If you like World War II history, you will love the Churchill War Rooms in the heart of London on King Charles Street. Walking a little way from Westminster Abbey to Clive Steps, you will take very steep steps down a few feet to reach the nerve center of the British war effort.
These rooms which were Churchill’s headquarters from the time he was elected prime minister in 1940 have been left exactly as they were the day the lights were switched off when World War II ended in Europe in 1945. The clocks still show almost 5 pm and the giant ashtray still holds Churchill’s cigar butts. Four rooms remain untouched. They are Churchill’s bedroom and private study, the Trans-Atlantic Telephone Room, the Map Room and the Cabinet Room.
As the Blitz raged outside, Churchill and his Cabinet and staffers worked tirelessly in bunkers three feet under the Treasury in rooms that had been used by the Civil Service to store moth-eaten furniture (a lot different from Hitler’s Bunker, very elaborate and constructed many feet below the earth.) You can see Churchill’s chair with its left arm scratched where his fingernails would claw at the wood. The right arm is gouged in places where Churchill would slam down his signet ring hand in anger.
It was here planning and plotting of strategies and secrets took place. There was no running water and no sunlight. In spite of that, the rooms were manned around the clock. You can see today the “Courtyard Rooms” where the staff ate and slept. From his desk, Churchill delivered his inspirational radio broadcasts to keep the spirits of the nation up. Though they were meant for the British, the speeches were heard around the world.
During a run-up to D-Day, secret phone conversations with President Roosevelt were held in a tiny room that the staff was told was the Prime Minister’s personal toilet. These phone conversations helped cement a close relationship between the two leaders and the “special relationship” between our two countries holds today.
The War Rooms were declared a National Monument in the mid-1980s. Today as part of the War Rooms, the Churchill Museum enables you to explore Churchill’s life and legacy with artifacts from his life. Letters between him and his wife, Clementine, audio excerpts of some of his speeches, even a rattler from his babyhood, are all found here.
Open daily from 9:30am to 7:00 p.m. except for Christmas, the War Rooms may require more than one visit as you imagine what it must have been like to work in these surroundings. You can buy your tickets in advance or on the day of your tour.
Churchill was a genuine hero. He was charismatic and charming. But he drove himself hard and his staff just as hard. He could be exasperating too. He was known for smart quips and below are a few of them.
“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”
“I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals”
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life”
“I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me”
“In the course of my life I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet”
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. It’s also what it takes to sit down and listen”
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title to learn more.
Secrets of Churchill’s Warm Rooms
by Jonathan Asbury
Churchill’s Bunker: The Caninet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecy in Wartime London
by Richard T. Holmes
The Last Lion
by William Manchester
by Paul Johnson
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