Day 2, Monday, June 25, 2018
After our visit to Westminster Abbey, we headed to see the Churchill War Rooms close by. We were met with another line of about half an hour.
History of the War Rooms
The Churchill War Rooms is the underground bunker that was used by the British Government during World War II. They planned war strategy, ran the government, sent and received critical communications, and even stayed overnight during the bombings of London.
In 1936, the British government realized that the potential of war would be devastating for both the government and the civilian population. They began looking for an suitable emergency location for the government and settled on a basement under what is now the Treasury Building; renovations were completed in 1938 to make the site livable, usable, and relatively safe – with a 5 foot thick concrete layer of protection.
The basement consisted of communications rooms, map rooms, typing pool rooms for the secretaries, and living quarters for Churchill, his staff and officers of the Navy, Army and Air Force. The underground rooms were completely self-contained, with a kitchen, bathrooms, sleeping quarters and a full communications system. The staff could stay underground indefinitely, if they needed to.
The War Rooms were in continuous use throughout the war, especially during the Blitz in 1940. In 1945 when the war ended, the government recognized the historical significance of the rooms and preserved them as they looked during the war. They were only open to the public on a very limited basis until the 1980s, when the government transferred the administration of the rooms to the Imperial War Museum.
The museum explores the life of Winston Churchill, and goes through his birth to his death, focusing on the World War II period. The exhibits are wide-ranging, with pieces from his childhood, one of his infamous siren suits, his paintings (did you know Churchill was an accomplished amateur artist?), and more somber exhibits on the war. The museum explores Churchill’s work habits and personality, discussing how his staff felt about him.
The war rooms are a self-guided tour with an audio-guide (see, I told you London loves audio-guides!); the guide was quite thorough with about 30 stations. Even I, being the museum nerd that I am, stopped listening to it towards the end. I was most fascinated with the map room, the cabinet war room, and the living quarters. Churchill even had a bed here; although it was explained that he never really spent the night here – he did take naps here. The staff in the map rooms clearly got frustrated and needed an outlet at times, so they drew a caricature of Hitler that survives today.
It was fascinating to be there; at the site where critical decisions of the war were made.
Costs: Churchill War Rooms – 16.35 pounds (included in London Pass). According to their website, photos are permitted in the war rooms but not in the museum; they didn’t seem to mind that I took photos in the museum too.