The National Army Museum in Chelsea exhibits artefacts about the history of the British Army, its impact on society and key conflicts from the British Civil War to the modern day.
There are five galleries spread over four floors. These are; Soldier, Army, Society, Battle and Insights. The Soldier gallery asks us if we could join the Army. Using real-life examples it explains what it takes to be a soldier; the sacrifices endured, the bonds made and how returning to civilian life can be challenging. The ‘remembrance wall’ of hand-written notes by school children is both moving and profound.
The Army gallery probes into why we have an Army and the role it has played throughout history with specific reference the the British Civil War in the 1640’s. The gallery expertly describes the conflict and how the question ‘who controls the army’ was finally resolved. (This dramatic period ended with the 1649 execution of the monarch King Charles I and the Army coming under the control of Parliament, whilst still commanding itself).
The Society gallery explores our relationship with the Army and its impact as a fighting and a cultural force. Graphics and objects show how this relationship spans through protection of our interests to haute couture!
The Battle gallery focuses on a few conflicts in depth; the Battle of Waterloo (1815), D-day (1944) and the 20th-century troubles in Northern Ireland. It examines how the Army fulfils its most challenging task – fighting and seeking to secure peace.
At the Battle of Waterloo (in present-day Belgium); 140,000 men toiled from day break to sunset on the 18th June 1815. Victory against France was achieved by the allies only after the invention of the Prussians at 1 pm on the day; ‘…. the nearest run-thing you ever saw in your life’; according to Wellington. Don’t miss (what is for me) the best cabinet in the museum. It’s a display of items that formerly belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington – leaders of the French and British at the Battle of Waterloo. These include garments belonging to both men, weapons, awards and most uniquely the skeleton of Marengo – Napoleons war-horse at Waterloo. (Actually, I’m a bit surprised we haven’t returned this to France yet – should we?)
Finally, the Insights gallery takes a global perspective on the impact of the Army throughout the world.
All the galleries are open-plan and designed with young children in mind. It’s incredible to see how the designers have combined sympathetic galleries and price-less treasures in a child-friendly environment.
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‘Next door’ is the 17th-century British Army hospital:
The Royal Hospital Chelsea – historical buildings and the finest gardens