On the 8th May we commemorate V-E Day and honour those lost in the Second World War. While it’s a sombre date, it’s important to remember Europe’s history, both the triumphs and the losses, and, for many, exploring this part of their heritage is fascinating. If you want to delve deeper into the history of a war that shaped much of the world as we know it today, here are some of the most educational WWII experiences:
The HMS Maori served with Britain’s Mediterranean Fleet during World War II – it was involved in the destruction of famous German Bismarck battleship in May 1941 and assisted in the Battle of Cape Bon in December 1941.
Bombed on 12 February 1942, the wreck of the HMS Maori in Malta now provides an incredible underwater monument. Aquatic life has made this wreck a home so you can also see everything from seahorses to octopus living around the ruined vessel, while getting a sense of life at sea during the Second World War.
Another great stop is the Malta Aviation Museum, which has a hangar dedicated to the Battle of Malta, complete with iconic planes like the Hurricane and Spitfire – a must-visit for anyone wanting to get a grasp on how the war affected Malta.
The Museum of the Resistance in Grenoble gives a fascinating insight into how the region coped under Nazi occupation and how the resistance rallied against them. The museum has a wealth of exhibits like maps, models, photos, copies of ID forgeries, posters and video clips. It’s a museum you can’t help but be moved by and a must-visit if you’re in the area. If you can, time your visit for the first Sunday of the month, after 2:30pm, for free entry, and avoid Tuesday mornings – it doesn’t open until 1:30pm.
To guard against enemy attack as the territory was slowly surrounded, Churchill ordered the existing seven miles of underground tunnels in Gibraltar to be extended by specialised tunnelling companies from the Royal Engineers and the Canadian Army. What was achieved is breathtaking, with 25 miles of tunnels running below the Rock of Gibraltar to create what was essentially an underground city – big enough to house the 16,000-strong garrison. Some of the tunnels were so secret that they have only recently been discovered – In fact, Stay Behind Cave, which was slated to be an observation post should the peninsula fall to German invasion, was only rediscovered in 1997.
While Stay Behind Cave can only be toured once a year to ensure its preservation, some of the other parts of the tunnels can be visited daily with licensed tour guides, which leave every 30 minutes. This is a chance to experience a piece of Britain’s amazing military history first-hand, and you’ll find yourself wondering at the incredible engineering feat, undertaken at a time of international unrest.
Museo Storico della Liberazione is a must-visit as it offers a quiet but haunting insight into life during the Nazi occupation of Rome, and the museum is actually housed in the former headquarters of the German SS.0 See the cells where members of the Resistance were interrogated and read the graffiti they scrawled onto the walls. This humble museum offers harrowing, but thought-provoking insight into what life was like during the Second World War.
It’s free to access but has a bit of a tricky schedule! Specifically, it’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 to 12:30 and Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 3:30 to 7:30. It’s closed in August.