Among the most popular and famous of sights in London are the Churchill War Rooms.
Commissioned in the nick of time in August 1939 the War Rooms were the venue for 115 meetings of the War Cabinet during the ‘Blitz’ of London in 1939/40. Then used again during the V-1/V-2 ‘flying bomb’ attacks in 1945. When built, the War Rooms were a worldwide ‘first of type’ and became the ‘template’ for post war underground shelters.
The Churchill War Rooms (formerly the Cabinet War Rooms) are located at Horse Guards Road and King Charles Street in a fortified construction six metres underground. It owes its location to the belief that the government must stay in the capital with it’s people – and not evacuate to a safer, but remote, location.
After some years in planning and construction the War Rooms were officially opened up on 27 August 1939 – not a moment too soon as the UK entered war with Germany on 3 September 1939. From the outside you can see the exterior apron wall at ground-floor level. This is the edge of a giant concrete slab protecting the rooms below.
Churchill became the Prime Minister on 10 May 1940. Following the ‘Battle of Britain’ during the summer, when Germany failed to gain air superiority over England, Hitler commenced the Blitz of London on 7 September 1940. For the next nine months, the War Cabinet met underground until the bombing threat was over by mid-May 1941.
Here are three rooms of special note on the tour:
The Cabinet Room – the centre of command. It is laid out just as it was; furniture, fixtures and maps. It’s easy to imagine the room being used in action and even Churchill’s chair is the original – with his fingernail scratch marks on the chair arms!
Direct line – a (very) small room that connected Churchill with Roosevelt. The transatlantic telephone was first used in April 1944. The first ‘hot-line designed by Bell Telephone Laboratories using the latest voice scrambling technology.
Churchill’s bedroom – Churchill made more use of this room as his private office – but did occasionally sleep here. He also was known for taking afternoon naps, enabling him to work into the late hours.
The Churchill Museum is also underground and co-located with the War Rooms. It’s a more recent addition that sets out the life and times of the great man – showing key artefacts and descriptions of the period through documents, films and animations.