Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecy in Wartime London

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Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecy in Wartime London

Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecy in Wartime London

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A lonely playing card on the floor of Churchill undeground bunker. Find out more on underground bunkers.

Churchill stayed overnight down here at least five times in the winter of 1940, having been sneaked in at ground level and then, again, his presence hidden from most of the Down Street staff. While he slept on a modest camp bed, in the executive mess room, at least, he was able to live life well. The civil servant John Colville recalled in his diaries that at Down Street they were treated to caviar, Perrier-Jouet Champagne and 1865 brandy. The second and last War Cabinet meeting took place in 1941, where a review of the Australian war effort was presented by the Australian premier Robert Menzies. Churchill was not in attendance due to a bronchial cold, so instead the meeting was chaired by Clement Atlee, the Lord Privy Seal.

In the event of invasion, auxiliary soldiers had an estimated life expectancy of just 10 to 14 days—in part, perhaps, because the bunkers were not as hidden as their inhabitants would have liked. On several occasions, courting couples strolling through the woods stumbled upon the men’s hideouts, forcing them to relocate. During the height of the Blitz, Churchill often held meetings at unusual times of the day and night; sometimes, they would carry on long after midnight (to the private fury of some of his staff who, unlike him, had not had the benefit of an afternoon nap). But unconventional though he was as a war leader, Churchill understood the importance of maintaining morale, and from Room 60 he delivered several BBC broadcasts to the British nation, its empire and commonwealth, the US and occupied Europe. On 26 September 1940, the rooms survived a near-miss when a bomb hit the Clive Steps almost directly above them, which prompted the authorities to construct a huge concrete slab to protect the cabinet room itself. Although at least 140 bombs had fallen on that area of Whitehall by the following February, the rooms escaped serious damage. Betty Green, a secretary working there at the time, reminisced: "I used to spend every other night sleeping in the office ... sometimes I was there for about three nights running because I just couldn't get home, so in some ways I was fortunate that one could get a good night's sleep because you didn't hear the bombs raining down, which is just as well, because we'd have all been buried alive in the Cabinet War Rooms." Rooms 60 Right and 60A were used as a telephone switchboard and a typing pool respectively. Due to the rudimentary nature of photocopying equipment available at the time, up to 11 typists were stationed in the typing pool at any one time, typing out copies of meeting minutes by hand. [30] Abandonment and preservation [ edit ]

If the Nazis had invaded Great Britain during World War II, they would have faced an uprising of scallywags—specifically, the Auxiliary Units also known as Winston Churchill’s “ secret army.” These elite fighters, chosen for their knowledge of the surrounding landscape, were among the United Kingdom’s last line of defense. Tasked with sabotaging enemy invaders, the men were trained to hide out in underground bunkers, lying in wait as the Nazis drove past before emerging to wreak havoc behind German lines. We would never talk about what we were trained to do,” Trevor Miners, who was 16 years old when he volunteered with the Auxiliary Units in Oxfordshire, told BBC News in 2013. “One of my unit was even sent a white feather by someone who thought he was a coward for not going out to fight, but we knew different.” On 15 August 1945, Japan surrendered, bringing an end to the war. The following day, the lights in the Map Room were simply turned off and the staff vacated their offices. Several were cleared and used for other purposes, but the Cabinet Room, Map Room, Transatlantic Telephone Room and Churchill's bedroom were preserved for their historic value. [31]As ultimate authority lay with the civilian government the Cabinet, or a smaller War Cabinet, would require close access to senior military figures. This implied accommodation close to the armed forces' Central War Room. [11] In May 1939 it was decided that the Cabinet would be housed within the Central War Room. [6] In August 1939, with war imminent and protected government facilities in the suburbs not yet ready, the War Rooms became operational on 27 August 1939, only days before the invasion of Poland on 1 September, and Britain's declaration of war on Germany on 3 September. [4] Wartime use [ edit ]

