Monday, 12 August 2013
The Rooms From Which Churchill Led The War.
It's the 1930's and war with Germany is heavily anticipated. After the use of bombs in the First World War, another bombing raid appears inevitable and military planners are sure that a target for German air raids would be the houses of parliament and Winston Churchill's offices. With that in mind, the search for somewhere suitable to use as a refuge for war ministers and staff, with potential places being thought of daily, although none seem suitable - either there is not enough room; or it is not 'central' enough to the rest of parliament; or quite simply, it is not deemed 'safe' enough. The search continues until, finally, somebody suggests the basement store rooms in the Office of Works and Board of Trade, which, although obviously needing a lot of work in order to make them suitable for any kind of work, seem perfect ; the location is central, a mere walk from the houses of parliament, and the buildings above seem unbelievably strong. The location for the Cabinet War Rooms has been found, and renovating can begin.
I think it's probably fair enough to say that you don't need the divination prowess of Professor Trelawney from the 'Harry Potter' films to predict what this article may be about. I mean, even if your brain has become entirely frazzled from almost three weeks of daytime TV, rendering it useless and unable to infer anything from the above paragraph, you must be able to at least read. And therefore read the title, and know that this article is to be about Winston Churchill's War Rooms. Got it? Good. If i'm perfectly honest with you, I have been waiting for so long to write an article about my favorite ever historical figure, that I thought i'd start off easing myself into it, with an article about his war rooms, rather than the man himself. You see, some girls could not write a coherent article about Justin Bieber without having a nervous break down, and others would not be able to stop their hands shaking enough to write about One Direction. But not me. Nope, for me it's my good old Winston, the man who's voice I can't hear without omitting some kind of odd battle cry and feeling my heart flutter. Teenage girls and their obsessions, what can you say? So, with a long holiday ahead of me and a crazy but brilliant godmother in town, I decided to head to Churchill's war rooms, whist remembering to pack a brown paper bag in case of hyperventilation. This article is one of three Churchill - related articles to come, simply because I couldn't pack my feelings into just one article, so don't get too excited when you think it's over!
The Cabinet War Rooms became fully operational on the 27th August 1939, one week before the outbreak of war (we Brits have always cut it fine!), and although Churchill was to spend a lot of time within them, he was not fond of them at all, and only held meeting there when bombing threats made anything else suicidal. Even then, he had been known to take top War Ministers up to the roof of the War Rooms to watch the air raids, and often chose to brave the dangers outside than to remain cooped up. One of the main rooms in the Cabinet War Rooms was the (confusingly named) War Cabinet Room, where Churchill often had meetings to discuss various ideas that ministers may have had. Looking at the arms of the chair that Churchill sat on, it it evident that sometimes these discussions became heated, as they are very scratched. My audio guide confirmed that for me on the day, saying that Churchill often disagreed with his top ministers, and often pretended to be deaf in order to avoid answering difficult questions. However, (being my wonderful Winston) Churchill never overrode the consensus of opinion, even if it was very different to his own.
After walking around the Rooms for a while (I shall never know exactly how long - time fly's when you're having fun), my aching legs brought to my attention the sheer size of the building; as my friend would say, 'it made the London Marathon look like a walk in the park'. But then I found the exhibition dramatically named 'Undercover', which pointed out quite clearly that the war rooms housed all types of administration the staff; the main roles being that of shorthand typists, clerks, and telephonists, as well as the military policemen and Royal Marine orderlies who guarded the rooms day and night. Surviving letters and accounts from the time shows that the work was extremely stressful and pressured, but all involved knew how important the work the were doing was, and it seems that lasting friendships were made.' Many a joke was shared there', apparently, including a toilet-roll race down the corridors one Christmas!
In 1941 the already-massive War Rooms expanded to the 'Courtyard Rooms', which included Churchill's bedroom, his wife Clementines bedroom, and their small dining room, where they sometimes entertained guests. Although the rooms are seemingly extravagant in comparison to the other staff at the War Rooms, the threat of air raids was almost entirely gone by the time the that the rooms were ready, and as a result they were infrequently used.
After walking through the 'Churchill War Museum' , we met the final room of the tour - the Map Room. Covered from floor to ceiling with - you guessed it- maps, this room was staffed all day, every day, with one officer from the Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force from August 1939 to August 1945. The Map Room was the central 'hub' of War information, where the constantly-changing front lines were marked by lines of cotton held up by pins, and a summary of the war had to be delivered to the King, the Prime Minster, and several War Ministers by 8AM every morning. The maps show thousands of tiny pinpricks marking where naval convoys had been, and the front lines in Russia are shown from 1941 to the fall of Berlin, those in Java, Thailand and the Pacific shown as they were just before the end of the war. Just like the rest of the war rooms, everything is kept in the Map Room as it was on the 16th of August 1945 when the lights were finally extinguished, the officers picked up their coats and hats, and went home.
There, wasn't that a lovely end to a slightly odd article? Thank you again for sticking with it for this long, and I hope you can contain your excitement for the next to Churchill Articles!