Once Upon A Wartime
Once Upon a Wartime is an amazing exhibition that all children should see.
The theme is naturally ‘War’ but it has been developed around five popular books for children. Each of the books has been given its own life-size setting that has interactive features for both children and adults.
At grown-up eye level you have videos, letters and objects whilst at the child’s level there are models, quizzes and the chance to hear the authors explain their inspiration for the stories by sitting and listening to them on an ‘old fashioned’ telephone. The exhibits and models take you right inside the environments of each book so that you become one of those characters. Throughout the walk that you take, the history of war is re-told putting each of the novels into its own context.
Although they share the same themes of loyalty, separation, excitement, survival and identity which run through the books and exhibition, the stories cover different aspects of war and how it can affect children. The ‘My Once Upon a Wartime Book of Books’ which each visitor has, encourages the children especially, to look closely at each story and location and create their own adventure.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo – with the main character of Joey, a farm horse, there is a poignant video running that reminds us of the horror that was the First World War. You are reminded of the key role played by horses in the conflict and it is sobering to remember that for 3000 year previous to WWII, the horse was the vital component for successful aggression.
Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden – the setting is of a home with reminders of what life must have been like for evacuees. The children are encouraged to imagine packing a ‘Separation Suitcase’, putting an item in for each letter of the word.
The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall – you enter an area that has walls papered with all types of aircraft and you have the chance to go into an Anderson shelter just like Chas’ gang had. The sound of the air-raid sirens transports you to those blitz days (even if you are under 70 and therefore have not heard them for real)
The Silver Sword by Ian Serailler – the story of the journey across Europe of the Balicki children is illustrated by the bomb site you appear to have entered. There is a thought provoking model of a bombed house which bring home just what damage and destruction people were suffering.
Little Soldier by Bernard Ashley – you are brought up to date with a jolt when you enter an urban area with blocks of flats that can be seen in most towns. This is to highlight gang warfare and the involvement of young children. For me, the M16 rifle was the most chilling exhibit of all because it was about the ‘here and now’.
You leave the exhibition through a ‘library’ which contains the whole range of literature for children on the topic of war. There are. There’s Anne Frank, Horrible Histories, When the Wind Blows plus Pioneer Annuals and the full range of other literature like comics, picture books, encyclopedeas.
Just before you go through the door at the end, there is a painting of the football match between the British and German armies on 25th Dec 1914. For me it is a positive image and one that I hope children pick up on.
This is an excellent exhibition whatever your age. If children are able to see it and really engage with it, they may, hopefully, come to the conclusion that war is not for them and the world may become a safer place.
It is currently at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth London until 30th October when it moves to IWM Manchester This is a cross post with ‘Julia’s Place because this post is relevant to the different audiences of that blog