Imperial War Museum
© Copyright of the Imperial War Museum.
The Imperial War Museum’s library collection sprung into existence in 1917 and has been growing ever since. It has benefitted hugely from the kindness and generosity of strangers; ex-members of the services and a wide-ranging members of the general public who have passed to us their books, writings and memorabilia that may have otherwise been lost or assigned to dust. Both library and private paper collections attempt to record or illustrate the toil and sacrifice of every individual affected by conflict. The collections provide more than a record of conflict; they offer a commentary on change and transformation in society, environment and individual lives.
The history of the library’s collection begins with Charles ffoulkes, Curator of the Tower of London in 1916, and soon to be Secretary elect of the new war museum. He was convinced that the contemporary war should be better recorded than past wars, and at an early opportunity approached Sir Alfred Mond, the new First Commissioner of Public Works in Lloyd George’s Government with the idea of preserving war literature, stamps, posters and the like. Mond took up ffoulkes’s suggestion enthusiastically and by the end of March 1917 had managed to gain agreement from the Cabinet for the establishment of the War Museum with Sir Martin Conway as Director-General, Charles ffoulkes as Secretary and Professor C.W.C. Osman FSA, the eminent military historian, entrusted as Librarian.
The purpose of the new museum as outlined at an early stage included the collection of regimental magazines, maps, music, Government posters, autographed letters, and souvenirs. Immediate orders were also placed with the Government printers for all war books, Army and Navy Lists, proclamations, orders and regulations that had passed through their presses. The first gifts started arriving and, in that first month of collecting, 479 items were presented by interested individuals and publishers. The very first accessioned item in the collection illustrates the diversity of the printed collection – a programme for “Dick Whittington”, a pantomime put on by the 85th Field Ambulance. Everything was to be recorded, not just the dark and the gruesome but the light and the witty. The first annual report of the Imperial War Museum reveals that in 1917 the Library acquired well over 7,000 items, of which 5,000 were donations. These included, books, pamphlets, paper money, war tokens, postage stamps, tickets, ration cards, passes, regimental magazines and war maps.
King George V formally opened the Imperial War Museum in June 1920. In his speech at the event, Sir Alfred Mond declared that “it is hoped to make [the collection] so complete that every individual, man or woman, sailor, soldier, airman or civilian who contributed, however obscurely, to the final result, may be able to find in these galleries an example or illustration of the sacrifice he made or the work he did, and in the archives some record of it”. This is a tradition that we have kept close to our hearts in the wars and conflicts that have followed.
Today, the Imperial War Museum has an unparalleled and unique Collection covering all aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century conflict involving Britain, the Commonwealth and other former empire countries. The separation of the archive collection of documents, encompassing diaries and private papers, from the printed library collection occurred in 1971, but the two departments continue to work closely together, offering a combined visitor experience. From Monday to Friday our research room is open to pre-booked visits for consultation of much of our library stock and archival collection of diaries and private papers, while our new Explore History Centre allows seven-day per week browsing access to a growing collection of digital content and research possibilities, with experienced library and archive staff on hand to guide the visitor.
Imperial War Museum Links
- Imperial War Museum: IWM website, includes links to events and all locations of the Imperial War Museum
- IWM Collections: covering all aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century conflict involving Britain, the Commonwealth and other former empire countries.
- Explore History: search the collections, listen to podcasts, browse through 'Searchlight' - unique stories of modern conflict.
Archives Hub Collections
- Papers and correspondence of Ivor Evans: collection assembled to document the development of Operational Research during the Second World War with special reference to the Army Operational Research Group.
- Papers and correspondence of Albert Percival Rowe: relates to Rowe's service as Vice-Chancellor at Adelaide.
- Papers and correspondence of Rear-Admiral Brian Egerton: work on mathematical problems, especially those involved in artificial satellites and space exploration.
- Papers and correspondence of Joseph Needham: relate to Needham's service as a member of the World Peace Council sponsored 1952 International Scientific Commission investigation of alleged United States use of bacteriological warfare in North Korea and north east China during the Korean War, and subsequent material relating to the findings of the Commission and to chemical and biological warfare generally.
A selection of books and journals held at the Imperial War Museum.
- The history and the role of the Imperial War Museum as an institution / Diana Condell. 2002.
- War history of the Imperial War Museum, [1933-1947] / Imperial War Museum. 1943-1946]
- Imperial War Museum review. / [by Imperial War Museum]. 1986-1999
- Save waste and start a pig club : factories, schools, police posts, A.R.P. stations - any organised body of individuals can help the war effort, and themselves, by starting a co-operative pig club. / [by Ministry of Agriculture]. 1940]
- A Journal of Remembrance: 1914 - 1918; founded to perpetuate the memory of the Great War and to assist those who were disabled in it
- War work 1914-1918 [sound recording] : Isabella Clarke, 1915-1919; munitions and ordnance worker. / [by Imperial War Museum (Great Britain). Dept. of Sound Records]. n.d.
- Women's war work / edited by Lady Randolph Churchill. 1916.
- Forgotten voices of the Great War : a history of World War I in the words of the men and women who were there / [compiled by] Max Arthur ; with an introduction by Sir Martin Gilbert. 2004.
- Men at war, 1914-1918 : national sentiment and trench journalism in France during the First World War / Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau ; translated by Helen McPhail. 1992.
- Over here [Electronic book] : the First World War and American society / David M. Kennedy. 1982.
- The secret history of World War II : the ultra-secret wartime letters and cables of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill / [edited by Stewart Richardson] 1987.
- Explosives : their manufacture, properties, tests and history / by Arthur Marshall. 1915.
- An appeal from the Prime Minister : books and magazines for the Forces are needed now [proclamation] / Winston L. Spencer Churchill. [194-?]
- Ce que Churchill a vraiment dit à Ottawa. / [by Political Warfare Executive]. 194-?]