Would you believe me when I say The National Army Museum is like a beautiful art gallery for the Army’s history?
Well, you should. It’s beautiful, well thought through, in the heart of Chelsea a short walk from Sloane Square and it doesn’t cost a penny to go in!
I’ll just say, while I’m probably not the target demographic of the museum, I will definitely be keeping an eye out on its future exhibitions.
At the time of writing this there had just been an exhibition on graphic design and one opened on the day I went called Tribute Ink, based on armed forces tattoos.
What a great discovery!
Inside The National Army Museum
Newly refurbished the museum re-opened in 2017, and it’s been cleverly designed. It’s a very clean white space which allows the artefacts and displays to be the pop of colour and I really like that approach.
It reminded me of The Barbican in its style, it has a lot of floors, stairs and layers.
It looks fairly open plan, there’s a large event space on the ground floor which is a focal central area which can be viewed from any level.
On each floor I think you can probably find something for everyone from the die-hard traditional museum go-er to ways of displaying artefacts as art, interactive games, film and quiet corners for contemplation.
The middle level is an open plan cafe and the comforting hustle and bustle of teas and coffees. The warm sounds of the chitter chatter over tea resonates alongside the noisier parts of the exhibitions and prevent it from being too quiet like an actual art gallery.
The museum portrays The Army right across the ages and runs right up to the modern day.
Lots of it is naturally very thought provoking but it was the ‘Could you be a soldier?’ exhibition that actually made me consider the lifestyle an army recruit goes through.
The Society and the Army exhibition is a different angle compared to the rest of the museum, it’s full of engaging artefacts and shows the relationship between the service and who it protects. It ranges from fashion and film to the effect it’s had on our language.
While there’s lots of fun stuff there’s also some real hard hitting facts. The one artefact that really blew me away was a tiny bullet in a little lit box in the wall. The story behind the bullet was about its design and that it had a blunt end and it broke apart on impact and created more damage to whatever it hit. The officers that saw this design adopted this it by sanding down the end of their own bullets. I don’t know why this made me so sad but, it did – it was making something so destructive, even worse.
As you can tell, I had a lot of fun!
The newest exhibition when I visited was Tribute Ink, January – April 2020, and it was done by The British Royal Legion and focuses on the tattoo artwork synonymous with the armed forces.
The exhibition featured service men and women, the ink and why its so important to the armed forces community.
The tattoos can act as a reminder of the experiences, camaraderie, highs, lows and as a personal commemoration or act of remembrance.
The mix of exhibitions at the museum are really interesting some with modern twists and others with a more traditional approach. This is a great addition which compliments the existing mix.
I was very lucky to be invited to the launch which was full of funny speeches about tattoos from people in the Army as well as the Museum Director. It was really great to see first hand how the tattoos really form a significant part of the Armed Forces story, it was a very accessible way for me to connect with something I’m very unconnected to.
The National Army Museum strikes a wonderful balance between a fun experience and the seriousness of the topic. I’ll be keeping a look on its upcoming exhibitions closely as I know there will be an interesting programme on and ones that I’ll want to head back to the museum for.
If you’re looking somewhere a bit different in London to look around, this might just be the museum for you!
Neon signs show some of the influences the Army have had on modern language