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10 must-see experiences at IWM North

Date Posted: 05/07/2012

This year marks the tenth birthday of Manchester’s Imperial War Museum North. To tie-in with the celebrations, read on to learn its top ten experiences suitable for school groups.

1. The World War One field gun

The field gun that fired the British Army’s first shell of World War One, on 22nd August 1914 near Binche in Belgium, is on permanent display in IWM North’s Main Exhibition Space.

On 15th September, the gun received a direct hit which killed one crew member, Bombardier W. King, and injured four others during the advance from the Marne to the Aisne. The gun remained in action until the end of the war.

2. 9/11 steel

On display at IWM North is a huge section of steel – seven metres in height and weighing more than a ton - recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks.

The steel, distorted and twisted, is evidence of the massive force and impact of the collapse of the towers. It offers students a chance to reflect on the 9/11 attacks and their human cost, as well as the wider impact of modern conflict on people’s lives.

3. The Big Picture Show

As the lights fade down, giant screens and surround sound immerse pupils in the heart of the action, creating a complete sensory experience that is totally involving and often moving. The award-winning Big Picture Show is a 360-degree audio-visual experience, showcasing IWM's collections of photography, art and sound.

4. The building

Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, IWM North’s structure was inspired by the idea of a world shattered by conflict.

The building is the first in the UK to be designed by Libeskind, who has since designed the masterplan for the rebuilding of Ground Zero in New York.

5. Air Shard Viewing Platform

Dare your class climb the Air Shard? A school trip to IWM North means a chance to scale the inside of the jagged shape of the IWM North viewing platform.

Climb the 180-steps or take the angled lift. Stand almost 100-feet in the air, looking down through the mesh gangway under your feet, to the anti aircraft searchlight pointing up at you from the ground below.

6. Personal stories

There are many personal stories told by the collection of objects exhibited by the museum. They include the possessions of the famous nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed for helping Allied soldiers to escape from German-occupied Belgium in World War One.

Also on display is the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross of Simon Cupples, a British platoon commander in Afghanistan who crawled to within 15 metres of heavy Taliban machine gun fire to save the lives of several men.

7. Oliver Philpot’s compass

In 1943, Oliver Philpot made a famous 'wooden horse' escape from Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp in Sagan, aided by a compass that was secretly crafted from parts of a gramophone, two halves of a razor blade, cardboard and phosphorous from broken watches.

Philpot and two fellow officers used a wooden vaulting horse as a disguise for a tunnel constructed underneath. Gradually, he collected together an escape kit, including adapted clothes, forged papers and a compass and maps made in the camp.

After escaping through the tunnel, Philpot, with the aid of his compass, made his way to neutral Sweden. Visitors can see the compass on display as part of the BBC A History of the World project.

8. Baghdad, 5th March 2007

This car, destroyed in the bombing of Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street, was brought to IWM by Turner Prize-winning British artist Jeremy Deller.

On 5th March 2007, a suicide bomber blew up a truck on Al-Mutanabbi Street. The bombing killed 38 people and wounded more than 100. No one has ever claimed responsibility for the attack.

This acquisition serves as evidence of the impact of modern war on civilians.

9. Free activities

Ever wondered what it’s like to wear a gas mask? Pupils on a school visit can see, touch, feel and smell real objects from the collections. Every day, Timestacks object handling sessions allow students the chance to imagine life on the front line and home front.

Regular theatrical performances dramatise wartime tales and Action Stations, located throughout the Main Exhibition Space, allows pupils to dress up in camouflage, make a journey from east to west Berlin during the Cold War, and pack their suitcase ready for evacuation.

10. Art

On display at IWM North are works by 20th century artists such as John Keane, official war artist during the First Gulf War; Linda Kitson, official war artist during the Falklands War; Gilbert Roberts; and Walter Bayes.

One of the most striking works on display at IWM North is a seven metre-high sculpture by artist Gerry Judah, that greets visitors as they enter the Main Exhibition Space.

For further school visit information visit

School Travel Organiser's Guide