Conservation Live! at the Royal Armouries: Siborne’s Waterloo Model

Conservation of Captain William Siborne’s remarkable model of the battlefield of Waterloo is now underway at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

Conservation Live! of the miniature soldiers of Waterloo.

Conservation Live! of the miniature soldiers of Waterloo.

The model, which was completed in 1843, shows – in marvellous detail – the battlefield as it was at around 1:30pm on 18 June 1815. It is more than five metres long and two metres wide, and it comes apart into ten sections. The battlefield is populated by more than 3,000 finely modelled and painted lead figures including soldiers, horses and artillery.

sibornemodel

Section of the model before conservation.

The model has been on display at the Royal Armouries since 1996. Now, in advance of the bicentenary of the battle, it is being dismantled and conserved piece by piece as part of a Conservation Live! programme.

Cleaning the thousands of models on the battlefield is a slow and careful process.

Cleaning the thousands of models on the battlefield is a slow and careful process.

British soldiers in miniature - look closely and you can see their individual faces!

British soldiers in miniature – look closely and you can see their individual faces!

A Waterloo soldier supports his wounded companion.

A Waterloo soldier supports his wounded companion.

The detail on each figure has to be seen to be believed.

The detail on each figure has to be seen to be believed.

Conservator Cymbeline Storey working on the model.

Conservator Cymbeline Storey working on the model.

From March until May 1st 2015 museum visitors can meet the Conservator, discuss the conservation programme and watch conservation of the model taking place. At 11:00 and 2:00 visitors can attend talks with the Conservator, which is ticketed due to limited access, or simply drop in between 2:30-3:30pm. For more information on how to take part please ring the Royal Armouries on 0113 220 1999 or email enquiries@armouries.org.uk. Alternatively, keep your eye out for further blog posts over the next few months as conservation work progresses

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator

 

Eastern Warriors: Japan – Medieval and Modern!

Japan-Web-BannerThis February half term, why not take the opportunity to come to Leeds and experience a glimpse of the world of the Japanese warrior? The Royal Armouries holds a wonderfully rich collection of Japanese objects, and many of these are on show in the Oriental Gallery.

Through these pieces, we can see how the distinctive arms and armour of the famous samurai evolved over the centuries, in conjunction with new developments in battlefield tactics and wider political, social and economic change.

DI 2007-1482, Sword (katana). Japanese, 16th century. Made by Kanemoto. XXVIS.366

DI 2007-1482, Sword (katana). Japanese, 16th century. Made by Kanemoto. XXVIS.366

A quick summary cannot do the world of Japanese arms and armour justice, but for a whistle-stop tour of some of the essential points please read on! We start with the Japanese horse archer with his elite warrior status, wearing his flamboyant lamellar o-yoroi or ‘great armour’ with the colourful silk lacing and large shoulder defences, his kabuto (helmet) with the spreading neckguard, and carrying the unique Japanese longbow (yumi) fashioned for use on horseback.

Image: close–up image of head and shoulders of armour (tosei gusoku) for a member of the Sakakibara family. Japanese, 16th century. XXVIA.274. On display in Leeds.

Image: close–up image of head and shoulders of armour (tosei gusoku) for a member of the Sakakibara family. Japanese, 16th century. XXVIA.274. On display in Leeds.

Image: Helmet (kabuto) and mask (mempo) of an armour given as a diplomatic gift from Tokugawa Hidetada to James I and VI in 1613. XXVIA. On display at the Tower of London.

Image: Helmet (kabuto) and mask (mempo) of an armour given as a diplomatic gift from Tokugawa Hidetada to James I and VI in 1613. XXVIA. On display at the Tower of London.

Image: DI 2005-0753 Helmet (kabuto), part of an armour copied from an o-yoroi (‘great armour’) made c.1300. XXVIA.209.

Image: Helmet (kabuto), part of an armour copied from an o-yoroi (‘great armour’) made c.1300. XXVIA.209.

Image: DI 2005-0563 An illustration from Yoroi Chakuyo shidai, or ‘The Order of Putting on an Armour’ showing an Japanese warrior. Japanese, early 19th century.

Image: An illustration from Yoroi Chakuyo shidai, or ‘The Order of Putting on an Armour’ showing a Japanese warrior. Japanese, early 19th century.

