Once Upon a Wartime at the Imperial War Museum North

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The Imperial War Museum opened their first branch outside the South-East of England in Salford Quays in 2002 in a landmark building, designed by Daniel Libeskind. Since opening the museum has welcomed more than a million visitors. I've visited before but not since Bud's arrival, and Red Rose Daddy had never visited so we were pleased, and curious, to be invited to spend a few hours there on Sunday morning, to see the museum and the new exhibition 'Once Upon a Wartime'

The exhibition features five children's novels set in wartime. Opening with War Horse by Michael Morpurgo then taking the visitor through Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners, The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailier and, finally, Little Soldier by Bernard Ashley.
The exhibition is very interactive with features for even the littlest children to get involved in. Bud loved The Machine Gunners exhibition most, with it's recreated air raid shelter and tunnel to crawl through. His Daddy had to crawl through first but Bud soon realised what he had to do and happily crawled back and forth, quite a traffic jam formed at times as this was popular with other little ones too. 

He also loved the Carrie's War exhibition which featured a mock up of Hepzibah's farmhouse kitchen, and a model train doing laps on it's track. Bud and the other toddlers present loved waiting for the train to reappear each time.
The 'War Horse' section featured props and a script from the recent film adaptation, a great opportunity to see these for fans of the book and the film. 

Older children were well served by the exhibition too, a trail was provided which lead them through and invited them to complete different activities associate with each book. For example, 'The Silver Sword' gives a list of 'Can You' survival actions like riding a horse, fixing a bike tyre or winking. Children are asked to tick off those that they can do and asks which new skills they would like to learn. The exhibition tells the story of each book effectively and kept our interest throughout.

After seeing 'Once Upon a Wartime' we had a look around the main exhibition space which holds the national Imperial War collection for 1914 onwards. It uses a timeline to take you through the major conflicts on the 20th and 21st century, with the addition of five 'silos' which focus on the human aspect of war. There are some really striking exhibits in this space including a Harrier Jump Jet (which, if I remember correctly had to be lowered into the building before the roof was completed), a sculpture called 'The Crusader' by Gerry Judah
There is also a piece of the destroyed World Trade Centre (that I foolishly forgot to photograph). I found this, in particular to be very moving. To come so close to a relic from an event which changed the world more than any other in my lifetime was deeply affecting.

On the hour the main exhibition becomes a projection screen for the 'Big Picture Show'. A series of six films are screened on the walls of the room. This is amazingly effective if you sit in the central part of the space and you can fully take in the 360° experience which is told through photographs, art and commentary. We saw the 'Children and War' film and really enjoyed it. 

During half-term the museum is opening it's 'Learning Zone' for craft activities relating to the new exhibition, between 1 and 4pm. We had a session in there and I was a little sceptical that Bud would enjoy it but I was really, pleasantly surprised. The room was large and airy and featured activities suitable for a wide range of ages. The older children were invited to sit and make a keepsake book to take home with them, a member of staff told a story with a puppet about life in the women's Land Army during the Second World War and there was lots of drawing and colouring stations too. Bud loved it. He coloured on a picture of a horse and then played in the toddler's area which featured wooden bricks, a play tunnel and lots of books. 
The Imperial War Museum features a great restaurant with a mixture of hot and cold foods. As we had an early start we called in for a snack before they started to serve hot food but Bud was very pleased with his 'rations pack'. This was a self selection buffet pack for children, where they could choose 5 items for £3:95. I was really pleased to see packs of cherry tomatoes, fromage frais and fresh fruit as options. The options for hot food looked really tasty and were priced competitively too. The restaurant is spacious and has a panoramic view of the Quays below, and BBC Media City on the other side.

We finished our session by taking a trip to the top of the Air Shard and it's viewing platform. Unfortunately it was a horrible day and visibility was really low. We couldn't see many of the landmarks that were pointed out on the signs around the platform. Manchester United's ground is around 200m away and we couldn't even see that! There is a small charge to enter the Air Shard and, if visibility is poor, I really wouldn't bother. The tower itself is very striking from the inside but you would need a fine day to make the most of seeing the views around the Quays. It is also worth pointing out that, if you have any fear of lifts or heights it may not be for you. The lift was a bit bumpy as it moved up and down and the floor of the viewing platform is a metal grille which may make those with fears unhappy.
We had a great time at the Imperial War Museum and I was really impressed that a museum covering such a serious topic could be so toddler friendly. We will definitely be returning and, best of all, admission is free! Car parking costs £4 but is valid all day so you could use the car park as a base for walking around the Quays, perhaps to the Lowry or Media City.  

The 'Once Upon a Wartime' exhibition is open until 2nd September, with a full supporting activities programme. The museum's excellent website can give you a complete guide to what is on and when.  

We were invited to attend the exhibition as guests of the Imperial War Museum and received free car parking, lunch for Bud and free admission to the Air Shard. The thoughts and opinions are all my own.