Sunday, July 27, 2014

Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms, London

1. Entrance to the Churchill War Rooms, London
2. Churchill's War Cabinet at Downing Street in 1941
3. The Chiefs of Staff Conference Room
4. Part of the interactive exhibition at the museum
For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information


Since 1984 the underground Cabinet War Rooms at Whitehall, London has been opened up as a museum as part of the Imperial War Museum's family of museums. In 2005 the Cabinet War Rooms were extended to include an interactive 'Churchill Museum' dedicated to the life and times of Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), Britain's wartime Prime Minister between 1940 and 1945 and again after the war between 1951 and 1955.

The public entrance to the Churchill War Rooms is adjacent to Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London, close to Whitehall, Downing Street and St James's Park [Photograph No. 1]. During the war the entrance was round the corner on the Clive Steps when it was the secret underground headquarters of the British Government. Before the war a reasonably central location for what was originally known as the 'Central War Rooms' was sought. As it needed to be reasonably close to the heart of government this site was agreed upon on 15 June 1938. The official name was changed to 'Cabinet War Rooms' only after the war had begun: on 29 December 1939.

It was after the fall of France in the summer of 1940, and especially during the dark days of the London Blitz, that these rooms became the central hub of the British Government. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in May 1940 Winston Churchill visited the Cabinet War Rooms and declared:

"This is the room from which I'll direct the war."

In many respects these early months of Churchill's wartime ministry was one of the key periods of the war. For the rest of the war the rooms were the base for several hundred men and women engaged in much of the government's core wartime work.

After the Japanese surrender in August 1945 the immediate need for an underground Cabinet War Rooms ceased. The doors were locked and left largely undisturbed. By this time, following the General Election of July 1945, Clement Attlee had replaced Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. In 1948 Parliament agreed that the Cabinet War Rooms should be retained as an historic site. However, it was not until the late 1970s when work began in earnest to preserve the site and open it up to public display. This work was undertaken by the Imperial War Museum.

When the 'Churchill Museum' section was added in in 2005 it provided an interactive, multi-media overview of the life, work and times of Winston Churchill. Many of the items, photographs and documents were donated by the Churchill family, his close friends and colleagues.

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The British War Cabinet of WW2

In the early part of the war, when Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister, only one Cabinet meeting was held in the Cabinet Room in these buildings: on 21 October 1939. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940 and from then until the summer of 1945 a total of 115 War Cabinet meetings, or about 10% of the total, took place in the underground Cabinet Room. These figures illustrate the significance of the Cabinet War Rooms in the Winston Churchill's wartime administration.

During the war there some changes in the membership of Churchill's War Cabinet. For example, after Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister in May 1940 he remained in the War Cabinet with the role of Lord President of the Council until a terminal illness led to his resignation in October 1940. He died a month later: on 9 November 1940.

At times, some of the Cabinet members held more than one portfolio. For example, as well as being Prime Minister Winston Churchill was also Minister of Defence and Anthony Eden acted as both Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons for three years.

Winston Churchill's War Cabinet was a Conservative-led coalition of members of the Conservative, Labour and National parties. Domestic political disagreements were effectively put on hold until after the war in Europe ended in 1945. Some of the meetings of the War Cabinet continued to take place at 10 Downing Street. Photograph No. 2 (above), which is displayed at the Churchill War Rooms, shows the War Cabinet members in the garden at 10 Downing Street in 1941.

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Those seen in photograph No. 2 are as follows (including some of the main offices they held during the war):

[Front row, seated left to right]:
(1) Sir John Anderson (National),
Lord President of the Council (October 1940 - September 1943),
Chancellor of the Exchequer (September 1943 - July 1945).

(2) Winston Churchill (Conservative),
Prime Minister (May 1940 - July 1945),
Minister of Defence (May 1940 - July 1945).

(3) Clement Attlee (Labour),
Lord Privy Seal (May 1940 - February 1942),
Deputy Prime Minister (February 1942 - May 1945),
Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (February 1942 - September 1943),
Lord President of the Council (September 1943 - 23 May 1945).

(4) Anthony Eden (Conservative),
Secretary of State for War (May 1940 - December 1940),
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (December 1940 - July 1945),
Leader of the House of Commons (February 1942 - July 1945).

[Back row, standing left to right]:
(5) Arthur Greenwood (Labour),
Minister without Portfolio (May 1940 - February 1942).

(6) Ernest Bevin (Labour),
Minister of Labour and National Service (May 1940 - May 1945)

(7) Lord Beaverbrook, 'Max' Aitken (Conservative),
Minister of Aircraft Production (May 1940 - May 1941),
Minister of Supply (May 1941 - February 1942),
Minister of War Production (4 - 19 February 1942).

(8) Sir Kingsley Wood (Conservative),
Chancellor of the Exchequer (May 1940 - September 1943).
(N.B. He left the War Cabinet February 1942 but remained as Chancellor until his death on 21 September 1943).