These horse archers prevailed on the Japanese battlefield until around the 14th century, by which point the emphasis on large bodies of infantry was increasing, and fighting on foot with staff weapons such as the naginata (glaive) and the yari (spear) became more common. As combat techniques evolved, the warrior lords and their retainers began to wear smaller, less elaborate styles of armour such as the do maru and the haramaki, which permitted greater freedom of movement – we have examples of both these styles of armour on show in the gallery in Leeds.

Image: TR.195 Armour (mogami haramaki gusoku). Japanese, mid-16th century. XXVIA.2

Image: Armour (mogami haramaki gusoku). Japanese, mid-16th century. XXVIA.2

In the mid-16th century the Portuguese arrived in Japan and brought matchlock firearms with them. The Japanese daimyo (nobles), who by this point were embroiled in the protracted civil wars known generally as sengoku jidai or ‘age of the country at war’, adopted this new technology with enthusiasm, and the Japanese matchlock (teppo) became a crucial weapon on the battlefield. This was famously proven at the battle of Nagashino in 1575, when the arquebusiers of the combined forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu annihilated the cavalry charge of Takeda Katsuyori. The new prevalence of firearms and the prolonged siege warfare that characterised the civil wars prompted further developments in armour. Laced rows of individual lamellar scales were reduced in favour of constructions incorporating solid plates, which provided better protection against bullets, and much experimentation was conducted to find a way of producing bullet-proof armour. Armour was simplified and the lacing was reduced in order to make it more practical during extended periods of warfare, as well as quicker and cheaper to produce for large numbers of troops.

Image: A13.369 - Illustration showing infantrymen armed with matchlock muskets. From a block book entitled Geijutsu Hideu Zue [Accomplishments in the secret arts] by Ohmori Sakou, with illustrations by Kuniyoshi (Tokyo, 1855).

Image: Illustration showing infantrymen armed with matchlock muskets. From a block book entitled Geijutsu Hideu Zue [Accomplishments in the secret arts] by Ohmori Sakou, with illustrations by Kuniyoshi (Tokyo, 1855).

Image: DI 2005-0854 Matchlock musket (teppo). Japanese, Izumi Province, 18th century. Made by Enami Ihei of Sakai. XXVIF.53

Image: Matchlock musket (teppo). Japanese, Izumi Province, 18th century. Made by Enami Ihei of Sakai. XXVIF.53

Once the civil wars were brought to a final close in the early 1600s by the victories of Tokugawa Ieyasu, though, the period of closely monitored peace known as the Edo period descended on Japan and lasted until the mid-19th century. A close eye was kept on the buke (warrior class) in an effort to stamp out all opportunities for insurrection. External influence was reduced to a minimum as the Shogunate shut down the majority of foreign trade amid concerns about Western ambitions within the country. A feudal chain of obligation between vassals, lords and ultimately the Shogun was codified in the ideal of Bushido or the ‘Way of the Warrior’, which reinforced the necessity of absolute personal loyalty and obedience. The glory days of the past must have seemed a long way away to the samurai, and this nostalgia was shown in part through the continued importance of arms and armour, not so much as functional equipment any more, but more for the implications of rank, status and honour that the pieces conveyed on their owners.

For example, the right to wear two swords, the katana and the wakizashi, at the same time, was restricted to members of the military class; those who were ranked lower in the social order, such as merchants, were only permitted to wear a short sword. Old styles of armour and copies of famous ancient armours became fashionable again; several of the armours on show in the Oriental Gallery in Leeds were made during the Edo period, but have archaic stylistic features such as individual lamellar scales or the big shoulder guards and neckguards that were popular during the times when o-yoroi  were worn. Martial arts involving weapons including the sword and staff weapons such as the naginata developed into more regulated forms; instead of being fundamentally a practical way to prepare for battlefield combat, the emphasis shifted to honing the skills, principles and mindset that were meant to embody the ideal warrior who was loyal to his lord.

Image: CN.977 - Armour (tosei gusoku) laced in purple and green. Japanese, about 1800. XXVIA.113.

Image: Armour (tosei gusoku) laced in purple and green. Japanese, about 1800. XXVIA.113.

