Churchill’s London

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Churchill’s London

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Churchill War Rooms tour, London

Imagine it. Air raid sirens blaring and bombs dropping from the sky. Across the city, residents seek shelter from the attacks while fires break out indiscriminately. Nowhere is safe because anywhere could be the next target.

For 57 consecutive days or nights in 1940, the Germans bombed London relentlessly. Through it all, the man trying to win the war for Britain was working furiously underground. Winston Churchill – the new Prime Minister brought to power by a wave of desperation and hope, ultimately justified – had set up a secret headquarters from where he mounted his plans to defeat Adolf Hitler.

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

This bunker under the buildings of Whitehall is now open to the public and a visit is a journey back in time. I’m struck immediately by the size of it. Technically it’s called the “Churchill War Rooms’ and I had expected a few rooms where meetings were held. In fact, there is a mini city here underground. Hundred of people lived here – sometimes for days on end – and so there are dormitories and kitchens to support them. There are rooms for war tacticians, rooms for maps, rooms for broadcasts and rooms for telephones. It’s hard to get a grip of the size because you have to leave your sense of direction at the door. You place your faith in a rabbit warren of paths through large metal doors and along concrete corridors.

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

During the wartime, there were tight restrictions on access. Everybody beneath the ground had a certain level of clearance and guards at the doors would only let you through if you were approved. Today, thankfully, it’s a bit easier.

It’s especially easy for me because of my guide, Robert Gunning, from City Wonders. He knows these rooms well and is able to lead me through the labyrinth, pointing out the particularly interesting places and filling in some of the history.

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Robert points out a door that everyone at the time was told was Winston Churchill’s private bathroom. It had a permanent ‘engaged’ sign on it and nobody used it for fear they would upset the Prime Minister. In fact, hidden behind the door, was a secret telephone room, not a toilet. It was a direct line to US President Franklin Roosevelt and the pretence was just another layer of security.

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

It’s somewhat eerie to see the rooms for yourself that were so critical in the biggest event of the past century. The small cabinet war room where the key people in the government and military would sit (and smoke) and plan operations; the larger meeting room with walls covered in maps where more regular briefings would occur; and the bedroom of Winston Churchill where he would sometimes sleep and made a few broadcasts to the nation from.

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

A large museum has also been built in the bunkers covering the life of Churchill from his birth through to his death. There’s more information here than you could absorb on one visit but I am particularly struck by a collection of his toy soldiers from his childhood. It seems as though everything he did in his years before becoming Prime Minister were leading to his defining moments in a world war.

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Robert takes me through some of the key items in the museum. Everything we’re seeing and everything he’s telling me is creating a broader picture of the man. In fact, we spent at least an hour before arriving at the Churchill War Rooms walking through Westminster – Churchill’s London by this point in time. The tour goes past places like the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing St and Whitehall.

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

Churchill War Rooms tour, London, war cabinet rooms under London

This is a mix of old London and new London, looked at through the prism of history. In many ways, it’s appropriate. Without Winston Churchill, new London could be a very different city. Everyone could be speaking German.

You can find out more information here about the Churchill War Rooms tour

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of City Wonders Tours but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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10 Comments
  • C Skog | Apr 15, 2014 at 3:47 am

    I am a fan of WWII history; enjoyed reading your post
    C Skog recently posted..Hundred Islands National Park – Alaminos PhilippinesMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      I find WWII history quite complicated but I love seeing sites from that period because everything starts to fall into place a little.

  • Jen Seligmann | Apr 16, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    It looks like a really interesting place and something I’d love to see as I have a big interest in wartime stories. I had it on my list of places to visit when in London but just ran out of time. Hopefully next time.
    Jen Seligmann recently posted..Where in the World WednesdayMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      It is easy to run out of time somewhere like London. I don’t think the war rooms are ever at the top of anyone’s list but they’re very close to Westminster and Buckingham Palace so you can fit it into a day in that area.

  • Wes | Apr 16, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Love it. One minor error though. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt not Theodore. Theodore was long dead by WWII.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Thanks for picking that up, Wes. I’ve fixed it in the article now. That’ll teach me to get so excited about the British that I forget my American history :)

  • Mary@GreenGlobalTravel | Apr 17, 2014 at 4:37 am

    What a cool piece of history that you got to experience! Glad you enjoyed yourself. That’s particularly interesting about Churchill’s toy soldiers- is that irony or what?
    Mary@GreenGlobalTravel recently posted..MEXICO: Swimming with Whale Sharks in Cancun (With Video)My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 23, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      The toy soldiers were interesting. I guess it might explain why he went into the military and that then leads on to his position as Prime Minister many years later. Still… you do sometimes wonder whether people are just destined to do a certain thing.

  • Cathy Sweeney | Apr 19, 2014 at 3:14 am

    Visiting the War Rooms was one of the many highlights of my first two London visits. I say two because I actually went there twice — alone and then with my husband. The first time was before they had expanded the museum and there were very few visitors. I was able to walk along the corridors in Churchill’s footsteps without anyone else around. It was quite an intense feeling. Highly recommend everyone to visit.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Top 3 Budget Places You Can’t Afford to Miss in ChinaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 23, 2014 at 11:45 pm

      I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it too. It’s a really cool slice of history and that’s awesome it was quiet the first time you visited. It’s quite a busy attraction these days… not overly packed, but you certainly wouldn’t be walking through alone anymore.

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