Winston Churchill was the right man at the right time for his country during World War II. For London visitors interested in Churchill and life during the Blitz, a visit to the Churchill War Rooms is a must. Located near the Westminster tube station, the site was chosen before the war, but was reinforced in 1940.
The entry fee is 17 pounds which might sound high at first; however, there is so much to see. The War Cabinet Room has been left exactly as it was in 1945 and with an excellent (and easy-to-use) audio guide, there is extensive history on both Churchill and the war itself. The exhibits are balanced and there are pros and cons outlined about Churchill including the controversies about his policies in the Dardanelles campaign in Turkey (Gallipoli) during World War I, which almost destroyed his career.
Visitors can view the various War Rooms which include a room called the Dock, which was unpopular for underground sleeping. Except for senior staff, all others had to sleep in this room which had problems with rats, insects and no flushing toilets.
The War Rooms also include the map room as it stood in 1945, Winston Churchill’s bedroom, his wife, Clementine’s, bedroom, as well as meeting rooms and bedrooms of several officers. Frankly, stepping back into these rooms is fascinating.
Churchill himself was a man who didn’t stand on ceremony and often spent the first part of the working day in bed. He apparently hated whistling and included in the exhibit is a sign which states “…There is to be no whistling…in this passage…”.
Attached to the War Rooms is the Churchill Museum, which was added in 2005. This museum is well-marked and color-coded into five chapters of Churchill’s life. The exhibits are excellently labeled, and include films, audio broadcasts of his speeches on the BBC, military memorabilia, and even some of his letters to his wife of 56 years, Clementine. The exhibits are interesting and hearing the sounds of the bombs and sirens from the BBC broadcasts is terrifying.
Churchill was also a prolific writer and painter, with exhibits scattered throughout the museum. His mastery of the English tongue could also be humorous when describing his rivals. For instance, Churchill was not a fan of General Montgomery and described him as “Unbeatable in war but insufferable in peace”.
Video is also included on Churchill’s funeral in 1965. The streets of London are completely silent, lined with people showing utter respect. For me, it was emotional and hard to watch this film footage. There is a seating area to watch the film, and I watched it several times. Coincidentally, my dad happened to be in London during Churchill’s funeral and he described streets filled with people who were completely silent.
Churchill’s reputation has grown over the years and for fans of books like “The Last Lion” series, visiting this museum is a must. While the masses of tourists head to Westminster Abbey or Parliament, other than the occasional school groups, this museum is not very crowded.
I would definitely list this museum as one of my London top ten experiences. Plan to spend several hours as the amount of information is almost overwhelming. I have come here many times over the years. I always learn something new and never have enough time to explore.
Churchill War Rooms
Clive Steps, King Charles Street
London, SW1A 2AQ