War Games: A temporary exhibition at The Historic Dockyard, Chatham

On Wednesday I paid a visit to The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent, and whilst I was there I made a point of visiting the temporary exhibition that is taking place there entitled WAR GAMES. (The exhibition is housed in No.1 Smithery building, not far from the main entrance and visitor car park.)

The exhibition has been set up by the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, and features exhibits from their collection and several private and public collections as well. Because of copyright issues I was unable to photograph individual exhibits, but I was allowed to take the following photographs of the space in which the exhibition is taking place.

All-in-all it was a very interesting exhibition, and I saw examples of early wargames that I had not previously seen … BUT … it did not – in my opinion – tell the story of wargaming as I would understand it. There was no mention of Robert Louis Stevenson’s wargame, nor of H G Wells’s book LITTLE WARS, or of SHAMBATTLE, or of any of the wargames that John Curry has republished as part of his ‘History of Wargaming‘ project. It struck me as being an exhibition of artefacts put together by design historians and not by military historians or wargamers.

That said, the exhibition is well worth visiting (it will be on until 20th September), and it was reassuring to see that two of Neil Thomas‘s books were on sale in the entrance to the exhibition.


6 Comments on “War Games: A temporary exhibition at The Historic Dockyard, Chatham”

  1. A.W. KITCHEN says:

    Saw this exhibit when it was at Carlisle Museum – Hmmm ,interesting but not much to it only 5/10 , Tony

  2. A.W. Kitchen (Tony),

    I would probably have scored it slightly higher … but not a lot.

    I felt that it could have been a bit more informative and informed. I wonder if any wargamers – rather than academics and/or museum curators – were actually involved in developing the exhibit. Somehow I doubt it.

    All the best,


  3. Trebian says:

    I saw that at the Bethnal Green location when it was originally curated, and put up a blog posting with more pictures than you took, Bob: http://wargaming4grownups.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/war-games-exhibition-bethnal-green.html

    I reckoned then it was a worthwhile 40 minutes, but no more. It's really about war toys rather than wargames (they've got a Johnny 7 on display) but I was impressed by the lack of judgemental attitude in it. It isn't pro-war, anti-war or pacifist. It just shows what toys have been made and puts them in context. The original V&A site had some background material from the curators about what they were trying to achieve and I think they did what they set out to do.

    You can always ask for more, but the fact that it was done at all is important.

  4. Trebian,

    I read your original blog entry, and was interested to see that you were allowed to photograph individual exhibits whereas I faced a blanket ban. (Luckily I was able to persuade a senior member of the museum's staff to allow me to take some general photographs of the exhibition.)

    You are right about it being an exhibition of war TOYS rather than war GAMES, although there are quite a few boxed games on show. I certainly enjoyed my time looking around the exhibits (and forty minutes was about the time I spent looking), but I felt that it could have been enhanced by the inclusion of some 'proper' wargames as well.

    All the best,


  5. Trebian says:


    Maybe I was just lucky with the photographs or it was innate charm. I think a museum exhibit about wargames would be interesting,- but not in the Museum of Childhood. I think for what we are interested in the Imperial War Museum would be a better venue.


  6. Bob,

    Definitely charm rather than luck!

    I wonder if the Imperial War Museum – or possibly the National Army Museum – might be interested in such an exhibition. I would hope so … but I'm not sure how we could go about persuading them to do so.

    All the best,


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