Seventy Five years ago, as part of the Second World War, Britain faced a great danger: The Blitz. To mark the anniversary, the Imperial War Museum North has teamed up with Horrible Histories to bring us Blitzed Brits, a free family friendly exhibition revealing some of the terrible truths behind the conflict that brought war to the doorstep of every family in Britain.
The Blitz has always fascinated me, as a child I spent a lot of time with my grandparents who had lived through the Second World War. My Grandad didn't like to talk much about his experiences overseas in the army, but my Nanna was always keen to regale me with stories of Liverpool during the Blitz, she was the same age as I am now when war broke out in 1939 and worked as a 'Clippie Girl' on the trams. I loved hearing tales of community, of singing and support while in air raid shelters, of the sirens going off while she was in the theatre enjoying a night out and of the crazy meals she would create using the limited food available.
Since moving to Manchester 10 years ago I've visited exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum North on a regular basis, it's in a stunning location and has a lot to offer. History is a passion of mine, one I was lucky enough to study at university and one that even now, I enjoy to read and learn about the people and events that have shaped the world we live in today. I love IWMN as it tell the stories of forgotten people, those like my Nanna, who aren't in the history books but who still played a part in the wars and conflicts of the last hundred years. You get to read personal diaries, see photographs and even handle objects such as pieces of shrapnel that a child would have collected from the rubble in the aftermath of a bomb attack all those years ago.
On Saturday, my four year old and I joined our friend's the Red Rose Mummy family to visit IWMN for the the opening day of the Horrible Histories: Blitzed Brits exhibition. IWMN are great at making their exhibitions appeal to all ages, from the older generation who will recognise aspects of their own childhoods in the displays, to children who find the idea of cities being bombed exciting and dangerous, and everything in between. They do this by using multi media, sound, video, objects and interactive displays.
As we entered the exhibition space we were greeted by the familiar form of Rattus Rattus from the Horrible Histories series, he was pictured around the displays sharing grousome facts all about the Blitz from rationing to the evacuation of young children, hundreds of miles away from their families.
Children can pick up a free Blitzed Brits Survival Guide to fill in as they explore the exhibition, with quizes to complete along the way and cue to discover as well as colouring and other activities. As a reward for completing this they can claim a free Frightful fruit cordial in the cafe!
The whole family can immerse themselves in the home front by creating rotten recipes from wartime ingredients using interactive screen displays, try out sleeping under the table in the rather uncomfortable looking Morrison shelter, stumble through a blackout or sniff through a variety of stinky smells from municipal pig bins to ration stew.
While the children are delving deep into the sights, sounds and smells of wartime Britain, Mums and Dads can read excerpts from diaries of the people who lived through this, look at the giant gas mask you would have been expected to carry around for your baby, and read stories of communities pulling together to help each other out when whole streets had been destroyed by German bombs. Or you could join in with sniffing the bins of course!
There is so much to explore, I simply can't cover everything, so here are Elizabeth's top picks from the Blitzed Brits exhibition...
1. Dressing up in the traditional wartime clothes, she chose to be an ARP Warden, complete with dress, cap and gas mask bag.
2. Seeing how she'd cope with life as an evacuee by trying to milk a cow!
3. Pretending to sleep under the kitchen table in a Morrison Air Raid Shelter.
4. Trying to see if she could deliver a message as quickly as Charity Bick the inspirational bicycle dispatch rider
5. Crawling through a pitch black tunnel to experience the realities of a wartime blackout
6. Using the interactive games to create silly sounding meals from rations and identify hazards in a Blackout
7. Listening to the story about Dotty, a young girl whose mum was an Air Raid Warden during the Blitz.
We spent around two hours exploring the exhibition, and there was plenty to do. We throughy enjoyed it and I'm sure we'll be returning soon with Daddy and big brother (who is a huge Horrible Histories fan, but was away camping this weekend) in tow!
Special one off activity sessions also include:
Make Do and Mend Patchwork Quilt (Free - Drop in between 12 - 3pm, 13th August, age 7+)
Bring your own family stories about life during the Second World War or find your favourite from the Blitzed Brits exhibition and design your own patch to add to the IWMN patchwork quilt.
Blackout! (Free - Drop in between 12 - 3pm, 20th August, age 7+)
Join a treasure hunt exploring the Blitzed Brits exhibition, accept a mission to investigate objects and stories and win a prize by taking on activities!
Check out this quick trailer video of Horrible Histories: Blitzed Brits: