Winston Churchill’s Britain At War Experience is on Tooley Street, near London Bridge, and is a truly unique family day out, re-creating the famous Blitz air raids on the capital during World War 2 through a host of media. Faithfully reproduced tableau sets, with mannequins in vintage clothing and equipment, along with precision lighting, pyrotechnics, visceral sound, and the gamut of special effects such as dust, smoke and debris, take the visitor into the Britain At War Experience with as much realism as possible, without actually putting them in the firing line. Just the ticket!

In fact, Forces sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn couldn’t believe her eyes when she visited the Britain At War Experience. The family attraction features a bombed-out department store with screaming shells seemingly zipping overhead to their targets in nearby streets; searchlights training on the night sky while AA guns fire off their tracers at enemy aircraft engaged on their bomb runs; smouldering rubble from the remains of a cinema, pub and homes hit during the barrage; air raid sirens, the noise and confusion of the rescuers, and of the trapped and injured in collapsed buildings; and firefighters and ARP Wardens tackling the blaze and rescuing a girl from the debris as a burst water main gushes into the stale air on the desolated street. As Dame Vera noted after her trip down a barrage balloon-filled memory lane, “I thought I was back in the war – it was unbelievable.”

The War was the most turbulent and eventful period in human history, and the Britain At War Experience is a family attraction with a difference. A ticket buys the visitor a stunning passage through time, back to the years when Hitler’s Germany seemed poised to invade the UK, and all that stood between Nazi victory and defiance was The Channel and the RAF. It faced its greatest threat ever from Herman Goering’s Luftwaffe, who delivered incendiary and explosive payloads from its bombers to the metropolis on an almost daily and nightly basis from 1940. The Britain At War Experience re-creates the hardships faced by ordinary citizens under this bombardment, waiting for the All Clear signal in black-out conditions, making for a thought-provoking, exciting and gripping family day out.

The Britain At War Experience focuses on the human aspects of this period of history, asking how people felt, sitting helpless beneath the metallic rain that brought injury and death among them, what they ate, wore, did to pass the time, and how they reacted to exhortations to resist with a stiff upper lip from leaders such as Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the time is brought to life by walks through a replica London Underground air raid shelter with YMCA canteen – accessed via a lift – a visit to a domestic Anderson shelter (dug in the garden, with corrugated tin sheeting roof and all), and through the bomb-damaged streets facing the aftermath of another air raid, with displays of shattered windows, strewn household goods, toys and other everyday artifacts. Each scene features terrific air raid sirens, ack-ack anti-aircraft fire, aircraft engine noises, shouts and screams from those on the ground, and the noise and confusion of the urban battle.

Despite the harrowing nature of the events portrayed by the Britain At War Experience, it offers the whole family a startling and lucid insight into how they might have had to cope in such circumstances, and the hands-on nature of the exhibits make for a fascinating and fun family day out. For instance, there are underground cinema screenings of wartime news reels, a section showcasing wartime stars of the silver screen, and BBC radio broadcasts of speeches by Churchill, Chamberlain, President Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi propagandist traitor, Lord Haw Haw.

Among the artefacts featured at the Britain At War Experience are a bomb disposal display featuring real devices that fell from the sky on London (defused, thankfully!) and even a ticking bomb (simulated). Additionally, there are authentic rare documents, gas masks for all the family, ration books, photos, documents, and memorable news pages reporting developments during the War such as the Fall of France and the first Commando raids. Britons had never needed cheering up so much as in these circumstances, and so the Britain At War Experience is also full of entertainments from the flip side of the coin that is Total War.

Hence, ticket holders to the Britain At War Experience can poke their head around the door of a dressing room of the stars at Drury Lane’s theatre land, pop into the Rainbow Corner club, where US GIs and other troops drank, laughed and were entertained by “Varga” pin-ups, and window-shop along the side street shops of Southwark, with their pre-decimal prices in pounds, shillings and pence, and their limited array of goods – including household names like Pears soap and Watneys Pale Ale – two essentials during wartime!

Hardships experienced by the common folk of the capital are also recalled by displays on the work of the Land Army Girls who left The Smoke for the fields to feed the lads under arms, and other “women at war”, who coped with food and clothing rationing, and the absence of loved ones. There are reminiscences too about such previously relatively mundane events as wartime weddings, which became a major logistical exercise in the face of restrictions on movement, food, light, noise and even the presence of the participants!

The Britain At War Experience also takes in the excitement and anxiety of the evacuees who had to flee the city in order to find relative sanctuary in the countryside, many of whom had never seen it before, making this family attraction one that all families can relate to. The Britain At War Experience has disabled access and toilet facilities, making it a fun day out for everyone, and the Hays Galleria on Tooley Street offers a covered area providing stunning views over the river while eating a picnic, shopping or relaxing – a stark contrast to the subterranean existence of so many wartime Londoners.

The family attraction that is the Britain At War Experience also caters for school parties with education packs containing worksheets and a guide book, while special ‘dressing up’ sessions for all visiting children feature the donning of tin helmets, gasmasks and uniforms. They can additionally enter a Morrison shelter, take a walk through a London Street to find an unexploded bomb, and even try their hand at defusing it under gas warfare conditions (all in complete safety, of course!).

The Britain At War Experience museum is available for private hire with hospitality and Conference Refreshments, providing a unique experience that you won’t forget. A fun family day out with an educational (and rather humbling) message – that the Britain At War Experience is something we should never forget!

64 – 66 Tooley Street, London Bridge, London SE1 2TF
Tel: 020 7403 3171
Times: November – March, daily, 10.00 – 16.30
April – October, daily, 10.00 – 17.00