Because the December holidays interrupted my schedule, the October trip to Great Britain feels very remote. It’s time to return to one of my group’s adventures in London-The Churchill War Rooms.
Britain and WW II
Over twenty years ago, during my second European vacation, a tour guide said that the British were still fighting World War II. I’m sure he didn’t mean it literally, but signs and remnants of the war can be found easily in the United Kingdom. With this in mind and recommendations from friends, my daughter and I agreed that a trip to London wouldn’t be complete without visiting a museum dedicated to the nation’s “finest hour.” On a gray morning, we explored the Churchill War Rooms. The entrance is little more than a lobby giving access to an elevator! Well, what did I expect? The rooms are underground.
Where, when, and why
As early as the mid-1930s, members of the British government were preparing London for an aerial attack by Nazi bombers. They chose the basement of the New Public Works building as the site for the government command center. The facility was ready by late August 1939. The Germans invaded Poland on September 1st, and a war declaration followed two days later. I can’t imagine this situation.
I quickly lost all sense of direction in this underground warren. Thank goodness I’m not claustrophobic. Visitors crowded the corridors, and one could almost sense the building above.
Home away from home
Along with the expected map rooms and other war-related spaces, we saw several bedrooms for officers and high officials.
There were also rooms for the Churchills, but the prime minister seldom stayed the night in the War Rooms.
A war to run
As I passed room after room, I couldn’t help but get a sense of how serious this work was. The concentration in the faces of the mannequins makes the situation’s intensity real.
The maps may have started with North Africa, but British action soon spread. The Map Room all too quickly contained world maps!
A return visit to the War Rooms?
Each tableau made me pause. What was it like to live through the Blitz? How many people worked in this basement? Did they go home at night or after their shift? (Churchill left the building.) What was it like on the streets? As a tourist, I stopped and looked and moved on. What did it feel like to know that one miscalculation could spell disaster in the Pacific? I felt like an interloper, ignorant and not nearly sufficiently grateful for the work done here.
I’ll add a link to a few other images from the War Rooms. If you visit London, I can recommend this as a must-see site.