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The WW2 Chiefs of Staff Committee

During the Second World War the Chiefs of Staff Committee operated as a sub-committee of the War Cabinet. Winston Churchill was the nominal chairman of this committee but in reality it was mostly chaired by his appointed representative. Photograph No. 3 (above) shows the Chiefs of Staff Conference Room as it would have looked when its members entered the room to hold a meeting during the war.

The main members of the Chiefs of Staff Committee were the heads of the three main services - Royal Navy, Army and Air Force - and General Hastings Ismay, known as 'Pug', who was the Minister of Defence's Chief Staff Officer. As Winston Churchill was Minister of Defence as well as Prime Minister it enabled Churchill oversee that decisions were acted upon as quickly as possible. Whenever questions of overall strategy or combined operations were discussed Vice-Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten would attend.

Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke (later Lord Alanbrooke) became Commander-in-Chief (Home Forces) in 1940 and remained in this post until November 1941. He then became Chief of the Imperial General Staff (C.I.G.S.).

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The main Chiefs of Staff on the Committee in 1945 were as follows:

(1) Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke,
(Chairman and C.I.G.S.).

(2) Major-General Leslie Hollis,
(Senior Assistant Secretary to the War Cabinet Office).

(3) Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal,
(Chief of the Air Staff).

(4) Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham,
(Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord from 1943).

(5) General Sir Hastings Ismay
(Chief Military Assistant and Staff Officer of the Prime Minister)

Two of the main functions of the Committee were to discuss firstly, the overall strategy of the war and secondly, immediate operational problems. General 'Pug' Ismay was also the Deputy Secretary (Military) to the Cabinet and in this role dealt with military matters arising from Cabinet meetings.

The Chief of Staffs Committee had sub-committees which included the Joint Planning Staff Committee and the Joint Intelligence Staff. This latter body had representatives from the intelligence directorates of the three services, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Economic Warfare and an Intelligence Section (Operations).

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Churchill Museum

In 2005, forty years after the death of Sir Winston Churchill and sixty years after the end of the Second World War, the Churchill Museum extension to the Cabinet War Rooms was opened to the public. It is the only major museum in the world that is dedicated to his life and legacy. Combining modern, interactive technology, multi-media displays, personal items and photographs this room deals with the complete life-journey of Churchill. It does not just deal with his wartime leadership and successes but also his many faults, failures and disappointments.

Who was the real man behind the Churchill image? This is where visitors to the museum can find the answer for themselves. In the centre of this room is a 15-metre long 'interactive lifeline' covering every year of Churchill's lifetime. A visitor can look at a particular year and see copies of original documents, photographs, film clips and hidden animations.

What did those that knew Churchill personally think of him? The museum has written and audio-visual records of some of Churchill's relatives, friends and colleagues available to read or listen to, part of which can be seen in Photograph No. 4 (above).

Did the people who worked for Winston Churchill on a daily basis enjoy it? Elizabeth Layton, one of Churchill’s personal secretaries between 1941 and 1945 was one of those interviewed by the museum. The interview can be seen on one of the video monitors. This was Elizabeth Layton's answer:

"Enjoy is not really the word. One was completely inspired when working with him, and one felt that one was in the centre of everything and exceedingly privileged to be there. I was not the only one, but I’m speaking now as a person. I personally would have done anything I could for him. That mustn’t be misunderstood. Mr Churchill was someone who drew our complete respect, as I’ve said."

Another of Churchill's secretaries, Elizabeth Nel, wrote the following assessment of the wartime leader:

"He did not mean to be unkind. He was just heart and soul engaged in winning the war."

Extracts from some of Winston Churchill's memorable wartime broadcasts can also be heard in the museum and placed in the historical context of the time they were recorded. In fact, four of Churchill's wartime radio broadcasts were made from the Cabinet War Rooms - the first one being made on 11 September 1940 about the German bombing of London:

"These cruel, wanton, indiscriminate bombings of London are, of course, a part of Hitler's invasion plans. He hopes, by killing large numbers of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty imperial city...

Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fibre of the Londoners."

How did Churchill's leadership rub off on the others who lived and worked in this place during the tense days and nights of the Second World War? Below is an extract of the Major-General Leslie Hollis's written assessment of Churchill and how he influenced everyone else in the Cabinet War Rooms:

"Here, in a room so narrow that it resembled a prison cell, Churchill made all his famous wartime broadcasts. He sat in a swivel chair at a desk at the far end, under white-washed oak beams. He also had a dining-room, which he rarely used, and a small bedroom for Mrs Churchill.

