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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Behind the Scenes Pt. 1

By Matt 'ViciousEgo' MacKenzie

Wearing a uniform and serving your country has it's perks. Once in a while, the bad food, sleepless nights and time away from your family pays off!

I recently had the opportunity to go on a 'behind the scenes' tour of the Canadian War Museum here in Ottawa. 

Having a chance to be picked and take part in a behind the scenes tour of this museum was a dream come true!

 The outside walls of the museum.

I have visited this museum a few times in the past, but never had the chance to take part in a tour like this. I hope you get a sense of the vast amount of stuff that most museums have behind locked doors. Most museums can only display 3-5% of their items!! Our group was escorted behind the walls of the main public displays and into the depths of the underground where some of the coolest stuff lies under lock and key.

 Document restoration and preparing items for display are done in this room.

 Artillery book, published in the 1600's (White gloves only!!)

After a quick tour of the rare books and other items in the library, we moved into some of the vaults. They have several vaults, all climate controlled and strict security access. The first room we entered was the map model room. All of these are hand made and would have had multiple copies for planning purposes. They would have been used in planning missions, battles and gave commanders a real sense of the terrain they were about to encounter. They're 'old school' Google Maps, kept in a temperature controlled environment. All of these maps would have been made at the same time to look as accurate as possible. Just imagine if one of the commanders briefing his troops had a street in the wrong location, or worse yet....a bridge!

Some of the map models in the map model vault. Most are around 3'x3', you had to make them detailed, but still practical to transport.

This one is a closeup of Nijmegen in Holland(Netherlands), one of the bridges in Operation Market Garden. The detail of the roads and buildings is just amazing. I used to think 15mm was too small a scale to paint!

This rather large carved map is of the area surrounding the town of Vimy, in France. This area was the site of a major Allied victory in 1917, where four out of the five divisions involved were Canadian. Rolling barrages of artillery kept the 'huns' at bay so the Canadian and British troops could advance.

This close up, shows the contours and the town of Vimy itself on the map.

Dirty Jon trying to fix artillery rules before WW2 breaks out.

It was onto the other vaults of the museum. We were able to see quite a bit more than I expected and it was amazing at how organized and cataloged everything is kept. My only concern was the amount of time being spent in each area. Without a great number of volunteers, we were being shown everything by actual museum staff and researchers. This didn't allow them more than an hour to show us a lot more. I could have easily spent more time just looking at old books, weapons and asking more questions about the vast amount of photographs (like the one above) and artwork hanging in areas that the public never gets to see.

Even museums collect toys!!

There were more racks of guns than I have ever seen in my life. In this photo, the rifles here were old ball and cap type rifles. Note every one is in pristine condition and tagged. There is no ammunition of any kind in the museum except for blank/dummy rounds to check the function of these firearms. Not sure I would want to test fire any of them for fear of them blowing up in my face.

They had a few racks of swords as well, sabres and ceremonial items.

Seriously, who would want to carry a flame thrower onto a battlefield?

Each one of these are double sided and I could only get half of them in the photo. This is the storage area for every uniform the museum has, not including the ones on display in the main public part of the museum.

Billy Bishop's uniform, a Victoria Cross winner. Bishop was responsible for 72 confirmed enemy victories in WWI. He started out in the trenches as a soldier before learning to fly. Just to survive on the ground to do so much in the air is really something I don't think anyone can process.

General Arthur Currie's uniform. Canadian commander during WWI, he really preached 'Mission Tactics'. Every Canadian soldier knew their job and could take over command of their platoons if their senior platoon leaders were killed.

It was now time to head to other parts of the museum, see some of the displays, vehicles and other artifacts that make up the museums collection. With The Great War being released and as more people get into WWI, I'll begin with some of the things that relate. The museum is set up, so that each era and conflict are broken down into their own areas. As you complete one, you then moved into the next conflict or area that would have followed it in history.

One of the portholes from RMS Lusitania. She was a passenger ship that was torpedoed in 1915 by a German U-Boat. This sinking would have later influence in America joining the fight against Germany in WWI.

 Body armor, shields and modified helmets. 'Trench armor' for fighting at close quarters during WWI.

WWI 8 Inch Howitzer, at 5'6" I barely stand as tall as the wheel this is mounted on.

The Mark VIII Howitzer could fire a 90kg (198 Lbs.) shell up to 11km (7miles)!

The front lines communicated with the Fullerphone, and pigeons. Note the message tube around the right leg.

Looks like Steve has his messenger birds and is hitting the road to deliver them to the WWPD masses!

I hope you enjoyed the first part of my tour, it really was a neat experience. This gives you an idea on some of the things that go on behind closed doors. I encourage you to take a road trip, make a phone call or send your nearest museum a message. Ask them if you can organize a small tour, or see if they'll pull some items out of their archives so you can see what they have. Each piece has it's own story and connects you in some way to a time where things were chaotic and dangerous. We have interests, hobbies and play games based on the acts of your relatives, friends and in some cases comrades in uniform. Stay tuned to WWPD for the second part of my tour where you'll get to see and hear about some of the vehicles and equipment from WW2.

You can see more content on Great War topics, models, games and reviews right here! WWPD Great War

Matt 'ViciousEgo' MacKenzie has been interested in WW2 and gaming since a teenager. He regularly contributes to, is retired on weekends and enjoys a Captain Morgan with Dr. Pepper from time to time.

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