British troops practising for D-Day, 1944

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Second World War

The Second World War took place between 1939 and 1945 and was the bloodiest conflict in human history. It split the world's nations into two opposing military alliances, the Allies and the Axis Powers.

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Explore Second World War stories

The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers with Achilles tank destroyers near Ferrara, April 1945

The battle for Italy

For almost two years during the Second World War (1939-45), the Allies fought a bitter struggle in Italy against a determined and skilful enemy. Far from being the ‘soft underbelly of Europe’, Italy became one of the war’s most exhausting campaigns.

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ATS women at a train station, 1944

Breaking boundaries

During the Second World War women took on increasingly diverse roles. But, like their First World War predecessors, they were still prevented from fighting.

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Field Marshal Auchinleck, c1947

Claude Auchinleck: The auk

After initial successes in North Africa during the Second World War, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck transferred to India as Commander-in-Chief. His unstinting logistical support there was vital to the Allied re-conquest of Burma.

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East African soldiers with a captured Japanese flag, 1944 

The Far East campaign

Between December 1941 and August 1945, British Commonwealth troops and their allies fought a bitter war across the vast expanses of Asia and the Pacific Ocean against a tenacious and often brutal enemy.

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Major Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler and a colleague paddling a canoe, c1942

Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler: A Cockleshell Hero

Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler was an inventor, pioneering yachtsman and special forces canoeist. In December 1942, he led the daring ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ raid on Bordeaux harbour.

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Captain Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott, c1944

Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott: Covert beach surveyor

During the Second World War, Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott founded the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties to undertake covert beach reconnaissance. This proved vital for the success of Allied seaborne invasions.

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Captain Roger Courtney, 1943

Roger Courtney: SBS pioneer

Major Roger ‘Jumbo’ Courtney founded the Special Boat Section during the Second World War. This became one of Britain’s most important Special Forces and was a parent unit of the modern Special Boat Service.

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Lieutenant Colonel Robert 'Paddy' Mayne near Kabrit, Egypt, 1942

'Paddy' Mayne: An Irish Lion

Lieutenant-Colonel 'Paddy' Mayne is a legendary figure in the history of the Special Forces. A celebrated sportsman with a turbulent character, he played a vital role in the early successes of the Special Air Service (SAS), becoming one of its most important commanders.

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Lieutenant Jock Lewes, 1940

'Jock' Lewes: SAS mastermind

As the co-founder of the Special Air Service (SAS), Lewes played a vital role in establishing the unit’s ethos and high standards of training and discipline.

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Major David Stirling, c1942

David Stirling: The Phantom Major

Colonel David Stirling was a pioneer of British Special Forces. In 1941, he founded the Special Air Service (SAS) in Egypt to undertake small-scale raids behind enemy lines.

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Gun disguised as a pen for use by SOE agents, 1945

Special Operations Executive

Formed in 1940, SOE was an underground army that waged a secret war in enemy-occupied Europe and Asia. Its agents demonstrated incredible courage and resourcefulness in their guerrilla war.

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Sergeant Herbert Chambers with fellow Special Boat Service soldiers in Athens, 1944

Origins of the Special Forces

During the Second World War, Britain created a range of special units who undertook a variety of daring operations against the Axis Powers. The bravery and commitment of these forces has become the stuff of legend.

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Explore Second World War events

What is Total War?
Secondary workshop

3 September 2018 - 23 July 2019

FREE

What is Total War?

Investigate the concept of Total War by tracing the steps taken to prepare an individual for industrialised conflict in the First and Second World Wars.

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London in the Second World War: The Blitz
Primary workshop

3 September 2018 - 23 July 2019

FREE

London in the Second World War: The Blitz

Use sleuthing skills to discover the stories revealed in our Second World War time capsules. Delivered in partnership with the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

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Churchill: Walking with Destiny
Talk

28 March 2019, 6.00pm

£15.00

Churchill: Walking with Destiny

Join Andrew Roberts for an evening talk on his new book, examining how much Winston Churchill’s belief in his own personal destiny affected his wartime premiership.

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Make your own cap badge
Workshop

6 April 2019 - 11 April 2019

FREE

Make your own cap badge

Design and create a cap badge in this free activity for families.

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The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games
Exhibition

6 April 2019 - 24 November 2019

£6.00

The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games

This major exhibition explores the life and legacy of the iconic designer Abram Games, focusing on his time as ‘Official War Poster Artist’ during the Second World War.

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Food for thought: Digital poster design
Workshop

12 April 2019

£5.00

Food for thought: Digital poster design

Get inspired by the work of Abram Games and use iPads to make a digital poster. Suitable for ages 9+. 

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Abram Games: Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means
Screening

12 April 2019, 2.00pm

FREE

Abram Games: Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means

Find out more about the life and legacy of Abram Games at this documentary film screening.

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Psychological warfare in the Second World War
Talk

12 April 2019, 11.30am

FREE

Psychological warfare in the Second World War

Join Professor Jo Fox as she examines the impact of propaganda and rumour in the Second World War.

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Food for thought: Digital poster design
Workshop

19 April 2019

£5.00

Food for thought: Digital poster design

Get inspired by the work of Abram Games and use iPads to make a digital poster. Suitable for ages 9+. 

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British Sign Language tour: The art of persuasion
Tour

20 April 2019, 2.00pm

£6.00

British Sign Language tour: The art of persuasion

Join Edward Richards for a BSL guided tour of our special exhibition, 'The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games'.

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Imphal and Kohima, 1944
Talk

20 April 2019, 2.30pm

FREE

Imphal and Kohima, 1944

To mark its 75th anniversary, Tim Bean reveals the story behind one of Britain's greatest battles.

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Abram Games: 60 years of design
Talk

23 April 2019, 6.30pm

£15.00

Abram Games: 60 years of design

Join Naomi Games as she takes us on a journey through her father’s professional career.

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