Yesterday was my birthday (let's just say it was a significant number and leave it at that) and my treat for the day was a chance to visit the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster. We have been talking about coming here for a long time but have never seemed to get around to it. We joined IWM as members earlier in the year and this gave us free entry to the War Rooms and meant when we arrived we were able to jump the quite considerable queue (I only felt slightly bad about that).
Construction of the Cabinet War Rooms, located beneath the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of Westminster, began in 1938. Previously they had been used for storage and archiving but with conflict looking increasingly likely, this area was hastily converted into an operations centre. It was never actually meant to house the war cabinet but after Number 10 was damaged in an air raid meetings regularly took place here in the 'relative' safety of the underground complex. Contrary to popular belief the War Rooms are not bomb proof. Most of the complex is just 12ft underground and it was only later in the war that a 3m thick reinforced concrete slab was installed over the site. However, this would only have provided limited protection for bombs up to 500lb and anything bigger would have punched through easily.
|The Cabinet room, left exactly as it was after the last meeting here was concluded. This room would have been smokey and airless when in use and Churchill didn't like being forced underground by the air raids.|
|Security was paramount at the site and all staff had a high level of clearance.|
|One of Churchills cigars with the end chewed flat where it was clenched in his teeth.|
|Looking up a section of the Metal and Concrete slab that was installed between 1940-44 over the whole site. It only gave limited protection but was better than nothing.|
|The Chief of Staff's Conferance Room|
|A rare scene today, empty corridors. The museum has huge visitor numbers and it takes patience to wait for the hallways to clear and visualise the place as it was in wartime.|
|A naval officer updates the map board. The North Atlantic map is covered in thousands of pinholes marking the movements of countless convoys that brought vital war materials and troops to the UK.|
|Another view of the map room.|
I highly recommend the audio tour handsets that are offered to all visitors. Its included in the entrance fee and you can select the language of your choice. Each section is numbered and the tour is really good at giving a flavour of each room and what to look out for. The museum is very busy but if you listen to the whole tour and take your time to read the displays you can easily spend two or three hours here.