With the movie “Dunkirk” exploding on the screen this week, it’s a good time to learn about the Churchill War Rooms in London. From this underground bunker of offices, Prime Minister Churchill and his staff planned WWII. This would include the Miracle of Dunkirk, when civilians with any kind of boat were requested to cross the channel to France and rescue the stranded Allied soldiers. The British responded in great numbers, and more than 300,000 soldiers were ferried on fishing vessels across the channel to arrive safely back “home.”
Churchill became Prime Minister in May of 1940. By the beginning of June, 400,000 Allied troops sat on the beaches of Dunkirk, pushed to the edge of the water by the Germans. Today, historians look at the successful evacuation of these soldiers as a turning point toward Allied victory. The British army was saved instead of captured. The U.S. took notice and immediately started sending supplies to Britain.
A museum on the life and work of Churchill is now in the building, next to the War Rooms. It’s a well done museum telling of an eccentric leader. He wouldn’t allow his staff to whistle, for example. And he took a nap in the afternoon, making it clear he was not to be disturbed.
The real heart of the bunker, though, is the offices where the planning took place. My favorite parts of the War Rooms are the maps that show with stick pins and string the plotting of troop movements. No digital info in those days!
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…
The War Rooms were used throughout World War II. It amazes me that they were left for years as they were on the day the war ended. They were opened to the public in the 1980s. So you and I today can walk in the steps of the war leaders and imagine that dark and uncertain time.
The Churchill War Rooms are under the Treasury building in the Westminster area of London. The building itself looks like any other office building. The treasure lies underground and is well worth a visit if you’re anywhere near London.
If you go:
The War Rooms are open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The nearest tube station is Westminster.
Here’s the official trailer for the movie “Dunkirk.” It’s an awesome film that puts you right into the midst of the battle. I highly recommend it!