Review: Croydon School Gives War Museums Run For Their Money
If you want to know about the history of the first world war then your only real choice in London is the fantastic Imperial War Museum, right?
Not so — because right now there's an equally brilliant exhibition at Whitgift school in Croydon.
Remembering 1916 - Life on the Western Front takes us back a century, to the mid-point of the Great War. It uses personal stories from armed personnel to re-tell the hardships and experiences of warfare.
We get to see original uniforms, bombs, letters, hand grenades, gas masks and military vehicles within this massive exhibition.
Land, air and sea efforts are covered, as is the role of women in warfare.
Importantly, we get the view from both sides — that's how we learn why the Red Baron is linked to the school. And in a touching tribute there are sculptures of poppies for all the students and masters from the school who died in the war, alongside forget-me-nots and cornflowers — the remembrance flowers for France and Germany.
We also see portraits of some of the nationalities from the 104 countries that fought in the war, reminding us again that it wasn't just a Europe-wide conflict but that countries such as India and Australia also paid a heavy price in casualties.
The year 1916 has been chosen for the exhibition, as that's when conscription was introduced in Britain. Three scenes poignantly draw a narrative. We start with a man receiving his orders to join the war effort. Midway through the exhibition he returns from leave. The final tableaux shows his wife sitting at a table as she receives a letter stating her husband has been killed in action.
These aren't the only recreated scenes in this exhibition: we also get taken to British and German trenches, accompanied by explosions and machine gun fire. The German trench looks more fortified (they knew they were in it for the long haul), while the British structure is more temporary — a sign of naive optimism.
Remembering 1916 is a well-researched, intelligent exhibition that really brings the war to life. Set aside a couple of hours, as it's positively crammed with fascinating artefacts and displays.
When we were heading for a school in Croydon we didn't know what to expect. We're glad to report that we found one of the best exhibitions of the year so far.
Remembering 1916 - Life on the Western Front runs until 16 April 2017 at the Whitgift Exhibition Centre at Whitgift School, Croydon. £7 adults, £5 seniors, £3 children
Last Updated 01 September 2016