Rarely seen photographs show aftermath of First World War

Rarely seen photographs showing the destruction of First World War weapons are going on display as part of an exhibition on the aftermath of the conflict.

From Armistice Day celebrations in Birmingham and refugees returning to Amiens, France, to treatments for injured servicemen and military equipment being repurposed for civilian use, the images show the fallout from the war and the new world that emerged.

Armistice celebrations in Birmingham (IWM/PA)

They are part of an exhibition of more than 130 black and white photographs, documents and objects from the Imperial War Museums’ archives, Renewal: Life after the First World War in Photographs.

They include rarely seen photographs including images of 32,000 destroyed German rifles, a shearing machine cutting sword blades in half and the German battleship SMS Bayern sinking at Scapa Flow.

A shearing machine is pictured cutting sword blades in half (IWM/PA)

The exhibition at IWM London charts the initial optimism after the end of the First World War.

But it also reveals the extent of destruction and dislocation it left behind, and how the promise of rebuilding the world did not always deliver.

German battleship SMS Bayern is pictured as it sinks at Scapa Flow in June 1919 (IWM/PA)

While the French city of Ypres which was devastated by the fighting was rebuilt along its medieval lines, in the UK social measures such as “homes fit for heroes” ran out of money.

The exhibition also shows the ingenuity employed in helping servicemen injured in the conflict, through plastic surgery and prosthetic limbs.

Patients in Roehampton being taught to use their new artificial limbs (IWM/PA)

And it highlights how companies such as aeroplane manufacturers switched tack to survive, in one case initially by bolting wicker chairs inside bombers to develop civil aviation as a peacetime alternative to warplanes.

The finishing touches are put to a cosmetic plate for the disfigured patient it is being made for (IWM/PA)

Alan Wakefield, head of First World War and early 20th century conflict at IWM, said: “Drawing primarily on IWM’s rich and varied photography archive, this new exhibition presents images from both official and personal collections, giving insight into the innovation, opportunism and resourcefulness that shaped the rebuilding and regeneration of the post-war world.

“Both surprising and inspiring, the exhibition highlights the resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit in a time of unprecedented social and political change.”

Renewal: Life after the First World War in Photographs is a free exhibition at IWM London, as part of Making a New World, a season of exhibitions taking place across IWM London and IWM North until the end of March 2019 looking at how the First World War shaped today’s society.

- Press Association

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