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Spies, Lies and Deception REVIEW

"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies"

The quote from Winston Churchill is at the entrance to Spies, Lies and Deception, a new FREE exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. It sets the tone perfectly.

100 years of double crossing, cunning and derring do are what follows. There are fantastic gadgets that you have to pinch yourself were actually used and are not from the set of an early James Bond film. A hollowed out battery filled with miniature camera film, a lipstick with a hidden camera, a Soviet ghetto blaster with surveillance equipment behind the speakers.

Arranged thematically rather than chronologically, there are sections on mis-information - the fake medical reports that were dropped over Germany in WW2, advising Germans that wartime wholemeal bread was hazardous to health, or the leaflets warning of the rising cases of VD among soldiers and female factory workers. There are the radar jammers, ribbons of aluminium, and dummy parachutes, dropped to confuse before the D Day landings. There are vivid examples of visual deception - the paper mâché heads used to trick snipers in the trenches in WW1 or the back-to-front footprint overshoes used in South East Asia in WW2.

And weaving throughout the exhibits, there are the human stories. Personal testimonies and private papers from some of wartime's most famous covert missions from Operation Mincemeat to Operation Desert Storm. The back office postal staff testing letters for invisible ink; the double agent operations run by MI5 in WW2; the infamous spies of the Cold War era.

The last section brings us up to date. There is a fun interactive, 'can you spot the AI-generated face?' but the main event is the past - in the days before computers ran the world. It's an absolutely fascinating dip into history. There is lots to read so kids who are confident free-readers will get the most out of it.

Special themed family activities run at weekends and daily over half term (21–29 Oct). Plus there is a fun-sounding immersive event, the Camouflage Unit, planned for the 2024 Easter holidays. (Check website for details nearer the time.)

Spies, Lies and Deception at the Imperial War Museum 29 Sept–14 April 2024. Free

Emily Turner 28 September 2023


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