IWM has explored conflict from different perspectives since it was established in 1917. In People Power: Fighting for Peace, IWM London tells the story of how peace movements have influenced perceptions of war and conflict.
In the 1980s, IWM London itself became a site of anti-war protest focused around the 15-inch naval guns positioned in front of the main entrance.
Bringing The Guns To Iwm London
The guns were both mounted in Navy ships during the First World War. One of them was mounted in HMS Ramillies in 1916. It first saw action in 1920 during the Greco-Turkish War and was later used against Italian land forces and warships in August and November 1940. It was removed from HMS Ramillies in 1941.
The other gun was mounted in HMS Resolution between 1915 and 1938 and also saw service during the Greco-Turkish War. The gun was remounted in HMS Roberts, an important unit in the naval forces assembled for the invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
The guns were installed in front of the Imperial War Museum in 1968 around the height of the counter-culture movement.
Protest Comes To Lambeth Road
In the early 1980s, the decision to locate guided nuclear missiles in the UK sparked protest. At Greenham Common Air Base in Berkshire, a group of women set up what would become known as the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp.
On 24 May 1983, Southwark Greenham Women’s Peace Group organised a disarmament demonstration outside the Imperial War Museum. It was one of many protests across the UK held to mark International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament.
“Women Say No To The Arms Race”
Protesters held hands and formed a circle around the naval guns in front of the museum.
Some came with musical instruments and banners with slogans such as “women say no to the arms race”, while others brought children along to the protest.
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In August 2017, to mark the final weeks of IWM London’s People Power: Fighting for Peace exhibition, two large-scale flowers have been temporarily placed on the naval guns.
The exhibition explores the evolution of the peace movement from the First World War to the present day and flowers have played an important symbolic role throughout that period.
Symbols Of Peace
The white poppy is worn as a symbol of peace and since the 1930s, it has been sold as an alternative to – or to complement – the red poppy sold as a mark of remembrance in the wake of the First World War.
In the 1960s, flowers were used as a symbol of piece during protests against the Vietnam War. In one demonstration outside the Pentagon in Washington DC in October 1967, one anti-Vietnam War protester was famously photographed placing carnations in the barrels of rifles held by members of the US military police. In this period of widespread protest, ‘flower power’ became associated with counter-culture more generally.