Tuesday, May 8, 2018

England 2018, Day 12

There was about half a day left – just enough time for one last excursion!  First, we had tea and chocolate chip muffins for breakfast in our room, and checked our luggage with the extremely attentive staff. Then we strolled to the Gloucester Road tube and zipped down to Westminster. Ironically enough, it was a beautiful sunny day just as we were about to leave London.
This time we were armed with tickets as we approached the Churchill War Rooms. Two queues were already in place: one for people just hoping to get in and one for people with tickets. I guided Mother into the former and I moved into the ticket line, asking the friendly guard if I could be at the front so we could enter promptly at 11, our appointed time, or if he thought Mother might get there first. She was afraid I was going to make a fuss but I was just getting the lay of the land. He asked if I was in a hurry and I told him we were flying home that afternoon and, to my surprise, he said we could go right in. Hooray!
The civilian secretarial staff also signed the Official Secrets Act
The Churchill War Rooms were an underground bunker near Parliament where Churchill and his war cabinet were able to work during WWII without the distraction of bombing. The war rooms were opened to the public in 1984, almost exactly as they had been left at the end of WWII (one officer had left his sugar ration behind in his desk, not expected he wouldn’t return). In 2005, other nearby rooms were expensively turned into a museum honoring Churchill’s entire life. Two of the best anecdotes: that Churchill accidentally had his private secretary invite Irving Berlin to lunch at Chartwell, his country home in Kent, having confused him with a philosopher named Isaiah Berlin; and that he invited Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier to Chartwell on another occasion and was so taken with Vivien that he gave her one of his paintings, an unusual circumstance.
Perhaps my favorite part of the War Rooms were interactive displays featuring commentary from the young women who did the secretarial work for the officers. As you may recall, I have always been fascinated by women and war work (although it is annoying to think how much more they could have done if given the chance!). It was amazing to see the rooms in which everyone worked and basically lived, sneaking in and out so the Germans couldn’t target it for air raids (although wouldn’t they have been aiming for Parliament and Westminster anyway?), and smoking all the time with no ventilation.  Two of the rooms were of great significance: the Cabinet Room which in May 1940 Churchill decided he would use to direct the war, and the Map Room where every move of the British Army, Navy, Air Force was tracked and reports were prepared for the King, the Prime Minister, and Chiefs of Staff. We learned that although many spent the nights underground, Churchill only did so a very few times because he liked to take two baths a day and preferred his own bathtub!
Churchill's office/bedroom with chamber pot!

Is it really Big Ben under there?
For those interested in the period, I recommend Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson, my favorite nonfiction in years.   About 12:30 I tore myself away (allowing myself to buy a mug on my way out at the appealing gift shop).  The weather was by now warm and sparkling and Green Park was full of happy Londoners. We walked around the block and saw Big Ben covered with scaffolding, completely unrecognizable. I didn’t want to go but we returned to Hotel Xenia for our luggage, headed down Hogarth Road to the Earls Court tube station, then to Heathrow for our 5 pm flight home.

Goodbye, London, we’ll be back!
Re the Abdication - "Why shouldn't the King be allowed to marry his cutie?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds as if it was a wonderful trip. I can't believe you bought so few books!