A new gallery has opened at the Imperial War Museum in London to explore the Queen’s relationship with the British armed forces as she marks her Platinum Jubilee year.
Crown and Conflict: portraits of a queen in wartime draws on the museum’s extensive image archive to chart the monarch’s experiences of war, from growing up in the early 1940s and serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) to her continuing official duties as Head of the British Armed Forces.
The gallery, which is open until January next year, is part of a wider programme of events held across the IWM’s five branches to mark the monarch’s 70 years on the throne.
The Second World War broke out when the then-Princess Elizabeth was just 13 years old. She joined the ATS in 1945, becoming the first woman in the Royal Family to enlist as a full-time member of the armed services.
During her period of service, the young Elizabeth learned how to maintain, drive, and service heavy army vehicles. She is said to have greatly enjoyed ‘getting dirt under her nails’ and experiencing the work carried out by many other women of similar age throughout the country at that time.
Once the war was over, Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret appeared alongside their parents, the King and Queen, as well as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to mark VE Day in May 1945. The Princesses were later allowed to take part anonymously in the public celebrations.
Some of the newly digitised images show the Queen in an overall and cap during her time in the ATS, as well as alongside her parents visiting airborne forces in 1944. More contemporary images show the older Queen carrying out official duties, such as meeting members of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association and leading the annual Service of Remembrance.
Kate Clements, curator of the Crown and Conflict gallery, said: ‘We are delighted to be offering visitors to IWM London, IWM North, and IWM Duxford a unique lens through which to explore the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
‘Reflecting on her incredible 70-year reign, this new programming brings to light rarely seen material from IWM’s archive, alongside collection objects to trace the varied roles of the Royal Family in times of conflict.
‘From an exhibition of photographs and a brand-new publication to museum trails and projections of historic film, we hope our audiences discover something new about the enduring relationship between crown and conflict,’ Clements added.
The commemoration programme also includes an exhibition at IWM Duxford entitled Ready for Take-Off, exploring the history of British and Commonwealth aviation during the Queen’s reign. It features a new addition to the Duxford fleet: the BAe 146 aircraft that was used by the Royal Family to travel the world.
The IWM’s five branches attract more than 2.5 million visitors each year. For more information about its Platinum Jubilee programme, please visit the website www.iwm.org.uk.