adapted this harness to enable the dogs he worked with to carry their own medical supplies, in case he and his dog were injured separately© NAM
A photo of a knitted monkey in army combat gear
Corporal Leigh Charlton brought along this toy monkey as a team mascot when he went to Afghanistan as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal "No 2" in 2010© NAM
A photo of a man in camouflage gear working with a bomb detector in Afghanistan
The Horn is the latest detector issued to All Arms as well as Advanced Search Teams (AST). It enables searchers to detect low metal IEDs more effectively than a standard Vallon detector© NAM
A photo of a group of surgeons operating on a patient
Members of the trauma team at Camp Bastion Field Hospital work together on a patient (2009)© Col Simon Orr
A photo of a group of soldiers seen through a make-shift outdoor treatment room
Regimental Aid Post Inside a Compound, Helmand Province (2009). Casualties are brought here for life-saving treatment© Col Simon Orr
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: