Last week Narda took me out for a day to celebrate my 40th. To start it off we did the ultra-touristy thing, the Big Bus. If you are coming to London, I would highly recommend it. It is an open top double decker bus with multiple routes around London. The bus has a guide who points out the key sites and their history, allowing you to jump on and off at your convenience. Fantastic way to see the city.
One of our stops was the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum.
Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in May 1940, Winston Churchill visited the Cabinet War Rooms to see for himself what preparations had been made to allow him and his War Cabinet to continue working throughout the expected air raids on London. It was there, in the underground Cabinet Room, he announced ‘This is the room from which I will direct the war’
It was fascinating to see the place where Churchill coordinated the effort against the Axis and through the museum, get a feel for the life and times of a truly great man. One of the first rooms you come upon was the meeting room where Churchill and his team would plan military strategy. The writing emphasized that Churchill was a head strong man, with opinions and ideas but that as a leader he did not take Hitler’s approach where he would overrule his team and make the decisions. Instead he was a leader who worked with the team to get to the best decisions.
The working conditions were rather sparse and as part of the audio tour they made it clear that living and working in the underground bunker was not exactly luxurious.
The rooms are full of map and communication rooms. I found this one interesting as behind it is a map of Britain. The legend maps out how Britain would defend itself against an invasion.
The Battle of Britain was a turning point in the war, stopping the Axis invasion of Britain. The below is a particularly moving ledger, showing the activities (and casualties) of the RAF.
The Churchill museum is one of the best museums I have been in and very moving, full of intimate details on the life and times of Churchill. It makes if very clear that his indomitable spirit helped bring Britain (if not the entire free world) beat the Axis.
The museum is arranged into 5 chapters, the last being his death and a fascinating piece of trivia. He was given a state funeral and it is the only commoner funeral that the Queen has attended.
By decree of the Queen, his body lay in state for three days and a state funeral service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral. This was the first state funeral for a non-royal family member since 1914, and no other of its kind has been held since. As his coffin passed down the Thames on the Havengore, dockers lowered their crane jibs in a salute. The Royal Artillery fired a 19-gun salute (as head of government), and the RAF staged a fly-by of sixteen English Electric Lightning fighters. The funeral also saw the largest assemblage of statesmen in the world until the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II. In the fields along the route, and at the stations through which the train passed, thousands stood in silence to pay their last respects. At Churchill’s request, he was buried in the family plot at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, near Woodstock, not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace.
Going through his museum prompted me to whip through a book I had on my ‘to be read pile’, The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill. He is known as one of the worlds greatest orators, and this book captures some of his best moments. A few that will stick in my mind:
- One of Churchill’s most famous speeches is that of June 1940: ‘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 …’ It is said that, as he paused in the great uproar that greeted these words, Churchill muttered to a colleague next to him, ‘And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got!’
- ‘Eating my words has never given me indigestion’
- When he eventually came round to the idea of women holding executive positions, he signed the order for their appointment with a flourish and declaration: ‘Let there be women!’
- The first woman MP was Nancy Astor, known for her great wit and who Churchill spared with often. The following exchange some claim to be apocryphal, while others suggest that the man in question was not Churchill … It is said to have taken place at Blenheim when the Astors and the Churchills were guests of the Duke of Marlborough over a weekend, during which Churchill and Nancy Astor apparently argued ferociously the whole time. Nancy Astor: ‘If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee’ Churchill: ‘Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it.’
- ‘My most brilliant achievement was to persuade my wife to marry me’
- When, in 1960, a reporter from London Evening Standard asked Churchill what he thought about the recent predictions that by the year 2000 women would be ruling the world, he muttered gloomily in reply, ‘They still will, will they?’
And of course, in England, even the government buildings are a marvel. This entry way takes you between the Revenue office and the Foreign office to the museum. Beautiful.
A worthy outing and a great book.