One blustery, dreary day in London Eric and I dragged ourselves out of our cozy home-away-from-home to do a bit of sightseeing. We were in that lazy sort of mindset (you get tired after 6 months of non-stop travel) and put off and put off going out for the day. When we finally got to where we were going, we were so glad we’d come!
My dear friend Emily, a former Londoner, had deeply impressed upon us the need to go to the Churchill Cabinet War Rooms. This is the underground bunker (beneath Parliament) where Prime Minister Churchill and his team essentially ran World War II. After they had won the war, the British officials essentially boarded up the place without moving or changing anything. Cold, dusty, and known only to a few, there it sat for the next 30 years, until the British government set out to archive and perserve the space and all that was in it.
What we are able to see now, is the space where the British government ran all their operations during the way, where Churchill, his family, and his staff lived- underground – for the majority of the war. The thing that struck us the most, was the integrity of the space. Everything was almost as it had been the day they shut the doors in 1945. Chairs pushed out of the way, notes pinned to the wall, ashtrays out, papers everywhere.
And because everything has been untouched, the atmosphere of the place is alive and present. Dank and musty, industrial and harsh, you can tell what life would have been like for those scores of Secretaries and Officers who were assigned to live below the ground for years and years. Living and working in the same space, cowering during a bombing, frantically working during the in between times, knowing that your job is working to save lives on the front and at home.
It was not just Secretaries and Officers who were stationed below. Churchill and his family lived below for much of the war. His and his wife’s bedrooms are on display, as well as his office. You can see that by living and working down here, your life revolves all around the workings, news, updates and strategies of the war. There’s no escaping the office when you work down here, you work and off-work life revolves around the War.
This was a place that we thoroughly enjoyed visiting. I don’t know if it’s one of the top visited places in London, but in my book it’s a must see. It’s full of information and real life artifacts from this hub of war time history. They’ve done a miraculous job keeping it up and preserving the place, and the atmosphere is so present that you feel and get an impression of what the reality of being there during the war would have been like.
That night Eric and I met up with our lovely hosts, Dan and Laura for a movie. We saw the Ides of March at the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead and had our first experience with couch seating, cocktails, and gourmet snacks at the cinema! Another wonderful day of our trip will live on in memory forever.
Stay tuned for our visit to Shakespeare’s Old Globe Theatre!