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 war on glamour

The war on glamour

During the Second World War, the Army relied on women to perform essential military roles. But some of the tactics used to recruit new members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) proved highly controversial.

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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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Explore Second World War events

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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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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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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Curator tour: The art of persuasion
Tour

23 November 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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Jingle bell jive
Late

8 December 2019, 6.00pm

£16.00

Jingle bell jive

Jive back in time for an evening of swing and gin at our authentic Christmas-themed ‘40s dance night.

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Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day
Talk

11 December 2019, 6.30pm

£8.00

Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day

Dr Peter Caddick-Adams presents a panoramic new account of one of the Second World War's most important campaigns.

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Carve their names with pride
Talk

13 December 2019, 11.30am

FREE

Carve their names with pride

Dr Juliette Pattinson examines the female members of the Special Operations Executive, a British wartime organisation that worked with the resistance in the Second World War.

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Second World War Collection Day
Workshop

14 December 2019, 11.00am

FREE

Second World War Collection Day

Share your memories, stories and artefacts relating to the Second World War as part of a collection project with the University of Oxford.

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Handmade Christmas crafts
Workshop

20 December 2019 - 21 December 2019

FREE

Handmade Christmas crafts

Create your own 1940s-style wartime Christmas decorations out of recycled materials.

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Meet Father Christmas
Workshop

20 December 2019 - 22 December 2019

£12.50

Meet Father Christmas

Step back in time and meet our 1940s Father Christmas.

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Handmade Christmas crafts
Workshop

23 December 2019

FREE

Handmade Christmas crafts

Create your own 1940s-style wartime Christmas decorations out of recycled materials.

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Handmade Christmas crafts
Workshop

27 December 2019 - 28 December 2019

FREE

Handmade Christmas crafts

Create your own 1940s-style wartime Christmas decorations out of recycled materials.

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