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How ration books helped build IWM

The most remarkable thing about this ration book is not the object itself, as there were many just like this, but the fact that it contains one of the earliest widespread national campaigns to advertise the yet-to-be-built Imperial War Museum.

On 5 March 1917, while the First World War was still being fought, the War Cabinet approved of founding a museum to record the events of the ongoing conflict. For the first time in Britain, a national museum would be dedicated to a specific war and would set out to record the contribution made by all sections of society.

The Imperial War Museum was formed and advertisements were placed on the backs of ration cards and in newspapers calling for people to submit ‘photographs and biographical material, printed or in manuscript, of all officers and men who have lost their lives or won distinction during the First World War’.

Thousands of letters, memoirs and photographs were sent by grieving families to the museum and formed IWM’s first collection, the Bond of Sacrifice. This unique collection of documents and testimonies tells the stories of men who lost their lives during the First World War and formed the basis of the IWM’s earliest work.

By the time the museum opened at Crystal Palace in July 1920, IWM had collected more than 150,000 items. Even today, the museum still receives the occasional letter or package that has been redirected from the Kensington office address printed in this ration book.

This ration book is the earliest example IWM has of advertising for objects to be included in its collections and illustrates how the focus from the very beginning of its existence has been on recording and sharing people’s personal experiences of war.