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Mr Monkey sees All Aboard at Imperial War Museum North, 13th August

Mr Monkey found out that Imperial War Museum North was putting on an exhibition called All Aboard : stories of war at sea. It sounded interesting, so he made his humans realise they'd like to see it too.

Mr Monkey examining the exhibition poster on the fence around the museum Mr Monkey looking at a captured Iraqi T-55 tank Mr Monkey outside the All Aboard Exhibition
Mr Monkey went to Salford Quays by way of Stockport station (where he paused to watch the Scarborough Flyer on its way to the coast), Manchester Piccadilly, the Left Bank Café at the Peoples History Museum and the Deansgate metro stop. He finally jumped off the metro at Harbour City then trotted past the Lowry and crossed the bridge to get to the Imperial War Museum.

A poster on the fence around the museum told Mr Monkey that he'd come to the right place. He'd already guessed by looking at the distinctive design of the building.

Mr Monkey looking at giant prints of Cecil Beaton's pictures of Tyneside shipyards Outside the museum Mr Monkey stopped to examine a group of six giant pictures. All were taken by society photographer Cecil Beaton in 1943 during a visit to shipyards on the Tyne. There's an interesting mix of pictures of people and of machinery, and Mr Monkey would have liked to see more. Unless, of course, Cecil Beaton went all the way to Newcastle and only took six pictures, which is unlikely.

Also outside the museum Mr Monkey had a look at a T-55 tank, captured by the Royal Engineers during Operation Telic in Iraq in 2003.

The T55 is a Soviet design which entered service in 1958. It has four crew - commander, driver, gunner and loader - and is 9m long (including the gun), 3.27m wide and 2.4m high. It weighs 33.5 tons.

It's obsolete now, though many are still in service. Upgrades are made by armament firms around the world. The T-55 is the most widely used tank of all time (so far, at least). It was built in the Soviet Union, China, Poland and Czechoslovakia and has been used by around 59 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbawe.

Mr Monkey scurried into the museum, and went upstairs to the temporary exhibition area. Photography isn't allowed inside temporary exhibitions for copyright reasons, so he made Mr Rik put the camera away after he posing outside the rather modest doorway.

The exhibition presents a history of war at sea throughout the 20th century. The emphasis is obviously on the two world wars, but with sections on Korea, the Cold War, the Falklands and the Gulf as well.

Mr Monkey scampered through the exhibition, learning about a range of topics including the basics of being a sailor, different types of ship, submarine warfare and counter-submarine warfare, battles in the first and second world wars, the role of the Merchant Marine and surviving shipwreck. Each topic has a brief overview of the subject, with one or more stories about individual sailors or civilians to reveal the human face of war at sea.

Mr Monkey studied bits of ship, deactivated weapons (though he didn't test the mines to find out if they really were deactivated), training and recruitment films, wartime footage of naval disasters and triumphs, and paintings and sketches by official war artists.

The individuals stories are illustrated by personal items such as uniforms, letters (Mr Monkey's favourite was one starting "I have just got back from sinking the Bismark"), diaries, medals and items of kit. There were also lots of audio clips of personal reminiscences to listen to, a periscope to look through, and some computer games. There are even some hats to try on, sadly not in Mr Monkey's size.

Mr Monkey was interested to see that there was a little more about the enemy than in previous exhibitions at the IWM North.

All in all, Mr Monkey found enough to keep him and his humans engrossed for a good two hours. His only regrets were that the 'war at sea' section of the shop downstairs didn't really reflect the breadth of the exhibition, and that there wasn't an exhibition catalogue. And that the queue for the signalling game was too long.
All Aboard : stories of war at sea runs until 25 April 2011.
Tyneside Shipyards, 1943 : Photographs by Cecil Beaton runs until 3 July 2011.
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