A couple of months ago I visited the UK’s National Army Museum in London. They had an exhibition exploring the history of the British Army in Germany since 1945. Titled Foe to Friend it explores the British Army’s post-war experience in Germany first as an occupier and then as a NATO ally.
More than a million British soldiers have lived and served in Germany over the past 75 years. The exhibition tries to capture some of their experiences while relating the history of their operations – no small task.
One of the highlights of the exhibit were the small personal items like photos and uniforms but also vehicles like the Brixmis Opel – a car used by British observers to travel through East Germany. There was also an interactive light up display that let you identify various Cold War Soviet vehicles – just like a Brixmis observer!
The exhibition also shows off some of the uniforms and kit used during the UK’s 75 years in Germany as well as some of their weapons including some instantly recognisable Cold War icons like the L1A1 SLR and the Carl Gustav, as well as the SA80 and my old friend the Sterling SMG. Another essential piece of kit – the Boiling Vessel takes centre stage in a multi-media area with a section on the famous food van owned by Wolfgang Meier – he followed British troops on exercise and sold them bratwurst and fish and chips.
The exhibit covered several rooms but was more sparse than I’d hoped and some of the smaller items seem a little lost. I would have liked to have seen more on the large-scale exercises the British Army of the Rhine took part in, like Lionheart 84. The exhibition does, however, conclude with some displays on the operations some of the men station in Germany took part in, including peacekeeping in Bosnia and the first Gulf War.
It would have been great to have had some interactive displays featuring audio or video interviews from service personnel who had been in Germany during the various periods of the Army’s presence. This is something the West Indian Soldier exhibition, which we recently looked at, did well.
It ends with an excellent graphic depicting how troop numbers in Germany fell dramatically after the Second World War – despite the Cold War, from 780,000 in 1945 to just 135 at the end of the British Army’s deployment in 2020.
The exhibition ran from September 2020 to December 2021.
If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!
‘Active Edge: The Army, Germany and the Cold War’, National Army Museum, (source)
‘Foe to Friend: The British Army in Germany since 1945’, National Army Museum, (source)
‘Foe to Friend: Virtual Tour’, National Army Museum, (source)
‘Army Life in Germany: Virtual Tour’, National Army Museum, (source)