Japan emerged from its period of self-imposed isolation during the mid-19th century, and embarked on an ambitious programme of rapid modernisation. By the twentieth century, Japan was competing with the military technology of America and Europe. However, certain cultural practices ensured that traditional Japanese arms and armour remained current and relevant. In Japanese religion, there is a strong belief that the kami or ancestral spirits continue to live on in the possessions owned by the deceased before they died, and this is thought to be particularly true of a warrior’s sword and armour. As a result, medieval armour and weaponry is often perfectly preserved, as the pieces are treasured through the generations as family heirlooms or passed on to shrines as offerings, so that the kami continue to be honoured and ensure good fortune for their descendents. It was often for this reason that Japanese officers in WWII had their ancestral, centuries-old blades fitted out with modern military issue mounts; in outward appearance their swords would conform to the 20th-century standard of uniformity and modernity, but they could still carry their medieval ancestors into battle with them. The ‘soul of the samurai’ still had power, and indeed it lives on today in the reverence that is bestowed on historical objects and the warrior culture connected with them, and the hold that the Samurai still claim over the popular imagination.

Image: DI 2010-1230 Sword (katana). Japanese, 14th century, with 20th century military mounts. Made by Sadatsugu in Bitchu province. XXVIS.333.

Image: Sword (katana). Japanese, 14th century, with 20th century military mounts. Made by Sadatsugu in Bitchu province. XXVIS.333.

Image: DI 2007-1476 Sword (katana). dated 1933. Made by Gassan Sadakatsu to commemorate the birth of the Crown Prince who is now Emperor of Japan.

Image: Sword (katana). dated 1933. Made by Gassan Sadakatsu to commemorate the birth of the Crown Prince who is now Emperor of Japan.

 

Facing-Recovering at Fort Nelson

Artist Jevan Watkins Jones talks about his experiences collaborating with soldiers and veterans for new exhibition facing – recovering, currently on display at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson until February 1.

Facing-Recovering-Web-Banner[1]

Jevan Watkins Jones & Luke Hardy 2013

(Facing-Recovering Image: Jevan Watkins Jones and Luke Hardy, 2013. Image courtesy of firstsite.)

What was your role in the project?

My role was as lead artist responsible for designing and delivering a socially engaged art project with wounded and injured soldiers (WIS) as an Associate Artist to the Learning Team, firstsite in partnership with Chavasse VC House, Recovery Centre, Colchester Garrison. The project was based at the centre one day a week for 10 months.

How did you work with the soldiers and veterans to share their personal stories and experience of injury and post-traumatic stress?

Words became drawing and drawing became words – they were interwoven. My original intention had been to draw more myself in the situation, directly from them and their stories. I had intended to create an active studio space where drawings were left on the wall of the canteen. First mine then theirs. This was not allowed on the new centre walls but also it became less relevant. The space I had created appeared to have founded itself upon talking together; talking about soldiering and art and, liminally, the human relationship between these two – me and them. I say ‘me and them’ though I often listened more than I spoke because it was still the offer of ‘Drawing with Jevan’ that instigated that space and my job to draw the visual out in a relational way. It was my duty in this instance not there’s. They didn’t have to participate or even turn up. The only way that the drawing-out could happen was to keep hold of these conversations as best I could in note form in order to draw on them in weeks to come. Key events were up most in my mind and these became drivers, or more rewardingly, evidence of a growing rapport with a few individuals channelling the course  of the project at what was and still remains for many a raw time.

(Image: Josh Green, Eye Crowd, 2013. Image courtesy of firstsite. Please use title as caption)

(Facing-Recovering Image: Josh Green, Eye Crowd, 2013. Image courtesy of firstsite.)

How is this exhibition significant to the current experiences of the armed forces?

From my perspective as an artist, civilian and having a step-son who has served in Afghanistan, it is significant in as much as it presents the contemporary soldier as a fellow human being who is as vulnerable if not more because of the extreme situations they face. My experience through this project is that many soldiers feel unable, even disabled, to reconcile their experiences with living a civilian life. The adjustment appears to be challenging and is certainly exacerbated by persistent stereotypes that can reinforce a sense of isolation or at least difference. The few soldiers I met wanted to express themselves personally and grab an opportunity to publicly declare their voice so that as Luke Hardy, Ex-Private and Sniper said people would be able to see ‘..the person behind the soldier.’

Is there a particular piece in this exhibition that stood out for you?

They, of course, all do for different reasons but because I have a particular love for drawing I would single out Josh’s drawing, ‘maimed Man’ as it really rocked me when he first presented it to me. Art has this potential but it is infrequently met. It is drawing in its most elemental, stripped back and sincere. It is also such a timeless image – man against man, defence, protection and humanity all rolled into one.

facing – recovering is on display at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson until 1st February 2015.

