Tag Archive | Winston Churchill

Book Review: The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, by Erik Larson

Erik Larson is known for some really interesting non-fiction books.  He has covered Nazis, serial killers, hurricanes, sinking ships and gun control.  I have read several and have enjoyed each one.

The Splendid and the Vile is a deep dive into Winston Churchill and his leadership during the Blitz, the period of German bombing of London during 1940 and 1941 in World War II.  Larson covers aspects of Churchill’s leadership and those advisors he kept close to him, as well as his family life during that time.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

Larson draws on first person sources by those who worked with Churchill, as well as his friends and family.  London also had a number of citizen diarists who recorded their thoughts and feelings during the Blitz, and those records provided wonderful context into this book.

This book was interesting, and I enjoyed learning more about a pivotal historical figure.  Churchill was a fascinating character for sure, and Larson does a good job of interjecting personal details about the man.

All that said, this book isn’t as riveting as his serial killer or disaster books, but one can’t have everything…

3 stars.

London 2018: Churchill War Rooms

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.

Taryn and me waiting at the War Rooms

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

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 Rooms

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.