Winston Churchill: War Rooms

war room
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The Klima-Therm team will be observing the 2-minute silence to commemorate all the war heroes – they died that we might live. We will remember them.

An underground labyrinth of rooms beneath Whitehall provided the nerve centre where wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill planned Britain’s military campaign against Germany. Known as the War Rooms, the complex housed around 200 staff, who supported the legendary leader’s battle against Hitler during World War II.

The group of basement offices was used by Churchill, his fellow government ministers and military planners, who worked and often slept in the 150 rooms. Plans for the hub of British operations had been drawn up soon after World War I, to protect the nation from any future conflict.

War Cabinet

The basement of Whitehall was chosen because it was large and roomy. It had a strong steel frame and was close to the Houses of Parliament. Adapted into offices, meeting rooms for the War Cabinet and basic bedrooms and bathrooms, unlike the Führer’s purpose-built bunker in Berlin, the War Rooms were just a few feet below the surface.

Historians say they would probably not have survived a direct hit from a bomb, but they served their purpose, survived the war and are still in existence today. The facilities included the meeting rooms for the War Cabinet, a military information centre and a map room to chart the Allies’ progress in the conflict zones.

The War Rooms became operational on 27th August 1939, a week before Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. During the course of the conflict, 115 Cabinet meetings took place there between 1939 and 1945. Meetings were even held there at the height of the Blitz.

Stale air

The complex was in use seven days a week, 24 hours a day, until 16th August 1945. For the 200 staff who worked and slept there, the conditions weren’t ideal. According to reports from employees, a lack of running water and poor ventilation made it very uncomfortable.

A former staff member said they recalled putting a handkerchief over the air conditioning duct, only to see it turn black with dust and grime in just a few minutes. The workers who spent all their time in the underground rooms frequently suffered from violent headaches due to the poor ventilation.

Although there were electric fans in the rooms, they simply circulated the unhealthy, stale air, which was filled with tobacco and cigarette fumes. It was hard to go to sleep, as the staff were kept awake by the sound of rats, an abundance of spiders and the foul atmosphere.

Noise ban

Churchill was a tough taskmaster, as it was well documented that he hated noise and became increasingly irritated if anything disturbed his peace and quiet. He imported special noiseless Remington typewriters from the US and even banned whistling!

Yet being a smoker himself, it appeared the stale air didn’t bother him and he continued to smoke his famous cigars. Churchill’s own quarters, and indeed the rest of the complex, remain largely untouched today. The arm of his chair is covered in scratches, where he dug his nails into the wood when he was stressed.

He used a microphone to broadcast rallying speeches on the radio, boosting the nation’s morale, especially during the Blitz. It still stands in his room, as does another famous relic – the Prime Minister’s ashtray!

War Rooms exhibition

A permanent exhibition of the War Rooms, entitled Undercover: Life in Churchill’s Bunker, is run by the Imperial War Museum. Visitors can see first-hand the secret underground bunker and can read testimonies from employees who worked with Churchill.

You can walk through the labyrinth of corridors and stand in the transatlantic phone room, which contained a direct line to US president Franklin Roosevelt. Old recordings of Churchill’s speeches are broadcast in the bunkers, creating a rather eerie atmosphere and bringing home the realism of what it represents.

Services will be taking place all over the world on Remembrance Sunday, 10th November, to remember the brave men and women who lost their lives during World War II and other conflicts. Lest we forget.

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