On a special visit to the Churchill War Rooms,
Members of the Chelsea Society and our guests had the opportunity on Thursday 14th June at 1.45pm to meet the historical adviser to the recently acclaimed film The Darkest Hour and to tour the operations centre deep below London from which Winston Churchill directed the Second World War. All tickets were sold.
Phil Reed OBE was Director of the Churchill War Rooms from 1993-2016 and also Director of HMS Belfast from 1999-2016. He gave us some insights into the creation and workings of the operations centre during the war, as well as anecdotes about its principal historic occupant. He also talked about the challenges of making films about historic events.
Churchill’s wartime bunker is a fascinating piece of history – an underground maze of rooms that once buzzed with round-the-clock planning and plotting, strategies and secrets. Here the most senior figures of Britain’s Government and its armed forces worked and slept whilst the blitz raged above. It remained the nerve centre of Britain’s war effort until the lights were finally switched off in August 1945.
The rooms remain exactly as they were, and we were able to step back in time as we walked through them – experiencing the atmosphere and conditions of those dramatic times, in the place where Churchill took decisions crucial to the survival of the nation. We saw the Cabinet Room and the Map Room, with the original wartime maps covering the walls, and the thousands of tiny pinholes plotting the progress of Allied ships along the convoy routes. We also saw the colour-coded telephones, and the tiny room from which Churchill made his transatlantic telephone calls. We looked down into the cramped corridor (known as the Dock) where the secretaries had to live and work.
We then walked around the Churchill Museum, opened by the Queen in 2005, which records his entire life in words, pictures, and audio, from his birth to his State Funeral.