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

Abram Games in his studio, c1941

Abram Games and the power of the poster

Abram Games was 'Official War Poster Artist' during the Second World War. Always direct, and occasionally controversial, his posters have left a legacy that continues to influence the art of persuasion used by visual designers today.

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Abram Games poster, 'Your Britain. Fight for It Now', 1942

Abram Games, ABCA and the fight for post-war change

During the Second World War, Abram Games produced a series of posters for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs. These aimed to remind soldiers what they were fighting for, while also offering a glimpse of the post-war society they could aspire to.

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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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Gurkhas open fire during an attack near Palel, April 1944

Battles of Imphal and Kohima

These formed the turning point of one of the most gruelling campaigns of the Second World War. The decisive Japanese defeat in north-east India in 1944 became the springboard for the subsequent re-conquest of Burma.

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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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Explore Second World War events

London in the Second World War: The Blitz
Primary workshop

3 September 2018 - 30 July 2020

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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What is Total War?
Secondary workshop

3 September 2018 - 30 July 2020

FREE

What is Total War?

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

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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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Rise of the Lionesses: 70 years of the Women's Royal Army Corps
Exhibition

28 June 2019 - 20 October 2019

FREE

Rise of the Lionesses: 70 years of the Women's Royal Army Corps

Explore the changing role of women in the British Army through the lens of the Women's Royal Army Corps.

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Fighting and suffering: Polish citizens during World War II
Exhibition

30 August 2019 - 11 October 2019

FREE

Fighting and suffering: Polish citizens during World War II

This pop-up exhibition marks the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland and the start of the Second World War.

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Government poster campaigns in the Second World War
Talk

11 October 2019, 11.30am

FREE

Government poster campaigns in the Second World War

As part of this year's Chelsea History Festival, David Bownes explores prominent government poster campaigns like 'Make Do and Mend' and 'Careless Talk Costs Lives'.

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Giant games for little soldiers: Second World War edition
Workshop

12 October 2019

FREE

Giant games for little soldiers: Second World War edition

Step inside our life-size board game at this year's Chelsea History Festival and battle it out to see who wins.

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Giant games for little soldiers: Second World War edition
Workshop

19 October 2019

FREE

Giant games for little soldiers: Second World War edition

Step inside our life-size board game this October half-term and battle it out to see who wins.

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Giant games for little soldiers: Second World War edition
Workshop

21 October 2019 - 26 October 2019

FREE

Giant games for little soldiers: Second World War edition

Step inside our life-size board game this October half-term and battle it out to see who wins.

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Churchill's German Army
Talk

24 October 2019, 6.30pm

£5.00

Churchill's German Army

Dr Helen Fry uncovers the story of the German and Austrian refugees, most of them Jewish, who fought for Britain in the Second World War.

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Curator tour: The art of persuasion
Tour

26 October 2019, 2.00pm

£10.50

Curator tour: The art of persuasion

Join a curator on an hour-long guided tour of our special exhibition, 'The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games'.

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British Forces in Germany, 1945-2019: The Lived Experience
Book Launch

31 October 2019, 6.30pm

£5.00

British Forces in Germany, 1945-2019: The Lived Experience

Join historian and curator Dr Peter Johnston as he launches his new book - the authorised history of the British military's time in Germany.

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