Imperial War Museum to Open Lord Ashcroft Gallery

Imperial War Museum London opens the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, its first major permanent gallery for ten years, on 12 November 2010.

The new gallery, paid for by a £5million donation from Lord Ashcroft, KCMG, will house the Extraordinary Heroes exhibition containing the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses (VCs), which has been established by Lord Ashcroft since 1986. The 162 awards, which range from the Crimean to the Falklands wars, will go on public display for the first time alongside 48 VCs and 31 George Crosses (GCs) already held by the Museum. The VC is Britain and the Commonwealth’s premier award for extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy, while the GC is Britain’s most prestigious civil decoration.

Visitors to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery’s Extraordinary Heroes exhibition will discover the personal stories behind each decoration in a state-of-the-art new space filled with interactive touch-screens, multimedia platforms and original interpretation.

Alongside the precious award groups in the gallery will be many objects on display for the first time. They include the extensively damaged backpack worn by Lance Corporal Matt Croucher GC. In Afghanistan in 2008, during a covert patrol of a Taliban bomb factory, Croucher threw himself onto a grenade smothering its explosion. This quick, decisive action saved the lives of his comrades and thanks to the pack he too, remarkably, escaped with few injuries. Also on display for the first time in years will be the diving suit worn by Acting Leading Seaman James Magennis in his VC action. Magennis overcame exhaustion and danger to make several dives in the Johore Straits to place limpet mines on a target in 1945. The first VC acquired by Lord Ashcroft was awarded to Magennis.

To mark the opening of the Lord Ashcroft gallery, the Imperial War Museum has also commissioned significant new works for its Collections. Among them is a portrait by acclaimed war photographer Don McCullin of Private Johnson Beharry VC, whose series of brave actions included moving his column out of an ambush and carrying wounded comrades to safety in Iraq in 2004.

To find out more about the motivation behind all the awards, visitors can choose from a range of interactive touch-screens, life stories, video montages and sound clips to delve into the life stories and actions of all featured recipients.

In contrast to the multimedia offerings, visitors will also be confronted with a number of large models recreating aspects of some famous VC and GC actions. For example, a life-size shark, relating to Cadet David Hay’s 1941 GC action of saving shipwreck survivors from shark infested waters, will hang from the exhibition ceiling so that the enormity of the task faced by Hay will be literally unmissable.

The 241 VC and GC decorations featured in the gallery will be arranged by seven different qualities – leadership, sacrifice, aggression, skill, initiative, endurance, and boldness – encouraging visitors to examine an individual’s reaction to the difficult decisions behind their feat of bravery. The Lord Ashcroft Gallery aims to intrigue, inspire and amaze by re-telling forgotten stories of bravery that show how, when faced with extreme situations, some people can do extraordinary things.

Diane Lees, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum, says: ‘The Imperial War Museum is delighted to be opening this new gallery which will ensure Lord Ashcroft’s remarkable collection of VCs has a public home. Our mission is to enrich people’s understanding of war and its impact on ordinary people, so we are very grateful to Lord Ashcroft for enabling us to share the stories of some extraordinary heroes through these medals.’

Lord Ashcroft says:
‘My fascination with bravery, and in particular the Victoria Cross, goes back to my childhood, so I’m thrilled to be responsible for a new gallery at the Imperial War Museum which will help audiences of all ages discover some of the most gallant actions in history. The Museum’s reputation for helping people understand the experience of modern conflicts is unrivalled, and I’m confident that members of the public will be inspired and motivated by the exceptional courage of the ordinary men, women and children featured in the outstanding exhibition.’

The Lord Ashcroft Gallery will also cover the history of the VC and GC’s establishments; information on the importance of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association to its members; reflection on the loss and grief of bereaved relatives of VC and GC holders; original illustrations of famous actions by renowned British artists; and copies of vintage comic books The Victor and The Hornet which will resonate with older visitors. An official book accompanying the exhibition, Extraordinary Heroes, is published by Osprey in October 2010. Lord Ashcroft’s new book, George Cross Heroes, is published by Headline in October 2010.

Admission to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Extraordinary Heroes exhibition is free. Visitors may experience a short wait at peak times.

Imperial War Museum London
The London branch of the Imperial War Museum explores how the history of modern conflict affects us all, from the front line to the home front. Exhibits range from tanks and aircraft to photographs and personal letters; they include film and sound recordings and some of the twentieth century’s best-known paintings. Visitors can explore six floors of exhibitions and displays, including a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Holocaust and a changing programme of special temporary exhibitions.

Imperial War Museum London, Lambeth Road, London, SE1 6HZ

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