Who knew that beneath the streets of Westminster in London lies a secret underground bunker that operated as headquarters for the British Government during Second World War? That’s right, it’s the Churchill War Rooms hidden underground where Winston Churchill and his inner circle directed the Second World War from 1938 until 1945 when the war ended.
While I remember reading about the ‘Blitz’ in the early 1940s, I wasn’t aware about the Churchill War Rooms until I read a review about the museum a few years ago. I was intrigued by the story that I promised myself to visit this place on my next trip to London. The Churchill War Rooms Museum is one of the five branches of the Imperial War Museum in UK. Although this war museum is not on everyone’s number one place to visit in London especially on a short visit, it was indeed for a history buff like me!
The Churchill War Rooms
The Churchill War Rooms Museum comprises the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum.
The Cabinet War Rooms was an underground ‘temporary’ shelter for the British government and military command centre – the Central Emergency Headquarters – during the Second World War. The underground complex was originally the basement of a Whitehall building and was chosen due to its location close to the Parliament and No. 10 Downing Street. The War Rooms housed hundreds of staff, both men and women, civil and uniformed ranging from Generals and the Cabinet Secretary, to Royal Marine Guards and typists.
When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, he visited his underground Cabinet Room and proclaimed, “This is the room from which I will direct the war.” From the War Rooms, Churchill and his Cabinet plot the allied route to victory during the war.
Churchill didn’t quite like the underground HQ, preferring to be above the ground to maintain his reputation as a fearless war leader. However, when No. 10 Downing Street was heavily damaged during an air raid in October 1940, Churchill used the War Rooms more regularly. As German bombing raids increased from the early 1940s to 1945, the underground bunker was used most intensively. Interestingly, the War Rooms and the building above were unscathed from the air and bombing raids except for one large bomb that landed on the steps outside of the current entrance.
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Navigate the rooms and corridors
The War Rooms have been maintained exactly as they were – the Map Room, the Cabinet Room, Churchill’s bedroom and desk, typewriters, folders, communications equipment, markers and maps for plotting strategy, and many other offices and facilities. The War Rooms were abandoned in August 1945 when Japan surrendered, marking the end of the Second World War.
You can navigate the rooms and corridors with a free audio guide. You will see exhibits and hear the stories of staff who had lived, worked and slept in the War Rooms including anecdotes revealing what it was like to work alongside Churchill during the war.
One of the interesting rooms to look out is the Transatlantic Telephone Room which was a broom cupboard but disguised as Churchill’s private lavatory where it housed the secret telephone ‘hot line’ for Churchill to speak to the President of the United States without fear of being tapped by the enemy!
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The Churchill Museum
The Churchill Museum is a biographical tribute to Churchill, his 90-year life and legacy. This interactive section of the museum contains his personal items (paintings and cigars), extracts of his rousing wartime speeches and letters exchanged with his wife, Clementine.
Location of The Churchill War Rooms
My friend and I nearly missed the entrance to the Churchill War Rooms as the doorway was sort of inconspicuous. Its location is just by the Horse Guards grounds at one end of St James’s Park. The address is: Clive Steps. King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AQ.
The nearest tube station is St. James’ Park Westminster.
Opening Hours & Entrance Fees
Open daily: 9.30am to 6.00pm
Entrance Fee: £21 (Entrance is free if you have the London Travel Pass)
Do allocate about 1.5 – 2 hours to look around the War Rooms.
Step back in history to see what life was like during crucial times of the Second World War. What I personally found fascinating was that everything has remained exactly as it was left on the day the lights were switched off in August 1945.
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