 

 

They That Are Left: the Royal Armouries hosts a stunning Remembrance photographic exhibition

TTAL-Web-Banner-(Leeds)

…They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them…”

from Laurence Binyon’s ‘The Fallen’ (first published in The Times, 21 September 1914)

Last week the Royal Armouries hosted the opening of photographer Brian David Stevens’ ‘They That Are Left’ exhibition, an inspiring ten-year project comprising of portrait photographs of war veterans, taken each Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph from 2002 to 2012. The project consists of 100 portraits, a selection of which is currently on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds until 1 February, as part of our First World War Centenary commemorations.

IMG_8474- TTAL - 111114

IMG_8483- TTAL - 111114

As with each passing year our war veterans do grow older, and age both wearies them and condemns their valuable memories, they are thus at risk of becoming unknown. With this in mind, Brian took inspiration from Binyon’s famous poem, saying “the viewer is given no information, just a portrait. These faces then are as of unknown soldiers; no cap badges, no ribbons of spooling medals, no insignia for military rank. They are faces only. Each deep-etched with who they are and what they did, that we might look, and think – and thank them.”

“As the years pass, the number of veterans from World War I has dwindled to nothing and the number from World War II is steadily reduced, but their places are taken by other veterans from newer conflicts, who are also included.”

They That Are Left

Below is a short interview with Brian at the Royal Armouries about his collection, currently showing until 1 February.

The exhibition – which forms part of Royal Armouries’ ‘Inspired by…’ programme – transfers in March to Fort Nelson, Portsmouth, home to the national collection of artillery. For more information about Brian David Stevens’ work, please see his website here; http://briandavidstevens.com/ .

 

The Edged Weapons of the First World War…

The up-coming First World War exhibition at Royal Armouries, Leeds will not only look at the firearms used during the War but also the evolution of edged weapons. We spoke to Assistant Curator of European Edged Weapons, Henry Yallop to find out more…

Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement in the research and preparation for the First World War exhibition?
It has been pretty all encompassing for Curator of Firearms Jonathan Ferguson, First World War Researcher, Lisa Traynor and I.  From choosing and acquiring the objects to conducting research, writing and editing all the content for both the physical and online exhibition – it has been non-stop.  We have also been heavily involved in the design of the gallery space and will even be installing it alongside the technicians.  The curatorial team have had a lot of involvement from start to finish.

Henry Yallop, Assistant Curator of European Edged Weapons

Henry Yallop, Assistant Curator of European Edged Weapons holding a Cavalry Trooper’s Sword, British, 1915

Can you tell us about some of the edged weapons that were used during the First World War and how they evolved afterwards?
The most common edged weapon of the War, carried by almost every soldier, was the bayonet.  Various types were used and it was still, despite huge advances in firepower, seen as an essential weapon of the infantryman. After the War the bayonet was viewed more as an auxiliary weapon of last resort. Nevertheless, changes in bayonet design did come about following the experiences of the First World War.

Every nation also started the War with sword, and even lance, armed cavalry.  The ‘cavalry spirit’ was still strong in a lot of armies and some still saw closing to contact the true purpose of cavalry. As such, in the years leading up to the War many nations attempted to improve upon their sword and lance designs.  However, the emergence of tanks during the War and their development afterwards effectively spelt the end of edged weapon armed cavalry, and with it any further development of sword and lance.

Perhaps the most unique edged weapons of the First World War are those that developed out of trench warfare.  Here a range of both improvised and purpose designed edged weapons were developed for the specific trench conditions of hand-to-hand combat.  Some of these were new designs, but others harked back to the medieval period.

What have you found most interesting about working on this project?
The opportunity to work alongside the Firearms team has been very rewarding.  I am fascinated by all arms and armour, so expanding my knowledge outside of my main discipline was excellent.  Although we have all had our main area of interest, working with each other enabled us to expand our individual understanding and the relationship between edged weapons, firearms and armour during this period.

What has been your most interesting discovery?
That there were occasions, despite the modern and changing nature of warfare, that cavalry armed with edged weapons could still have a role to play.  In the Middle East mounted regiments of the British Empire were asking to be issued with swords as late as 1918.  They were still considered essential weapons, and on more than one occasion proved to be uniquely so.

Lord Kitchener's sword and scabbard British, 1898 (XVI.16) © Royal Armouries

Lord Kitchener’s sword and scabbard British, 1898 (XVI.16) © Royal Armouries

What edged weapons can people expect to see in the exhibition?
We are displaying the full range of edged weapons used in the First World War; Swords, lances, bayonets, knives, daggers, clubs, knuckledusters, even a pike and a sharpened spade! Some of these have specific regimental and even personal associations. Although not intended to be used as a weapon, we are very lucky to have Field Marshal Kitchener’s sword, who was such an important figure to the whole of the British Empire’s war effort from 1914-16.

Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers: the personal arms and armour of the First World War will go on display at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds In September 2014. For more details about the First World War Centenary programme, visit the website.

‘The Shot Heard around the World’…

Historical rumours claim that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand owned a piece of silk, bullet-proof body armour, which he failed to wear on the day of his assassination.  Originally the brainchild of priest-turned-inventor Casimir Zeglen, this armour was composed of a combination of organic layers, most notably silk, which had bullet stopping capabilities.  By the early 1900s various different patents of these armours were being sold globally, and were marketed to heads of state and royalty.

We spoke to Lisa Traynor, First World War Researcher at Royal Armouries, about the on-going research undertaken by Britain’s oldest public museum to determine whether this vest could have changed the course of history…

What can you tell us about the significance of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand?
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, is an event which will forever be associated with the outbreak of the First World War.  In 1914, political relationships in the Balkans were very fragile, most notably due to Austro-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia.  War had been a possibility in this area of the globe for a number of years, due militarism, imperialism, nationalism and the alliance systems. During the late 19th century/early 20th century, many heads of state and public figures had been assassinated, none of which had led to war. The assassination of the Archduke was the final ‘spark’ which ignited these existing European tensions, thus catapulting the world into the age of modern warfare.

FWW Fire Arm Shoot- April 2014_86

Royal Armouries has had various samples of this type of silk armour made, from the specifications laid out in the original patents of the invention © Royal Armouries

Why did Royal Armouries feel it important to carry out this research?
In my previous role as Firearms Documentation Assistant, I stumbled across a Browning Model 1910 pistol (the same type used to assassinate the Archduke). In examining its serial number I realised it was only 516 away from the actual pistol used in the assassination and would probably have been manufactured around the same time. This made me think about the ‘what if?’ scenario surrounding the death of the Archduke. If he hadn’t been killed, would the war have been delayed? I then considered the body armour from the turn of the 20th century and how this might have been achieved.

After months of independent research in international archives and with the assistance of international academics on the subject, I discovered that it was entirely possible that the Archduke may have owned a piece of body armour.  Our First World War team thought it would be interesting to test the theory of silk body armour against the Browning Model 1910, to understand the ballistic capabilities of 19th century body armour against 20th century firepower.

How was the research carried out?
Royal Armouries has had various samples of this type of silk armour made, from the specifications laid out in the original patents of the invention.  We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds. The process has tried to replicate the assassination as closely as possible.

What is the most interesting thing you found out?
I don’t want to reveal too much before the opening of the exhibition however I can report that silk does have bullet stopping capabilities!

We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds © Royal Armouries

We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds © Royal Armouries

What will people see and be able to discover when visiting the exhibition?
The exhibition will explain to the visitor how these bullet proof vests were constructed, it will show footage of our experiments against the Browning pistol, and we will be exhibiting one of our silk vest samples. I am also doing a talk in September, which will go into more depth about Franz Ferdinand’s reasons for possibly purchasing one of these armours, and it will take an in depth look at our experiments in the National Firearms Centre. This research is still on-going, so by September more evidence may have come to light.

What other things in particular have you enjoyed / found most interesting or been surprised at during your research?
This research has both surprised and disappointed me at times. It has been interesting to discover what lurks at the bottom of historical archives around the world! It has also allowed me to connect with other international academics around the world, on the subject of Arms and Armour. Most notably, it has allowed me to give the public insight into the exciting historical research which the curatorial department at Royal Armouries achieves on a frequent basis.

Lisa Traynor (First World War researcher), test firing a Vickers Mk. II belt fed machine gun (XXIV.8841) at the National Firearms Centre, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, UK, 29th March, 2014  © Royal Armouries

Lisa Traynor (First World War researcher), test firing a Vickers Mk. II belt fed machine gun (XXIV.8841) at the National Firearms Centre, 29th March, 2014 © Royal Armouries

Blogger: Lisa Traynor, First World War Researcher, Royal Armouries

Lisa is delivering a talk at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on September 24, which will shed fresh light on the issue, and reveal the results from the upcoming tests. For tickets, priced £5, and more information, visit the website.

Lisa is also presenting an international paper focused on the research at the International Committee for the History of Technology’s Conference in Romania, which runs from July 29 to August 2.

