Imperial War Museum Tour with Taylor Downing

Imperial War Museum Tour with Taylor Downing

March 25, 2019

Members of the Latymer community explored three floors of the Imperial War Museum’s world-class collections. Guided by Latymerian, Taylor Downing (1971), exceptional stories of wartime weaponry and their profound impact on people’s lives were told.

Mid-morning on the first Saturday of spring proved the perfect scene. Historian Taylor Downing settled on a bench overlooking the iconic 15 inch guns from HMS Ramillies and HMS Resolution. The author of numerous wartime best-sellers organised his notes. Latymerians, staff and parents – past and present – soon arrived for an expert tour of the world-famous Museum.

Taylor welcomed guests by sharing a brief history of the building and its origin as Bethlem Hospital. Inside, he expounded in rich detail on fascinating artefacts and their roles in the two World Wars  and Contemporary Conflicts.

Centre in the atrium lay the remains of a car destroyed by a bomb. The installation by artist Jeremy Deller, entitled Baghdad, was a stark representation of modern conflict in Iraq. Adjacent to the mangled heap stood a gigantic V2 Rocket, the world's first long-range guided missile. Latymerian Bryan Mills (1950) could recall the Nazi rocket first hitting London in September 1944 at Staveley Road, Chiswick.

Next, the Russian T34 tank captured attention. Its combination of mobility, armoury and firepower was a remarkable advance in military technology. This unprecedented development in WW2 machinery was crucial in defeating the German army, explained Taylor.

Artistic depictions of war continued with moving imagery. The Imperial War Museum has managed a film archive from its very beginnings, boasting a collection of 23,000 hours of diverse footage. Viewers gathered at clips of Listen to Britain, Humphrey Jennings’ 1942 documentary exploring civilian life during conflict, then moved to admire Stanley Spencer’s Shipbuilding on the Clyde: Welders, one of the artist’s finest paintings.

Reports were heard of the devastation caused in 1945 at the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by two atomic bombs. Nuclear weapons would then change the very nature of warfare; the tour concluded with a sober reminder of the “War That Never Was”, as fear of global annihilation ran rampant during the Cold War.

The camp debriefed to nearby café, The Tankard, for coffee and conversation. Guests were granted intimate insight into Taylor’s catalogue of works, including his most recent book, 1983 The World at the Brink, of how America and the Soviet Union almost came to Armageddon.

In closing Rishi Chopra, Alumni Relations Manager, thanked Taylor and all for attending who, by purchasing a ticket, had donated in excess of £850 to Latymer's Bursaries Appeal 2018/19.

View the photo gallery here