Liverpool, in England’s North West, is very well supplied with museums and art galleries covering a wide range of topics. However Western Approaches Museum or “WWII MUSEUM” as the sign outside the building indicates, is somewhat different. The museum is situated in the basement of an inter-war office building right in the heart of Liverpool’s business district.
The museum is located in the actual rooms from which the Battle of the Atlantic was controlled during the Second World War. The rooms that make up the museum are not a recreation, rather this is where the planning for the battle actually took place. When visiting, you are walking through history itself. A good effort has been made by the operators to fit out the rooms in the style that they were at the end of the war with contemporary furniture and fittings.
This is not a “traditional” museum in that there is only one vitrine in the building, rather, it is a living history museum. Children of all ages are encouraged to sit at the desks, use the typewriters, try on uniforms and generally get the feel of the 1940’s atmosphere. The story of the Battle of the Atlantic (the longest and most complex sea battle of history), is told by way of interpretation boards throughout the museum. In the very impressive Operations Room, there are information sheets in a 1940’s style that tell of ships, aircrafts and provide additional information about the period.
A small room styled as a cinema shows a loop of three short films. One of the films includes wartime footage actually taken inside the building, while the other two deal with the exploits of Captain “Johnnie” Walker, his Escort Group and his military funeral in Liverpool. At the end of the tour – you move through the museum on a tour route. One should note, there is the possibility of hiring a guide at a cost of £20. There is a reconstruction of a street of shops as they might have appeared in wartime Liverpool complete with a genuine ‘unexploded bomb’ (don’t panic it was defused long ago!). If you look through the window of the abandoned Italian ice cream parlour, there is a short film loop showing footage of bomb damage in war-time Liverpool.
Whilst there is no restaurant/cafeteria, there is a room arranged like a wartime canteen where you can buy basic tea and coffee, which you make yourself, at wartime prices (2p a cup). Even though the prices are so low, most visitors make a more generous donation. In this canteen there are old fashioned games, an extensive ‘library’ of books on war-time topics and another film loop which shows film from Liverpool during the Second World War. While there is never any pressure to move on from this room, it is sometimes closed because it is used as a teaching room if there is a school party visiting the museum. Ask at reception when you first enter the museum and the friendly staff will be able to advise you whether or not the room is open.
Unlike the other national museums in Liverpool, there is a charge to visit Western Approaches. Additional information about visiting the museum can be found below.
The very nature of an underground bunker means that there are quite a few flights of stairs. Aside from a very limited area, the museum is not accessible to people who use wheelchairs or motorised scooters. The stairs all have hand rails, however a few flights are not easy if a visitor has general mobility issues.
The museum is in the main business district of the city and is not as well known as it should be which can make it difficult to find. There is some on-street parking (pay at parking meters) and opposite the front of the museum is a small public car park which is not solely for use of museum visitors so it is often full and expensive.
The staff are, without exception, friendly and helpful and can answer many questions about the building and the Battle of the Atlantic although they may not have the in-depth knowledge that some visitors might require.
If you pay the additional £20 for a guided tour you are taken around the museum by a member of staff. The guide will encourage you to look around and will also provide in-depth information and context about the collection.