For more information regarding Royal Armouries’ First World War Centenary programme, visit www.royalarmouries.org/events/first-world-war-centenary

Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers – An introduction…

Last week we announced our plans to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, with new exhibitions, a series of talks and seminars, online content and events across Leeds, Fort Nelson and the Tower of London.

In the run up to and during the centenary programme, we will post a series of blogs covering all aspects of the programme.

Ahead of the opening of the new exhibition in Leeds Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers – the personal arms and armour of the First World War – we spoke to Curator of Firearms and Lead Curator for First World War, Jonathan Ferguson…

What themes are included within the exhibition?
We start with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand; many heads of state in 1914 owned an early form of bullet-proof vest made of silk and other textiles. We’ve had one recreated and tested it, and you can see the results displayed along with the type of pistol used to kill the Archduke and essentially the start of the First World War.

Royal Armouries has undertaken research of the capabilities of Zeglen type replica armours against the FN Browning Model 1910, in .380 ACP, the same model of self-loading pistol used to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. © Royal Armouries

Royal Armouries has undertaken research of the capabilities of Zeglen type replica armours against the FN Browning Model 1910, in .380 ACP, the same model of self-loading pistol used to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. © Royal Armouries

Moving into the main space, we tell the story of the attempts to design the perfect sword; and the consequences for cavalrymen who faced machine guns and barbed wire on the Western Front. We tell the story of Frank Elms, who started the war as a cavalry trooper, and ended it as a highly trained machine gunner. Other cavalry actually did fight successfully on horseback. We then show the parallel story of the infantry rifle and bayonet; thought to be key to victory by many at the start of the war. In the event, machine guns and artillery became the important weapons, but to the individual soldier of any side, his rifle and bayonet were his best friend. The French even gave their bayonet a girl’s name!

As mobile warfare proved impossible and trench warfare took over, everyone involved began to look for ways to break through and push back the enemy. The machine gun forms the core of the exhibition, as visitors encounter some of the biggest killers of the war as they pass through the space. Personalising this theme is the forgotten story of the men of the Machine Gun Corps, set up as an elite unit to make best use of the famous Vickers gun. We then have a series of cases showing the wealth of responses to the challenge of trench warfare. Medieval style weapons and armour made a comeback, existing weapons were adapted and used in different ways (for example, in the air), and surprisingly modern weapons were invented from scratch.

Finally, we see how faith placed in weapons technology to actually end war forever (the so-called ‘War to End All Wars’) was misplaced, and how it in fact enabled a century of conflict whose effects are still with us today. Not many people realise that the phrase ‘First World War’ was coined during the war itself, when people realised that they now had the means to kill each other more effectively than ever before. The technology of 1880 – 1918, like all technology, is neutral; it doesn’t care how it’s used. It was used to start the war, it caused the hell of trench warfare and took millions of lives, but then went on to end that hell and actually save lives. Finally, it paved the way for the Second World War, the Cold War, and future wars. The objects are intrinsically interesting, but what makes them truly relevant and interesting are the personal stories. You’ll see plenty of both in this exhibition.

Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson with a Blanch-Chevallier Grenade Launcher © Royal Armouries

Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson with a Blanch-Chevallier Grenade Launcher © Royal Armouries

What are visitors going to learn from the exhibition?
I think people will be surprised at how advanced some of the thinking was, and that both before and during the war, there were constant attempts to innovate and to put the right equipment in to the soldiers’ hands. However, the right tactics to make best use of it could only be learned on the battlefield. That meant that no amount of ingenuity or innovation could prevent a horrific human cost and a legacy that still echoes today.

Why is the exhibition unique?
Our museum is the only one in the country that focuses exclusively on arms and armour; it’s what we do best. Our collection was already world-class in 2005, but in that year we also received the entire Ministry of Defence ‘Pattern Room’ collection of 19th-20th century firearms. This allowed us to do far more than we could back in 1996 when the existing display was installed. So the unique aspect here is that we lead with the personal weapons and armour, and then give them context by linking back to the real people who made them, held them and used them in anger. We do that in ways people will be familiar with; stories, and a wealth of imagery, and oral history recordings but we have also filmed a range of original weapons being fired, including high-speed camera footage of bullets striking forensic ballistic soap. We explore what these objects were capable of and what people’s opinions and feelings about them were. Instead of using them simply as illustrations in a generic narrative of the War, we make the interaction of objects and people with the battlefield the focus of the exhibition.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

For more information about the Royal Armouries First World War centenary programme, visit the website.