On December 7, Americans will remember the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that brought war to the United States. By then, England had been suffering major attacks for more than a year. The courage of English citizens during the horrors of World War II is on display in the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster, now open to the public.
In August 1939, days before the German invasion of Poland, the English government opened a command center beneath a new public office building now housing the Treasury. The underground complex included a Cabinet room, a map room, bedrooms for staff, rooms for clerks and a room for secure communications with international leaders. In October 1940, after the onset of German bombing of London, a five feet thick ceiling was added to make the facility secure against aerial attack and the Cabinet began meeting underground. The complex also included a bedroom, outfitted with communications gear, for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Although Churchill gave four wartime speeches from the bedroom, he rarely slept there, preferring to spend his evenings with his wife Clementine at 10 Downing Street.
After the surrender of Japan in 1945, the command center was abandoned. It was opened to the public in 1984, the rooms presented as they were at war’s end. Papers still lie on the Cabinet room tables and colored pins pierce a large map, showing the front lines of opposing armies. One wall chart includes an obscene hand-drawn picture of Hitler. Another chart shows the effect of the V-1 attacks that began after the Allied invasion of Normandy. With numbers carefully written by hand, the chart records almost 3000 “flying bombs” crossing the English coastline between June 16 and July 20, 1944, killing 3802 civilians and seriously injuring another 10,936, more than American losses at Pearl Harbor.
A museum was added to the War Rooms in 2005, displaying a bust of Churchill, looking very much the bulldog. The gift shop sells items bearing the iconic wartime slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The Churchill War Rooms provide lessons in English resolve that can find application anytime and anywhere.