A celebrated military historian, Holmes is the author of the best-selling and widely acclaimed Tommy and Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket. His dozen other books include Dusty Warriors, Sahib, The Western Front, The Little Field Marshal: Sir John French, The Road to Sedan, Firing Line, The Second World War in Photographs and Fatal Avenue: A Traveller’s History of Northern France and Flanders (also published by Pimlico). Researchers from Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) unearthed one of these long-overlooked bunkers while conducting tree felling operations last month, according to a press release. While the better known Churchill War Rooms, a British government command center throughout the war, is open to the public as part of the Imperial War Museum, tours of Down Street are a much more infrequent delight. The Rooms were opened to the public by Mrs Thatcher on 4 April 1984 in a ceremony attended by Churchill family members and former Cabinet War Rooms staff. At first the Rooms were administered by the museum on behalf of Department for the Environment; in 1989 responsibility was transferred to the Imperial War Museum. [35] [36] During World War I, writes veteran British military historian Holmes, German aircraft dropped about 300 tons of bombs on Britain, causing 1,500 deaths and a good deal of terror. These sorties had no effect on the war’s outcome but great influence later, as British leaders assumed bombing would determine the outcome of the next war. In 1936 the Air Ministry estimated that raids on London in any new conflict would kill 60,000 during the first week (in fact, 80,000 Londoners died during all of World War II). Working on an assumption that “the bomber will always get through,” British leaders decided the best way to deter a potential enemy was to match his bombing capacity (a take on “mutual assured destruction” two decades before the Cold War nuclear standoff). Thus, when rearmament began, the Royal Air Force clamored for bombers. In 1937, realizing it could not afford them, it switched to defensive (and far cheaper) fighters. We now know what British intelligence didn’t—that Germany ignored the prevailing obsession with bombing. Adolf Hitler intended the Luftwaffe as tactical support for ground forces and never built a heavy-bomber fleet.Ralph Wedgwood, chairman of the Down Street facility and brother of the British member of parliament Josiah Wedgwood, convinced Churchill to come to Down Street “because it’s so close to the seat of power,” says Holloway. It’s very comfortable, It’s very private, it’s very well provisioned with brandy and cigars and things like that.” When war was declared in 1939, Down Street was converted in a matter of days into the new headquarters of the Railway Executive Committee. The REC acted as an intermediary between the War Office and Britain’s rail companies and would be crucial to the movement of troops, horses and equipment in the fight ahead. Most of these bunkers’ specific locations are lost to history, as the men who built them signed the Official Secrets Act, which prohibited them from talking about their assignments for decades.

a b Hansard, 8 March 1948; 'War Cabinet Rooms HC Deb 8 March 1948 vol 448 c115W' Hansard 1803-2005. Accessed 20 January 2010. With nearly two dozen history books to his credit, Holmes has no trouble delivering an opinionated, thoroughly entertaining account that follows the hyperactive Churchill, his family, servants, staff, advisors, cabinet and generals as they troop in and out of the bunker, various London command centers, country estates and world capitals while fighting World War II. The other Hidden London tours which are restarting for the first time since March 2020 are of the disused stations and tunnels at Euston, Moorgate and Aldwych, all of which have their own unique character and histories.

Getting to Churchill’s Secret Bunker

In June 2012 the museum's entrance was redesigned by Clash Architects with consulting engineers Price & Myers. [38] Intended to act as a 'beacon' for the museum, [39] the new external design included a faceted bronze entranceway, and the interior showed the cleaned and restored Portland stone walls of the Treasury building and Clive Steps. The design was described as 'appropriately martial and bulldog-like' and as 'a fusion of architecture and sculpture'. [40] [41] Churchill Museum [ edit ] The best niche histories teach readers new information about oft-covered events, and this World War II account of Winston Churchill’s underground headquarters is an admirable example. Churchill's office-bedroom, open from 27 July 1940, [24] included BBC broadcasting equipment; Churchill made four wartime broadcasts from the Cabinet War Rooms, the first being on 11 September 1940. [25] Although the office room was also fitted out as a bedroom, Churchill rarely slept underground, [26] preferring to sleep at 10 Downing Street or the No.10 Annexe, a flat in the New Public Offices directly above the Cabinet War Rooms. [27] His daughter Mary Soames often slept in the bedroom allocated to Mrs Churchill. [28]



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