Churchill War Rooms Review, London
Seeping with history and echoes of life, the Churchill War Rooms is a museum where you can walk the same halls that Churchill and many other unsung heroes walked in the midst of WWII. The Museum is split into two different sections: the Cabinet War Rooms, an underground complex that housed a British command center led by WinstonChurchill, and the Churchill Museum, a place dedicated to telling the whole life of the famed leader. To enter the museum you have to take some steps underground, where you will get a glimpse of what life was like for those who once worked here.
When you first enter you will see the War Cabinet Room, where Churchill and his associates plotted their plan of action during the war. This is the room where Churchill made his most important decisions regarding wartime strategy, and in total 115 meetings occurred here from 1940 to 1945. The rooms here have been left exactly how everything looked when Churchill worked here; the tables are lined with papers and figures of workers sit and stand over the tables. The bunker itself is a labyrinth of tight corridors and rooms where everyone worked under stressful conditions and threat of bombings. The bunker serves as a reminder that even the men and women who were leading Britain during the war didn't live in luxurious conditions; the living quarters are small and the beds look like little more than small cots. Some other rooms of note include the Transatlantic Telephone Room and the Map Room.
|Cabinet War Rooms|
In the Telephone Room, Churchill and Roosevelt made top secret phone calls to discuss the war. The phone was encrypted with a top level speech security system that prevented Axis powers or spies from intercepting the calls. The Map Room was the most important hub of information in the entire building. The map room is filled with color-coded telephones and important documents, and wax figures are displayed working here. The Map Room was always manned by military officers, who collected the daily information and sent updates to Churchill, the King, and Military Chiefs of Staff. Right next to the Map Room, you can see Churchill's personal quarters, although it is noted that he rarely slept there. Churchill regularly worked 17 hour days and preferred to sleep above ground. The personal quarters you can see here are fascinating to observe for their simplicity and minimalist quality. The people working here were dedicated to the war-time cause and this is reflected in their working quarters.
The other popular exhibit that separates the Cabinet Rooms and the Churchill Museum illustrates the lives of those who worked under Churchill. The room features written stories, personal objects, and video interviews of former employees (taken from the present day) to tell the story of life in the bunker. The multiple perspectives on Churchill tell a similar story: he was intense and demanding, but ultimately he inspired loyalty and admiration in his colleagues. Some of the objects tell interesting stories as well; for example you can view a sun lamp box that was designed to give workers compulsory daylight exposure, since they spent most of their days underground. This section of the museum really exemplifies the human spirit that went into the war effort. The sense of camaraderie and purpose that guided the men and women here is evident in the stories you will read. I highly recommend spending some time here reading their accounts and watching some of the interviews.
The last section of the museum is dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill. There are objects from his personal life, writings, and interactive exhibits that detail his life from his birth and upbringing, to his early political career and time as Prime Minister, to his later days as a distinguished statesmen. This is the best place to learn all about Churchill, for you will learn about his upbringing and early political tribulations that forged him into the man who led Britain through the war. Churchill was born to an aristocratic family in Blenheim Palace, but his parents spent most of his childhood on the fringe of his life. Later on, his political ambitions were tempered in the abdication crisis of Edward VIII, where he chose to support Edward's desire to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. However, Churchill brought himself back up by tackling Hitler and the war head on, in direct contrast with his predecessor Neville Chamberlain. The amount of information here is startling; one interactive touch screen exhibit lists correspondences and events from his political and personal life throughout history. The depth of the information in this section of the museum is extensive, and for Churchill scholars this is one place you can't miss on your visit to London.
The museum captures the mood of the time incredibly well. Part of the experience being here is walking the same halls that Churchill once walked. It is an undeniable thrill to walk the halls of Britain's former wartime leader. Overall, the museum offers a unique experience of life during wartime, and the trials of the people working here.
-By Phillip Storm, Arts Correspondent, VisitMuseums.com