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Published: October 8th 2010
Went to the National Army Museum (NAM) yesterday but due to tube troubles ended up walking from Temple to Chelsea. It's quite a way but there's lots to see on the walk, loads of public gardens full of statues of people who deserve statues (eg Michael Faraday), people who really don't (General Gordon anyone?) and people who make you go 'Huh?' (the hostage Burghers of Ghent!). We also passed Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, a lot of war memorials and Westminster Abbey (and later Westminster Cathedral in its strangely orange brickwork. I always thought orange was a Protestant colour. Oh the irony!). We even saw a police escort of four bikes and a car with sirens wailing ensuring that the big van they were escorting did not stop at any lights. It was either a very dangerous prisoner within or it was the doughnut truck running late. Most enlightening though was the Shot Tower where they made musket balls. Apparently you drop molten lead from a great height and on the way down it forms into a perfect sphere. It hits a pool of water at the bottom, instantly cooling and solidifying. Hey presto, musket balls! Clever, eh?
The NAM was, frankly, excellent, even though we only got around half of it (Hastings to Waterloo). Lots of life size dummies dressed in military gear through the ages that were really scarily good, even one with animatronics that made his eyes open and close and the body shake a little. I couldn't tell if it was a model or an actor waiting to pounce on me and say boo! so I ran screaming to my dad and hid behind him.
There was a vast model of the Battle of Waterloo with 70000 miniature soldiers. There were loads of wheellocks, flintlocks (with and without doglocks), matchlocks, tall holihocks, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget me nots in an English Army Museum. 😊
There were some massive swords that made you realise just how much they were bludgeoning weapons designed to break bones rather than sharp slicing weapons designed to sever the head. I learned many things, like the nickname Tommy for an English soldier comes from Thomas Atkins, the demonstrative name on the army application form in 1815, chainmail is really, really heavy, caltrops land spike up whichever way you drop them on the ground and a tour of duty to Australia was 21 years!
The most interesting bits though are all the information about what the soldiers wore, ate, drank, did when not in battle, how they got recruited, how their wives and children were cared for (or not), how they got paid, all the normal human things that would have happened. There are endless programmes, books, films etc about world changing battles but very few about people's actual lives. It's nice to see the human side.
Now that I've seen lots of demonstrative information about how the British have relentlessly shot the French for the past thousand years, I'm off to Paris to get the French side of the story.
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