British exhibition marks 70th anniversary of WWII outbreak
The museum hopes the exhibition will resonate with the British public, now consumed with the mounting death toll of the war in Afghanistan, which hit 200 last week.
London -- The private fears of kings, prime ministers and frightened children are going on show in a new British exhibition marking the lives touched by the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II.
Outbreak 1939, which opens Thursday at the Imperial War Museum in London, explores the build-up to Britain's September 3 declaration of war on Germany and tells the stories of those involved at the time.
The museum hopes the exhibition will resonate with the British public, now consumed with the mounting death toll of the war in Afghanistan, which hit 200 on Saturday.
"There are lessons to be learned," said James Taylor, the museum's head of research. "What we try to get in this exhibition is the effect on people," he told AFP.
"When we think of World War II and the numbers of deaths, it's very easy to see that as just a statistic. Like the men and women who are giving their lives in Afghanistan today, these are people as well and it's very often subsumed under huge numbers."
Among the items is prime minister Neville Chamberlain's pocket diary, which contains a simple entry for September 3, 1939: "War declared".
Also on show is a letter to his sister Ida recounting the week.
"I have had some dreadful anxieties especially during one sleepless night," he wrote.
"Of course the difficulty is with Hitler himself. Until he disappears and his system collapses there can be no peace".
A copy of king George VI's war diary reveals his sombre thoughts.
"As 11 o'clock struck that fateful morning I had a certain feeling of relief that those 10 anxious days of intensive negotiations with Germany over Poland, which at moments looked favourable, with Mussolini working for peace as well, were over," he wrote.
"Hitler would not and could not have drawn back from the edge of the abyss to which he has led us."
With the weight of responsibility now on his shoulders, the shy king recalled being a simple 18-year-old midshipman onboard HMS Collingwood somewhere in the North Sea when World War I broke out.
"Those of us who had been through the Great War never wanted another," he wrote.
Queen Elizabeth II has lent the exhibition the navy uniform jacket her father wore to make his 6:00pm broadcast to the British empire on September 3.
The exhibition also includes the letters and possessions of evacuated children, fleeing Poles who witnessed the invasion, young Jewish refugees and others whose lives were suddenly turned upside down.
Among those evacuated was the artist Sir Peter Blake, who designed the famous cover of The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.
Blake was seven when he was sent from his family in Dartford, on the edge of London, to the Essex countryside. He said the evacuation was a traumatic experience.
A letter to his mother, a tiny toy tractor his father made for him and a belt he made with army badges on are in the exhibition.
"It was an enormous change," he told AFP.
"When war was declared there was an enormous panic and we were evacuated the next day.
"What was positive about it was that it introduced me to a rural life. I worked on the farm about the age of nine, riding on the big carthorses.
"At seven it's partly a game but there was a constant fear. You thought the Germans would invade at any moment so it was scary."
The free exhibition runs until September 5 next year.