(I spent two weeks in September in London. I've been there five times before, some of those trips leading groups of high school students. The goal of this trip was to visit some of the lesser known sites I've always wanted to see, such as this one.)
The Churchill War Rooms were built secretly to protect the government and the Prime Minister in the dangerous days of World War II in London during the Blitz. From 1940-45, hundreds of people lived their lives in this underground bunker beneath the Treasury Building, Whitehall, where the war work went on around the clock.
The Cabinet War Room was where Churchill, his military commanders, and his cabinet planned the strategies and battles to win the war. There are said to be scratch marks on the arms of Churchill's chair, attesting to the agony of the pressure and tension in this room.
In the Phone Room phones were color-coded for different uses, one especially for use by Churchill and U.S. President Roosevelt. The green phone scrambled and encrypted messages via a machine on the floor.
Women were part of the underground work force that worked 18 hour days, then slept in dormitories in the bunker. I listened to an interview with one of these women who remembered Churchill as an exacting and exhausting taskmaster.
The dormitories where most workers slept were in a "basement" below the working area, furnished with bunkbeds and non-flushing lavatories. These were hated by everyone and added to the unpleasant, um, ambiance of the ventilation.
The rooms for those with more rank were small but there was a chamber pot furnished, a step up from the lavs downstairs. This room was for a detective.
Churchill's room was nearly as basic. However, he slept only a few nights here during the war, preferring to return to 10 Downing Street whenever possible.
The bunker was built in total secret. After it was occupied, it was reinforced with steel beams and a 5 foot layer of cement above, and one wonders how all this activity could have been missed. It would never have survived a direct hit, but fortunately it never had to.
On August 15, 1945, the lights were turned off and workers dispersed to their peacetime lives.
The rooms were sealed off, many left exactly as they were that day, not to be opened again until 1948 when a museum was first proposed, finally opened to the public until 1984.
* * *
What an amazing opportunity to see history frozen in time. I was very affected by the atmosphere that was created by the museum in sights and sounds, and I could imagine the rest: the tension, the stale air, the smell, the claustrophobia of being deep underground while bombs are falling on the world above. I will never forget the hours I spent at this museum.
Thanks for reading my blog. I enjoy reading your comments!