The dilemma of Military Museums

I regularly keep an eye on quite a few jobsites, especially ones concerning Museums. I guess you could say a job working at a Military Museum would be my dream. Just recently, I noticed a job advertised for Director of a well-known British Army unit’s Museum. It makes very interesting reading indeed.

Qualifications and Experience: Detailed and up to date knowledge of the Army and Royal Signals in particular, including military communications and their significance to the command and control of operations.

Now, it strikes me that the only person likely to have that kind of experience is going to be a retired officer!

Both the Royal Marines Museum and the RN Submarine Museum have raised eyebrows recently by appointing non-service types to senior posts. Previously, the unwritten rule was that to have any chance of being Director of a military museum, you had to be a former serving sailor, soldier or airman. This doesnt just apply to senior posts, but all posts down to shop cashier sometimes. Its a real ‘jobs-for-the-boys’ thing.

While I see nothing wrong with giving jobs to people who have served the country, I do question the wisdom of keeping such institutions as a closed shop. A narrow and exclusive recruitment policy severely limits the experience, expertise and dynamism that will be found in the museum. Neither does it reflect the realities of running a Museum – what is a retired officer likely to know about applying for grant funding, formal and informal learning, or community outreach?

A young person who has just graduated with a Degree or a Masters might not be wearing the Regimental tie, and they might not know the Regimental March, but such things can be learnt. Also, they are more likely to bring new, fresh ideas to the table. Some Military Museums have grasped the bull by the horns and appointed people who have expertise in marketing and heritage in a broader sense, which is remarkably foresighted for a sector of the Heritage industry that is usually remarkably insular and conservative.

Especially at a time when Museums are facing many changes and challenges, and are having to re-examine their policies and priorities in the face of funding challenges and a depressed economic situation. It is not a time to rest on laurels or to try and preserve the status quo.

Maybe 20 years ago it was OK to bung a load of uniforms in a glass case and leave them there. But in the twentieth century the visiting public, and indeed the Regiments and units that the Museums are dedicated to, deserve a lot better. Regiments and their history have so much to contribute to society – there are plenty of ways that they can complement the national curriculum, for example.

The link between Armed Forces and general public is absolutely crucial, as shown by the recent growth of interest in charities such as Help for Heroes, and the attendances at Wootton Basett for repatriations from Afghanistan. Museums SHOULD have a role in this, as a place for people to find out about the armed forces, and for the armed forces to meet and inspire people. But apart from a few notable cases, in a lot places this doesnt really seem to be happening.

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2 Comments

Filed under debate, Museums

2 responses to “The dilemma of Military Museums

  1. Interesting points you make here. I applied for an was successful at gaining an interview as Director of the Royal Logistics Corps Museum. I arrived on the day to chaos, that is to say, they were expecting me but were not prepared. Gaining access to the RLC HQ was amusing to say the least and the interview quite demanding and detailed. I was interviewed by three Colonels; The Regimental Secretary, Head of RLC manning and a Trustee of the Museum (a serving Colonel). I noticed on my arrival t what I thought was a good omen, that the band was playing “The Village Blacksmith” – my old Regimental March (The RAOC). I had left the army in 1969 so I had no baggage so to speak but I had left as a Corporal!!! I failed to gain the post, having “satisfied the interview panel in all aspects of my suitability and capability” However, I failed to satisfy the panel in answering the question put to the interviewee on diversity” – The job went to a retired colonel from the former RASC/RCT … the museum seems to show little these days for the RAOC seemingly the RCT dominating the exhibits. I understand there is a new Director now but I don’t know if he is “dyed in the wool RLC” or not. Would they EVER have employed a well qualified “other rank”?????? I think not.

  2. James Daly

    Hi, thanks for your input. Your experience does seem to confirm my thinking. It makes me quite angry sometimes, I see a fascinating regimental heritage and some rich collections of objects, and its being run like a pub football team. Some of the stories I’ve heard from military museums are enough to make your eyes water.

    I have to say though some museums are taking the bull by the horns. The new Airborne Museum at Duxford looks first class, Bovington always gets rave reviews and I gather the Artillery Museum at Woolwich is impressive.

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