But the room from which Churchill directed the war was the Cabinet War Room. About 40 feet square, it had double doors, which were always locked when a meeting was in progress. Tubular metal chairs with green upholstery faced a huge hollow table covered in black baize. In front of Churchill's place stood a piece of cardboard on which someone had printed Queen Victoria's remark:

'Please understand there is no pessimism in the house and we are not interested in the possibilities of defeat: they do not exist'."

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

During the war, the informational hub of the Cabinet War Rooms was the Map Room. It has been preserved exactly as it was when the lights were finally switched off - on 16 August 1945. There is a so-called ‘beauty chorus’ of colour-coded telephones, the books and documents are piled on desks just as they were in 1945. One interesting find when the Cabinet War Rooms were re-opened was the remains of a sugar cube ration belonging to Wing Commander John Heggarty. The sugar cubes were found in an envelope with his name on and had evidently been forgotten when the room was closed up in 1945!

Even the wartime maps remain on the walls. The maps are still marked by pinholes which marked the progress of the Allied supply convoys during the war.

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Eulogy for Sir Winston Churchill by Earl Attlee (1965):

After Sir Winston Churchill died in January 1965 many people paid their own personal tributes. Among the tributes was this one, written by Earl Attlee (Clement Attlee) for the Foreword to a biography about Churchill published by the “Reader’s Digest” in 1965:

“In his long life of 90 years Sir Winston Churchill has done enough to make the reputations of at least four other men. Now he has passed away, the eldest statesman of the world.

My own fate has been closely bound up with his. When I was a small boy my sister had a governess who had served Sir Winston in the same capacity, and told us stories of this very strong-willed little boy.

I recall, in my last year at school and later at Oxford, hearing of this remarkable young man who had already seen five campaigns and written books about them.

I recall his election to Parliament when I, then a young Conservative, hailed him as the rising hope of our Party. Crossing the floor to become an extreme radical, he held a number of offices and in all of them he left his mark.

I recall his introduction of the Labour Exchanges in which I worked for a time. When he was at the Home Office he went in person to deal with the armed anarchists in Sidney Street; as a local resident I was present as an onlooker. In the First World War he inaugurated the Gallipoli campaign in which I took part.

After serving in the field, he was back again in office till the fall of the Lloyd George Government deprived him of office and he lost his seat in Parliament. Everyone thought his political career was over. But in 1924 he was back again, this time as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then he fell out with his party over Indian policy and went into the wilderness. It seemed that he was finished again, but with the Second World War he came back to the Navy to serve under Chamberlain as First Lord of the Admiralty.

When Chamberlain fell he became Prime Minister in the Coalition Government and I, as the Leader of the Labour Party, was for five years his Deputy. After the War I became Prime Minister while he took my old place as Leader of the Opposition. Six years passed and he again became Prime Minister until he retired, remaining until last year the venerated old Parliamentarian.

What a career! What a man! We shall not see his like again.”

(Rt. Hon. The Earl Attlee (1965), ‘Foreword’ in ‘Churchill Digest’, Reader’s Digest, London, page 6)

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


Despite its location in the heart of the centre of London the Cabinet War Rooms were a well-hidden site. Its location and purpose were restricted not only during the war but for many years afterwards. Largely undisturbed by the heavy bombing raids London experienced during the war it was here that Winston Churchill and the War Cabinet, the heads of the Armed Services, military intelligence and many others lived and worked to conduct the business of government and direct the course of the war.

Since the doors were opened to the public and it became a museum it has been possible to visit the place where many of the critical decisions of the war were taken. It is a place where modern history comes to life and it tells the story in a way that can be understood by young and old alike.

The companion book to the Churchill Museum has been written by Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Celia Sandys. In writing the foreword to her book, Celia Sandys asks three questions and gives but one, very telling, answer:

"What would have happened if Winston Churchill had not been called upon to lead his country in its darkest hour?
Without him who would have mobilised the English language and sent it into battle?
Who else could have offered 'Blood, toil, tears and sweat' to such an effect?

Without Winston Churchill the world we live in today would be a very different place."

Celia Sandys, "Churchill by his granddaughter", Imperial War Museum, London
(Foreword, p. 7)

For anyone wishing to learn about the Second World War and the life and times of Winston Churchill, the Churchill War Rooms is the place to visit.

Monday, 04 May, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Further information

Click on the following link to go to the Churchill War Rooms website (part of the Imperial War Museum):
Churchill War Rooms website

A wartime hero visits the Churchill War Rooms (2009)

In December 2009, 2WW Blogspot member Ron Goldstein, who served with 4 Queen's Own Hussars (4 Q.O.H.) during WW2, was a special guest at Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms. Winston Churchill was formerly the Hon. Colonel of 4 Q.O.H. and Ron had attended a dinner in late 1945 where Churchill was also present.

To see Ron toasting to Winston Churchill at the Cabinet War Rooms, click on the following link:
Ron Toasting Winston Churchill (Heroes Return, 2009)

Monday, 04 May, 2015  

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