Member profile – National Army Museum

As we enter the third year of our partnership with the National Army Museum, we spoke to Julian Farrance about developments across the Museum and its network of Regimental and Corps museums.

Can you tell us about the differing roles National Army Museum has, as a museum, and as the core to a network of 140+ museums?

The Museum sits at the centre of, and provides continuity to, a network of Regimental and Corps Museums, which we do in several ways. To begin with, the first thing that the museums asked for when we started the service in 2012, was a single point of contact. A national museum can be a potentially daunting institution to smaller independents, difficult to know who you need to speak to when contacting it for advice on say, design work, or communications assistance, or picture library services.

Having a single point of contact, someone you know and who can advocate for you, was deemed as vital. It also illustrates one of our core principals in providing support to the network, ask them what they need! We constantly canvas the museums for new ways that we can assist and support them.

This point of contact rapidly evolved into our advisory service; we still receive multiple inquiries per month which we either answer ourselves or pass onto colleagues who are better suited to help. We also incorporate into this service our advisory visits, which are an opportunity for the Museum team to get out and visit museums across the network. We believe that you can’t fully understand the problems and help if you haven’t visited the museums on the ground. Although we haven’t visited them all, we have wended our way around most of them in the last twelve years.

In addition, we also run a comprehensive training programme, at least 30 taught sessions per year and still expanding. These range from shorter online sessions to a full week in-person course (our Regimental Curators Course) which covers all aspects of museum work for newly entrant curators. The service is free to all regimental museum staff, trustees, and volunteers.

Finally, the National Army Museum helped to set up and continues to convene the regimental museums regional networks, there are seven of these covering the whole of the UK and they promote joint project work, best practice, shared resourcing, consortia bids etc.

How has the Museum changed over recent times? Can you highlight some recent developments?

The National Army Museum went through a largescale redevelopment from 2013 – 2016 with its ‘Building for the future project’. The permanent galleries were redesigned to be regularly updated, so in the last year new galleries have opened covering the history of the British Army on the global stage, conflict in Europe and, most recently, an Army at Home gallery.

Additionally, a large temporary exhibition on the British Army in Germany titled ‘Foe to Friend’, and a smaller exhibition on Shakespeare and War, have opened. Our next big temporary exhibition will be on Victorian art and will include some fantastic loans from the Royal Collection.

Can you explain the relationship between the National Army Museum and the British Army? Does that provide any specific opportunities or challenges that other museums may not be aware of?

The Museum’s principal sponsor is the Ministry of Defence (MOD), so the Museum has a very close relationship with the Army, but this is not only on an institutional level. We encourage individual soldiers as well as Army groups to use the Museum and its resources and run many public programmes both supported by and celebrating serving Regiments. Unlike many Regimental Museums, who have a direct link to a serving Regiment, we rely upon our colleagues at the MOD to help us collect contemporary objects and oral histories.

Of course, if we examine our collections, historically a great deal of the material in any military collection has initially been collected by soldiers on campaign, which can pose difficulties and challenges to a modern audience. For this reason, the National Army Museum provides ‘Imperial legacies’ training to the network to help museums in developing the interpretation and display of their colonial collections in a sensitive and respectful way.

What do you see as the value of the National Army Museum partnership with AIM?

The National Army Museum recognises the great opportunities that AIM provides and is delighted to have partnered with AIM to help regimental and corps museums access these benefits by sponsoring their memberships. AIM offers a wealth of information and resources beyond that which falls within the National Army Museum’s scope, and advocates for the wider independent museum sector, which many regimental and corps museums belong to. We are excited to further develop our partnership with AIM to provide additional benefits and support to regimental and corps museums over the coming year.

What were the highlights of the recent National Army Museum Conference?

The annual conference offers a great opportunity for museums to get together face to face and network. The conference is never themed, rather we invite anyone to share an interesting project they might be working on, which this year included an exciting excavation of an SAS camp, and a community cohesion project with Afghan refugees. We also took the opportunity to deliver sector updates from key stakeholders and partners including the MOD and AIM.

What are some of your favourite objects in the collection?

We have some amazing objects in our collection, from priceless Victoria Crosses from Rorke’s Drift, Eagles captured by British soldiers on the field of Waterloo, to the lamp of Florence Nightingale.

My favourite is a small scrap of tissue paper. It has no intrinsic value, you could easily walk right past it, but this insignificant looking note is the order that launched the charge of the Light Brigade and sent the six hundred sabres into the ‘valley of death’. I have been reading about this piece of paper since I was a small boy and I can’t begin to express the excitement I felt the first time I was privileged to hold it (we were moving it into a new display case in 2004).

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