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The Museum at Wartime, Natural History Museum, London

December 04, 2018 12:57 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

Reposted from the Natural History Museum 

In times of war, the Museum defiantly stayed open for as long as it could, its grounds were converted to community allotments and resident scientists put their minds to keeping troops and allies alive on foreign soil.

During the Second World War a number of the Museum's galleries were commandeered to provide tools and training for British secret spy networks. 

Home front

The Museum remained open to the public throughout the First World War, sharing knowledge to help the home front. Displays were created covering gardening, pest control and foraging.

As food shortages took their toll, carrier pigeons relaying military communications and life-saving messages from downed pilots sometimes ended up shot for pigeon pie.  

A display of types of pigeons was created to help those at home tell the difference between ordinary wood pigeons, rock doves, stock doves and their carrier pigeon cousins

In 1910 the Museum received a request from the War Office. A batch of army biscuits - a staple of the military diet - which had been sent to troops in South Africa and Mauritius had been infested with moths and become inedible despite being transported in hermetically sealed jars.

John Hartley Durrant of the Zoology department was asked to investigate. He concluded that eggs must have been laid at some point between baking and packing the biscuits, with larvae developing later inside the sealed tins

War horses

During the First World War, British forces used over one million horses and mules to pull heavy machinery, carry supplies and provide transport.

This proved essential for the war effort. In 1914, Lieutenant Colonel E Lloyd Williams of the 2nd London Division applied for permission for his men to visit the Museum and study the anatomy of horse specimens on display. Today, visitors can still see one of these specimens in the Mammals gallery.

Spies in the Museum

A British spy network called the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was formed in 1940 as a secret service under the aegis of the Minister of Economic Warfare.

Under the cover name Inter-Services Research Bureau, its mission was 'to aid and encourage all resistance to the enemy in occupied territories'.

Unbeknown to the public, the SOE sealed off several galleries to create a workshop and top secret demonstration room. Plasterers and carpenters prepared materials for agents in the field in a workshop at the north end of what is now the Jerwood Gallery.

James Bond-style hardware created in the SEO workshop included innocuous-looking carvings cast in high explosive, coloured to look like wood, sandstone and porcelain and designed to be detonated by time delay. The War Office created catalogues of such devices explaining that local agents on the Eastern Front would pose as quayside hawkers and sell carvings to embarking Japanese troops. 

One of the most curious weapons offered to agents in the catalogue of special devices and supplies was an exploding rat - literally, a rat skin filled with explosives.

War damage

Between September 1940 and April 1941 the Museum was hit by a number of bad air raids as the Luftwaffe targeted London, which then resumed in 1944 with the deployment of 'Doodlebugs' (V-1 flying bombs). These raids resulted in major damage to many parts of the Museum.

See Original Post and see fantastic photographs!


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