Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom
June 9, 2003
Entering the WW1 section through a full size trench, visitors are thrust into a musty, pitch-black world of smoke filled horizons and sound effects encompassing machine gun bursts, muffled shouts and falling shells opening to an overwhelming array of battlefield remains: gas masks, rifles, grenades, helmets and flare pistols stacked beside trench signs from the ‘Vimy-Lievin Line’ and wooden memorial crosses.
An 1800-pound aircraft bomb is dwarfed by a life size model of an aeroplane once flown by Captain William Avery, who was one of the Allies’ top ‘aces’ with 72 kills. A German naval mine stands out of the corner given over to the 3,000 Canadians who served in the Royal Navy.
And then a highly symbolic 77mm German gun, deliberately destroyed by its crew in the face of the Canadian advance, dominates the display on Vimy Ridge, one of the most important events in the shaping of modern Canada. The contorted, mashed-up muzzle mirrors the pain and destruction of the troops who finally took the 7 –kilometre long, heavily fortified ridge at the expense of 3,598 dead and 7,000 wounded.
The standout exhibit upstairs in WWII is probably Hitler’s Car, a black Mercedes purchased in 1970 and complete with bullet holes caused by Allied strafing, which stands next to a bronze bust of Hitler seized as a war trophy by an army chaplain. More emotive artefacts include a concentration camp dress worn by a member of the French Resistance and a display on the 1,975 Canadian troops present at the Battle of Hong Kong. The 590 men killed in the initial fighting and later captivity are represented by an emaciated model of a POW, his broken, desperate expression in stark contrast to the huge pictures of embarking troops marching in long, smiling lines to the great adventure that awaited them.
Level 3 is dedicated to Canada’s Peacekeepers. Starting with weapons, uniforms and posters from the Korean War, where 516 of the 25,000 troops were killed, the exhibit continues with the development of NATO. As you cross a threshold a model of an East German guard flashes a torch and begins shouting. Sirens wail above the sound of running footsteps cut down by a sudden burst of machine gun fire. Past the collection of Warsaw Pact small arms, an explanation of Canadian Cold War participation is overshadowed by a Kiowa helicopter, which was used for observation purposes in the Canadian Artic. Gulf War uniforms and a Canadian crewed UN vehicle that was ambushed by 25 Serbs in Croatia follow, the latter covered with more than 50 bullet holes.
From journal Down All The Days