The National Army Museum in London reopens to the public today after a three-year, £23.75 million redevelopment project.
Aiming to engage the public with ideas of defence and security both past and present, the Chelsea site will showcase objects including the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse and the the surgical saw used to remove part of the Earl of Uxbridge’s right leg on the Waterloo battlefield.
Janice Murray, director general of the museum, said it could be “a space to explore and discuss the army and its relevance to society in ways that we sometimes would not imagine from fashion and films to flood defences and, of course, conflict”.
Here, Chris Cooper, a curator at the museum, selects a few items – which can be spied as the museum reopens – that give us an insight into the changing lives of soldiers through history…
Monkey balancing toy, c1811
Soldier Walter White carved this toy when he was a prisoner-of-war in France during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-15. PoWs often made toys or models from wood or bone.
Band jacket, worn c1800
This tiny jacket could have been worn by a drummer boy as young as five years old. For boys whose fathers were soldiers, the army was often their family.
Camp kettle, 1815
Being able to boil a kettle and make tea on the move has always been a significant morale booster for soldiers. This portable camp kettle was used during the Waterloo Campaign of 1815.
Raglan’s campaign furniture – commode and washstand, c1854
Lord Raglan used this in the Crimea in 1854-55. The bottom drawer held a chamber pot, for use ‘in situ’.
Convalescent patchwork, c1860
Fighting in the Crimea in 1854-56 had a disturbing effect on soldier William Eggett. After the war, he was sent to a lunatic asylum, where he made this patchwork quilt. Eggett remained at the asylum for 20 years until his death.
Cairo nightclub, 1941-42
Eric Dawson, the artist of this drawing, recalled that soldiers during the Second World War used this particular nightclub to pick up sex workers. In many cases, the women were escorted by their mothers.
Signboard from ‘Hellfire Corner’ in Ypres, 1918
Soldiers dubbed a busy junction on the road to the trenches ‘Hellfire Corner’. The damage to the sign is testament to its perilous location. It was seen by thousands of soldiers on their way to battle.
Welsh flag, c2009
On 9 May 2009, Mark Evison was fatally wounded in Afghanistan. He later died in hospital. This flag formed part of a memorial made to him by his comrades.
The National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, London, is open daily from 30 March and admission is free. More information about the museum can be found here.