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A speech by The Duke of Cambridge at the Imperial War Museum WW1 Galleries opening

Published 17 July 2014

This museum honours the sacrifice of all nations. And I am delighted to see so many of them represented here today.

The Prince of Wales

It is a great honour to be here today to officially open the new Atrium and First World War Galleries.

I congratulate all those who have worked so incredibly hard, over so many months, to bring this spectacular project to such a triumphant conclusion. This is a museum with which my family has been proud to be associated, since the beginning.

In 1920, my great-great grandfather, King George V, opened the Imperial War Museum at its first home in Crystal Palace.  So it was a great honour three years ago to be invited to become Patron of the IWM Foundation. To play my part in supporting the museum to do what it does best connecting us with those who have served the United Kingdom in times of conflict; and reminding us of the huge sacrifices they have made to secure our prosperity and freedom. Sacrifice was at the heart of King George V's speech when he opened this museum nearly a century ago.  He spoke of the extraordinary courage and dedication of millions of men and women in the First World War.   He had visited troops more than 450 times during the conflict.   His son, Prince Albert, later King George VI fought in the Battle of Jutland at the age of 20.

He experienced first-hand what these galleries depict so vividly: the ideals for which those brave men and women fought, and for which so many of them died. This centenary year prompts us to reflect upon the true nature of the catastrophe which enveloped the world between 1914 and 1918, and to ponder the experiences of our recent relatives who gave everything for our freedom.

We reflect on the extraordinary courage and fortitude of the British, Empire, and Allied troops who fought, and who gave their lives in conditions so horrific that we find it hard to imagine. This museum honours the sacrifice of all nations. And I am delighted to see so many of them represented here today.

The First World War was famously to be the war that ended all wars. As we know only too well, it wasn't.  A war that took hundreds of thousands of young lives has been followed by many other conflicts, woven through history to the present day.  But the impact on the young of the First World War is particularly poignant.  The statistics are hard to comprehend.

Between 1914 and 1918, a quarter of a million British boys joined the army under the legal age of eighteen. In the exhibition today, I saw a letter written by nine-year old Alfie Knight to Lord Kitchener offering his services as a bicycle messenger at the front.  He was turned down. Even so, an estimated eighty-five thousand teenage boys between fifteen and nineteen died on active service. There was scarcely a family that was unaffected by the phenomenon of this 'total war'.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother turned fourteen on the day the First World War was declared.

Her four elder brothers went to war. Her eldest brother, Fergus, was killed at the battle of Loos, aged twenty-six.  The impact the conflict had in distorting and destroying young lives makes it particularly appropriate that young people have been invited to help with the displays in these new galleries - invited to imagine what their great-great grandparents experienced.  A group of young advisers have been intimately involved in this transformation project: advising on the wording of displays, writing family captions for young visitors and producing some excellent films. Bringing to life the contributions and sacrifices of the young of one hundred years ago.   They are a creative and committed group a great asset to a museum which speaks to the hearts and fires the imagination of new generations, so that we shall never forget. These galleries bring to life the "common effort and common sacrifices" of those who lived through the First World War.

Today, I am proud to declare them officially open.

In 1920, King George V believed this museum would be an inspiration for future generations.

I am very pleased to say, it is.