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Combined Military Services Museum (Essex)

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1 Review

Address: Station Road / Maldon / Essex / CM9 4LQ / Tel: +44 01621 841826

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      08.06.2010 14:34
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      A hidden gem providing a great little trip out

      I visited this museum in the summer of 2010 with my elderly parents. You know the score, you want to go somewhere...don't know where...just OUT for a couple of hours. Well, they dragged up a leaflet for this museum and off we went - and I can't believe this place is so little-known! It has exhibits from army, navy, air force, special forces, weapons, vehicles and the 'Home Front'.

      Whether you are a history buff (me), a military buff, a family looking for somewhere different for a trip out (my parents), or a serious researcher, this museum is an absolute gem. You could easily combine this with a trip to pretty Heybridge or the riverside area of Maldon for a look at the boats as well.

      Our visit
      Once we were at Maldon we followed the somewhat mystic signs for the museum (just a sillouette of a tank, nothing else) and found ourselves bumping along through an industrial site. Right at the end of the road, we saw a warehouse type building with a tank and a rocket outside - that has to be it, we thought. We were surprised at how low key everything was, and how tiny the carpark was (about 10 spaces) and how small the building looked. Would this be worth the trip?

      Absolutely! The building is just like the tardis, much bigger inside than outside, and the quality of the exhibits was amazing. I'll detail those later but I was really astonished to find this amazing resource so tucked away and very little heard of. During our visit on a Sunday we saw one other family looking around, but that was it. Part of me thinks, 'lovely' as we had peace and space to look around virtually in private, but the other part of me would like to see this become busier and more successful as they deserve to do well.

      We were greeted on entry by a very friendly lady who talked to us about the story of the museum. It was founded only a few years ago in a small way by a couple who are passionate about all things military, and it has just grown and grown and is now one of the best collections in the country. All items on display are originals with no reproductions.

      Visitors' Information

      The whole museum is wheelchair accessible.
      They suggest 2-3 hours as a visit, and we were there for about three hours, and ended up having to drag ourselves away.

      Address: Station Road, Maldon, Essex CM9 4LQ.
      Telephone: 01621 841826
      Open: Weds to Sun, bank holiday Mondays and school holidays.
      10.30 - 5pm.
      Prices
      Adults £4.75
      Children £3.00
      OAP £3.75
      Family 2 adults 3 children £15.50.

      Facilities
      Gift shop (small but enough to keep the kids happy) and although they say refreshments available, it's just from vending machines, so don't expect a nice cafe or anything. Part of the charm of this museum is its uncommercial feel and the fact that it isn't constantly trying to drag more money out of you. Nice clean toilets and a baby-changing area. Free parking. They have a programme of talks and children's activity events. Area for children (or rather silly pensioners and their daughter) to try on armour and helmets. Small area selling second-hand history books and historical novels, and special interest magazines.

      From here on it's a bit of a long review as I'm going to tell you what we enjoyed about the different collections, but if you don't want to read that far, take my word for it that this place is worth a visit. I don't think you have to be a military fanatic to enjoy a couple of hours here, there is something for everyone, but if you do have a greater depth of interest this should be on your list of 'must-sees'.

      The collections (in the order I found them most interesting, but all were good)

      Secret Services and The Mason Collection
      A fascinating display of items used by secret service agents; weapons, clothing and equipment. From umbrellas with poison darts, to cyanide pills, to fully reversible clothing and disguises, this collection had us all enthralled. I particularly liked the condom with a wire garrot hidden in it - ooerr watch out Mister!

      There is a whole room devoted to Peter and Pru Mason, a married couple who both worked as spies for around 30 years, with items of their clothing, fake ID materials, miniaturised cameras, weapons hidden in lipsticks, you name it... Interestingly, Peter Mason had a 'license to kill' and the couple were good friends with Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, and it's believed they inspired some of Bond's adventures. This area alone kept us entertained for nearly an hour, with constant cries of 'ooh look at this' and 'well I never!'

      The Home Front
      This was also one of our favourite areas as it was lovely to see my parents, who were children in WW2, enjoying it so much. If you have older relatives, then they'll really love this. It covers life and service in the UK during WW2, with a good section on the role of women. There are uniforms, gas masks, ration cards, ID cards, all sorts of bits and pieces but the best part was a series of display boards you could flip through. You can read original government information leaflets and see the wartime posters, and it gives you a good idea of how people must have felt at that time. The instruction sheet on what to do if a German plane crashes near you and you have to take the German's prisoner is quite amusing in hindsight. (You are allowed to offer them a cup of tea). I found the propoganda sheets from both the Allies and the Axis countries really interesting. Did anyone really believe those stories?

      There is also a large selection of sheet music from the war, which set my parents off on a singing session, which made me feel quite glad no-one else was around.

      Ancient and Civil War
      Ah...the bloodthirsty bits that kids and 80 year old ladies (my mum) positively thrill over. Starting with a wall full of the most appallingly lethal looking iron implements, it also has armour and original clothing. I really enjoyed this area as well, as the items are displayed well and you can get up really close and personal to them. We all stood and shuddered a bit at the close sight of those axes and polearms (is that a bit of dried blood stuck on it there?) and swords and daggers and maces and clubs and muskets and all other awful objects we as humans have invented to separate other people from bits of themselves. Somehow it made it all seem a bit less hollywood and heroic, and all a bit more brutal and terrible. For example there is a civil war breast plate hung so that you can see both sides of it. There's the front with a dent and a little hole. There's the back with a huge rip in the padding where the musket ball went through. Your imagination fills in the next stage. The nun's dagger, which is disguised as a crucifix, makes you think about nuns in a whole new way. I knew Catholic schools were strict...
      I don't mean to make this area sound scary - it isn't - I just have a very active imagination! Kids will adore this part.

      Navy
      Items from 15th century shipwrecks right up to uniforms from the 1st Gulf war. They also have one of the 'Cockleshell heroes' canoes and items from submariners, including escape and survival suits. All uniforms in all areas are displayed on mannequins with all equipment, so you get a really good idea of them. Plus lots of interesting bits and pieces, weapons, tools, equipment etc.

      Army
      Ah - look at his little knees! Mannequins again display a range of uniforms (I don't want to spoil the surprise but some of the more specialised ones had us in fits) from civil war, ww1, ww2 and the 1st gulf war. I found the Napoleonic war items interesting as a Sharpe fan - the backpack on display was really good. No, really. I know it sounds boring, but there's an explanation of how badly designed the pack is and how crippling it was to wear, but that they made the poor buggers wear that design for decades!

      Air Force
      From its early days in WW1 to again, the 1st gulf war. More mannequins in full flight gear and equipment. Parts of a crashed plane as well and plane engines, if you are that way inclined.

      Vehicles
      Yes, as the sign promises, they have some tanks and other large items outside. It would have been nice to be able to go inside one, but still fairly interesting. I tell you, if one of those things was coming my way, I'd run for it!

      The Donnington collection
      Personally this wasn't my thing, but I can see it being wonderful for some people. The MOD Donnington is where all service weapons go to die, basically, and staff there have been saving rare and interesting guns for years. They set up a private museum but in 2010 this was gifted to the museum in Maldon, and it is one of the world's premier collection of 19th and 20th century guns, including captured foreign weapons and experimental test weapons.

      Overall
      You can tell I liked the place. It really is a hidden gem.

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