For many visitors to London, one of the highlights is a tour of the Churchill War Rooms.
Understandable when you consider that it was from these cramped, utilitarian and rather basic set of rooms that key strategic decisions which shaped the victorious outcome of Great Britain and her Allies over the forces of Nazi Germany in World War II were undertaken.
Located in the basement of the current Treasury building, their key role was as an Operations Centre which was responsible for collecting information from all over the world in order that joint Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force and their teams stationed within were able make the decisions that would ensure Allied military success. In addition to collating daily reports for Winston Churchill and King George VI, the War Rooms were also the venue for 115 Cabinet meetings which took place during both the blitz of 1940 – 41 and for a few short months after the Normandy landings when London was attacked by flying V1 & V2 bombs.
In fact, the War Rooms today consists of two museums in one; the actual rooms themselves and a second museum focused on the life and times of Winston Churchill himself. The latter was opened in 2003 whilst the rooms as we know them now were only opened during the early 1980s when the government under Margaret Thatcher realised their importance in British history.
But whilst we refer to them as the Churchill War Rooms now, they not known by that name during the war. In fact outside of the people 500 who worked there by the end of the war, very few people at all even knew they existed at all and such was the level of secrecy, those that did work there never discussed what went on even to others with whom they worked alongside. This continued right the way until the 1960s & 70s which seems inconceivable in today’s culture of leaks. But it worked, as the Germans never found out about them.
If you want to get a flavour of what life was like, check out the movie The Darkest Hour starring the very brilliant Gary Oldman as Churchill himself. When I watched it, I was convinced they had filmed there, so good was the recreation of the rooms themselves.
One word of advice though, make sure you buy tickets well in advance during the busy summer months as lines for those without a ticket can be up to 2 or 3 hours long!