The history of the World War I Museum at Tsarskoe Selo began in 1911 when Elena Tretyakova, widow of the brother of the founder of the Tretyakov Art Gallery in Moscow, presented Emperor Nicholas II with a collection of paintings, documents and trophies of the wars Russia partook in since ancient times. At the emperor’s behest, the collection formed the basis for the army history museum at the Martial Chamber complex built in the Russian Revival style by the architect Semyon Sidorchuk alongside the Alexander Park in 1913-17 on donations from different patrons, including Elena Tretyakova who became the museum’s director and curator.
In 1915, a year after the war broke out, Nicholas II ordered to enlarge the collection with the specially commissioned portraits of St George crosses awarded soldiers and officers and with trophies brought from the battlefronts, thus making World War I the museum’s main theme. On June 24th the Admiralty in St Petersburg held a WWI trophies exhibit including “Tretyakova’s section (gathered for Tsarskoe Selo Museum)”, which presented over a hundred pieces of art, documentation, photography, German and Austrian soldier equipment, as well as books, maps, and even a shot-down Zeppelin airship.
February 1917 saw the opening of the Great 1914-18 War Museum at the Martial Chamber, which unfortunately lasted not longer than until 1919. During the revolution years in Russia its exhibits were relocated or destroyed.
The Martial Chamber was transferred under the control of the Tsarskoe Selo State Museum and Heritage Site in 2008. The restored World War I Museum is open there from 5 August 2014 for WWI Centenary, as a permanent display named Russia in the Great War.
RUSSIA IN THE GREAT WAR
WWI MUSEUM AT MARTIAL CHAMBER
The museum “Russia in the Great War” is the first museum in modern Russia dedicated to the tragic period of World War One (1914–1917). It is located in the Martial Chamber of Tsarskoe Selo, which was conceived by Emperor Nicholas II as a pantheon of military glory. Its opening in August 2014 was one of the most significant events commemorating the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, as the conflict was called in Russia.
The museum showcases real munitions and day-to-day objects used by those involved in the war, as well as print and photographic materials from the collection of Tsarskoe Selo. On display is a whole range of machine guns, uniforms of different countries, awards, weapons and personal belongings. Of particular interest are the uniforms worn by the last Russian emperor Nicholas II and his family members.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a flyable, full-size copy of Nieuport 17, a French fighter of the World War One period. There is an authentic Ford automobile in one of the building’s towers and an armoured vehicle and howitzers in the courtyard.
The collection of over 2,000 exhibits was formed with funds from Russia’s Ministry of Culture and Tsarskoe Selo and with donations from all over the world, which makes the Martial Chamber a “truly people’s museum”. Sir Peter Jackson, a famous New Zealand film director, kindly donated two sets of World War One combat utility uniforms – superbly crafted replicas of clothing, footwear and ammunition of British and Scottish infantry regiments.
The Great War was when the new phenomenon of mass heroism arose. Over 1.5 million crosses of St George of different classes were awarded to Russian soldiers and officers. Their portraits and photographs are also on display.
Electronic information kiosks in every section of the exhibition introduce visitors to the history of the Martial Chamber and the museum, some key events and persons of the war, military statistics, uniforms, weaponry and other essentials. The e-book “Russia in the Great War” is specially created by the museum research staff.
A cinema room offers “The last year: Russia’s withdrawal from the Great War”, a documentary specially made for the museum. The museum has a reinstated research library with books on the World War One period and a free lecture hall.
Exhibition Sections (28):
1. The Sovereign’s Martial Chamber and the Great War Museum
2. The war begins
3. Military operations
4. Battle of Galicia
5. Defense of the Osowiec Fortress
6. Aeronauts and aviators
8. Russian Automotive Troops in WWI
9. Triple Alliance
10. Military clergy
11. Red Cross and prisoners of war
12. Positional warfare
13. Nicholas II, Supreme Commander of the Russian Army
14. Imperial family and charity during the war years
15. Gallery of St George’s chevaliers
16. Home Front: Russia’s retreat from the war
17. Caucasus Front
18. Southwestern Front
19. Native units
20. Petrograd in 1917
21. Russia’s withdrawal from the Great War
22. WWI awards of the Entente and the Triple Alliance
23. The Entente: Russia’s alliances in WWI
24. Russian field kitchen
25. Reservist movement
26. Military schools
27. Day-to-day life of Russian Army soldiers and officers
28. Cossack hosts