Curiosities of War
See some of the more unexpected objects from our collections. Items on display range from a section of the bar where the Dambusters crew used to drink, through to a sofa which troops in Afghanistan made out of HESCO bastion fencing.
At the outbreak of the First World War aircraft were primitive and underpowered. It was only just over ten years since the first aeroplane flight. When it went to France in August 1914, the British Army took with it 165,000 horses both to ride and to pull wagons and guns. Soldiers depended on horses and needed to know how to look after them properly.
This magnificent wooden horse was used to train new recruits. Saddles, bridles and reins all needed to be correctly fitted or they might confuse and hurt the horse. Men could practise unperturbed on this life-size mannequin. Training was everything. One day it might save theirs or someone else’s life.
Innocent packaging can mask dark secrets. Untold millions of games consoles have been sold worldwide. In every one the capacitors that hold and store high levels of electrical charge contain Columbite-Tantalite, or Coltan for short. Coltan is a key part of many modern devices. As well as Playstations, (like this PS2 in our collection) and Xboxes, it drives smartphones, laptops, printers and digital cameras.
Yet the United Nations describes Coltan as ‘the engine of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’. 80% of the world’s Coltan lies in eastern Congo. Ruthless militias from the Congo and neighbouring Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi have illegally mined vast quantities of Coltan since 2000, mostly using enforced local labour. The violent struggle this has unleashed has caused over five million deaths. The cost of your gadget is much higher than the price in the shop.