AD – We were invited to HMS Belfast by Imperial War Museums. All words and opinions are my own.
I have lived in London my whole life and, until last month, I hadn’t been on HMS Belfast once! Having children opens your eyes to new adventures and experiences you can have together but I always assumed my children were a little young for this trip. At almost ten and eight years old Archie and Maisie have learned a bit about war at school and they were very intrigued to visit HMS Belfast. Charlie is five years old so he doesn’t quite have the understanding of battle and why it happened, but he was very keen on visiting. We went along to visit HMS Belfast on a sunny Saturday in August 2019. We hopped out of our taxi next to London Bridge and could see HMS Belfast sitting in front of Tower Bridge. She is a beautiful ship and permanently moored on the River Thames as a museum ship. HMS Belfast is the most significant surviving Second World War warship and is now operated by Imperial War Museums.
With nine decks to explore it is recommended that you spend at least 90 minutes on board. We spent around 3 hours on HMS Belfast and I would still love to go back again. With lots of things to do on board I’ve shared some of the highlights from our trip below.
This free activity is going to take place most Saturdays during schools holidays, you can check the website for details.
We had a really fabulous host who ran the session. The children were invited to sit down and fill in an activity booklet which contained a quiz which asked them what they already knew about the ship whilst also revealing things that they weren’t yet aware of – did you know that the ship is 80 years old?
The activity is really hands on which is great for little ones. The children got their hands on magnifying glasses and torches for an interactive session on bugs! They looked at materials and examined the effects of moth damage, they also inspected and identified all of the different bugs that would have been present on the ship.
Next up was a lesson on preserving important items such as eggs! It was a great child-friendly representation on how to protect precious items. They got to package the egg up carefully, making air pockets in the paper and then they dropped it from a height – Charlie loved this!
Lastly, the children learned how to preserve precious items such as medals. They tried on gloves and discussed which brushes would be suitable to clean the medal. They really enjoyed this interactive session!
Learn what it would have been like to live aboard the ship
From the Quarterdeck to the medical bay HMS Belfast’s exhibitions give you a real understanding of what life on board would have been like.
You can see where the crew would eat and drink, pick up mail, do their laundry, visit the sick bay and dental surgery or visit the chapel.
We also listened to a recording of a man writing a letter to his aunt, it was a real eye opener hearing how the crew would have spent their time on board.
We ventured down to the Lower Deck, leaving Lee with Darcie upstairs as it’s not suitable for little ones due to the steep staircases. This is where it felt very surreal, you could see how frightening it must have been to hold such responsibility and live in these conditions. We discovered the inner workings of the ship visiting the engine and boiler rooms. Surprisingly the boiler rooms weren’t always hot, during their time in the Arctic they would have been freezing cold.
We had to go down the ladders rear facing as they were so steep, this was exciting and scary for the children. They couldn’t believe they were below sea level! Luckily there is only one way down and one way up meaning no one can bump into each other on the stairs and you can’t get lost!
Sit in the captain’s chair and take in the view
The children were excited to take turns sitting in the Captain’s chair and the view from this point was quite fascinating. The children were surprised that there isn’t a wheel to control the ship but instead there are lots of buttons, switches and phones. Apparently this part of the ship is the easiest to target and the captain wouldn’t want to lose steering during battle, so wheels and controls are located in the protected interior of the ship – who knew!
What did we think….?
We all loved visiting HMS Belfast it was interesting to discover more about the ship and its crew. It was so surreal learning about their living conditions, the experiences they had to face and how they risked their lives daily.
IWM have created a fantastic learning experience on HMS Belfast and it is so insightful and interesting. It is a fantastic day out for the whole family; very informative and detailed for adults but also very visual and interactive for the children, the Ship Shape session they took part in was very hands-on. I love that there is a cafe on board as it means you can have a pit stop in between exploring so you could potentially spend your whole day there, there is so much to see! It’s worth noting that some areas of the ship are for older children only but there is enough on the top deck to occupy little ones whilst you can take it in turns to go down to the boiler and engine rooms with older children.
We all took something different away from our experience dependending on our ages. Charlie is only five but he still had a great time exploring the ship and learning about the past, whilst Archie and Maisie have more understanding of the war due to their ages. My husband and I found it fascinating. We learned so much about the history of the ship and it gave us an insight as to how lives were back then and how these men fought for us.
If you have any questions about our visit please write them below and I will do my best to answer.
Thank you for reading.