Churchill War Rooms
Only two days in London, but I was determined to see the Churchill War Rooms. I’ve read so much about the Prime Minister, and his story is the story of World War II London.
I was not disappointed. First of all, it is located right there … just down from Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, every visitor’s most likely first destination. We were asked to go in by an alternative entrance, an old staircase with no markings but perhaps that is how Winston was rushed in and out of these underground offices as he was going about his daily business.
Most of the rooms are just as they were back then. A few have been faitfully recreated and all give a sense of simplicity, sparseness. They only contained what was needed to make critical decisions … maps, charts, graphs. For example, graphs of how many citizens had been killed by the V-1 rockets, the buzz bombs. Huge maps of the world with moving stickpins to show what was happening in each country.
No London glamour, no fine furnishings (although I’m sure those are now priceless antiques.) Every private office had a bed. A cot, really except for Winston and perhaps a general. They weren’t spending much time under the covers. You could listen (on your own little recorder) to first hand accounts by the people who worked there.
We could have spent four or five hours going through the rooms and the museum. We were there for not even two.
In the museum was every conceivable article used by the Prime Minister during those years. I loved being able to see the Guest Book from Chequers, the country residence of the Prime Minister … where Churchill and his family spent so much time. Before I left for England, I finished the book Citizens of London. Author Lynne Olson described many weekends at Chequers.
The pages were open to show who had been there November to January of 1942.
Of course Pamela Churchill, the Prime Minister’s daughter-in-law, was in and out. On December 6, 7, and 8 Mr. and Mrs. Averell Harriman visited.
I’ll have to go back and check my dates. Pamela and Averell were having an affair during those war years and I’m thinking it had already started by then. Harriman was in charge of U.S. Lend-Lease at the time. Churchill didn’t admit to knowing about their relationship. His son and Pamela were married but estranged. But he didn’t mind receiving and sending important information to the U.S. government via Pamela to Harriman to FDR.
I’ll bet whoever left that Guest Book open to that very page was thinking the same thing.