Ian Waller and his son Joe enjoy a visit to a military museum in Wiltshire

This was certainly one of the finds of the summer holidays. The REME Museum in Lyneham near Chippenham is a wonderful collection of fascinating exhibits, activities, learning experiences, an outdoor playground and very tasty bacon baps!

REME stands for Royal Engineers Mechanical Engineers and as the museum’s website explains, it houses a ‘fascinating and eclectic mix that focuses on the REME story, but also tells us much about the British Army in the 20th and 21st centuries.’ This includes an amazing collection of military vehicles, displays of weapons and equipment, fascinating stories for the soldiers who have served with REME, plus the chance to have a go with some of the kit yourself.

I paid a visit with my ten year old who absolutely loved the experience, bouncing from exhibit to exhibit, trying out the activities and checking out the displays with a rare enthusiasm. It was great to see!

First up, however, was lunch and drinks at the Crown’s Cafe, which serves the best bacon baps in town, alongside a decent menu of favourites – just the thing to give us the energy for an afternoon’s exploration.

Then we were off, exploring from hall to hall, each filled with beautifully presented exhibits. While I was in awe of the tanks and transport on display, Joe was more focussed on the gnome hunt, a fun way for children to search through all of the exhibits in hope of completing a list and winning a prize.

The exhibits are cleverly supported with display boards providing just the right amount of information on each piece. It’s also good to note that all of the halls are on one level, making easy access for wheelchairs and pushchairs.

One of the first interactive displays tells of the incredible story of Sgt Wally Harris MM, a member of REME and his incredibly heroic actions following the D-Day invasion. The story is told by Wally himself through a video display and really puts the courage of those serving back then into impressive context.

As our tour continued, Joe took the chance to find out how gears fit together to work in an engine, shout and squawk to create patterns on an oscilloscope, rescue a stricken vehicle through a VR display and challenge me to decide which of the exhibits we would take home, given the unlikely opportunity. Joe’s call was one of the tanks, backed up by the logic that it would be handy on the school run. 

While the halls of exhibits were great to see, perhaps the real highlight was taking part in the activities that the museum provides for families in its education centre during school holidays. Over the summer, these included shelter building, Lego engineering, junk modelling, bottle rockets and catapult helicopters. With the help of engineer in chief Andrew, we were both soon sticking wings to lollipop sticks to create our own helicopters, before nipping outside to launch them into the blue skies. 

Among the learning activities planned for the rest of the summer holidays, you can enjoy –

Tue 17 Aug – Shelter Building
Wed 18 Aug- LEGO Engineering
Thur 19 Aug – Magnus Flyers
Fri 20 Aug – String Telephones

Then, later this year, look out for –
Sat 18 Sept – Wartime Britain Event Day with wartime vehicles, manned stalls and re-enactors.
Sat 16 Oct – Model show, including displays of both the museum and private model makers. Plus a number of stalls of professional models on sale.
21-29 Oct Half-term activities.
Sat 27 Nov – Museum Christmas Market, with stalls holders selling last minute Christmas gifts and a Santa’s grotto!

Andrew was just superb at providing the right level of guidance and slipping in a few notes on the physics involved – a clever example of undercover education! He also explained that the museum is always looking at ways to engage with families and schools more, with an Anderson shelter planned that will be big enough to house an entire class of schoolchildren for more lessons and learning. Keep your eye on the museum’s website and Facebook page for more details.

By the time we’d reached the final hall and Joe had collected his prize for (almost) completing the gnome hunt, there was time for a cup of tea for me with Joe taking on the play equipment and obstacle course in the grounds.

This was a hugely successful visit – full of information and activities, with plenty to see and do.