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In Memoriam: Remembering the Great War at the Imperial War Museum

An exhibition marking the 90th anniversary of the end of the the First World War has opened at the Imperial War Museum.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife descend the steps of the City Hall, Sarajevo, to their motor car a few moments before their assassination, 28 June 1914. Courtesy IWM.

The Armistice came into force on 11 November 1918 but the exhibition looks at the entire war and its effect on civilians suddenly finding themselves on active service.

One of the pistols carried by a conspirator in the plot to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand is displayed for the first time in London. It was this incident which sparked the chain of events drawing Britain into the war. The Times' placard announces 'Britain at War'.

This is a display of artifacts made possible only by the passage of time. A steel helmet at the entrance was excavated only this summer. But the overwhelming impression is one of terrible sadness and loss of life. The museum cannot be accused of glorifying war.

It is staggering to see the number of Empire volunteers. A contemporary chart records 1,338,620 soldiers coming from India and even Bermuda sending 360. There is a tribute to Sepoy Khadadad who remained at his post although his five comrades had been killed by German fire.

A Union Jack, hung maybe deliberately back to front, is one used to wrap numerous bodies by a chaplain. A disturbing Paul Nash painting, The Mule Track, is displayed alongside the paintbox of his brother and fellow war artist John Nash.

The last section includes a picture of the 1919 Camberwell Peace Day and a film of the opening of the Imperial War Museum at the Crystal Palace. On August Bank Holiday 1920, six years to the day after war was declared, 94,000 people visited to learn more about the traumatic conflict. George V rightly called the museum "not only a storehouse of material for the historian but a lasting memorial of common effort and common sacrifice".

This is a free exhibition which should be seen by anyone who wonders why we still mark Remembrance Sunday.

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