As well as its famous Tube railway system, London has another ‘underground’ that is well worth a visit.
The Churchill War Rooms – a converted storage basement – is set deep beneath London’s parliamentary precinct and provides a fascinating look at the bunkers from where Britain’s World War II planning was carried out. V
isitors move around the various sections of the war rooms through tunnels.
Left nearly intact at the end of the war, these bunkers allow you to see where and how Britain’s war effort was guided.
There’s the wartime Cabinet Room; radio and code areas; accommodation; a maze of offices; and and a ‘map room’ where plans for defending Britain in the face of an invasion, were drawn up.
The bunker was capped by a huge concrete slab, but was still considered vulnerable to a direct hit by a German bomb. There were also fears of flooding, poison gas attack and infiltration of enemy spies or parachutists.
Secrecy was the site’s best defence.
The rooms became fully operational one week before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
What’s that smell?
Developed as a short-term measure, accommodation was basic and lacking in many everyday services.
For example, when the site was adapted in 1938, it lacked any system for the removal of sewage.
This meant that chemical toilets, known as Elsans, were used in the rooms – making the sub-basement somewhat smelly.
Washing facilities generally consisted of bowls and buckets.
Being underground for long periods of daylight created the risk of Vitamin D deficiency and arrangements were made for the typists and others to be given sunlamp treatment to lessen the risk
However, despite the drawbacks, the rooms still became home to a host of civil servants and military personnel – and the frequent shelter of government ministers, including the Prime Minister
Winston Churchill is said to have disliked the underground shelter and – despite measures taken to protect him – apparently liked to take himself and occasional visitors, onto the roof of the building above to watch air raids in progress.
The actual War Cabinet room still looks exactly as it did when the complex was closed at the end of the war in 1945.
The furnishings, for example, are the same as during the 115 meetings of the War Cabinet and Defence Committee held in the room during the war years.
And attached to the bunker is an interactive museum that outlines Churchill’s life and often controversial political and military careers.
Run by the Imperial War Museum, The Churchill War Rooms are located at Clive Steps, King Charles Street, in central London.
They are open every day from 9.30am to 6pm and are a short walk from Westminster Tube Station, which is reached by taking the Jubilee, District and Circle underground lines.
Ticket prices are about £16.35 for adults and £8.15 for children.