Monday, 13 February 2012

Churchill War Rooms

Take my hand on this dark winter’s evening and walk with me down the wide expanse of Horse Guards Road. The black skeleton trees in St James Park stand tall on our left; the Portland stones of Her Majesty’s Treasury on the right seem to glow with their own ethereal luminescence. We join a group waiting in the night gloom, breath steaming in the air, faces cheerful with chatter. Big Ben in the distance solemnly chimes the hour. We are now allowed to scurry down the cold steps and enter the Cabinet War Rooms, Winston Churchill’s nerve centre throughout the Second World War.

Deep under the bustle of Whitehall hides an old sturdy rabbit warren of corridors. Let’s imagine for a second the uniformed men and women who worked down here. Their footsteps echo ahead of us, rushing important communications to the Map Room. The blue haze expelled from cigars and cigarettes cloaks the ceiling, making the rushing figures hazy and indistinct. We rush with them, a glance to the side revealing a stark room with a cot-bed, a desk, a lamp, a washing basin with a jug of water on standby. A telephone’s shrill demand for attention makes us jump; in the distance we can hear the rumble and shudder of distant bombs, the low wail of sirens warning Londoners to beware, to take care. Closer to us a BBC radio announcer’s clipped tones speak over the wireless; we hear the steady click-clack-click of typewriters, a faint floating burst of music, hastily muted. The hands of the clock on the wall point the way to midnight, 6am, midday. Time means nothing down here; it has been cancelled. The smell of sleepless toil, of urgency, of expectancy, soaks through the corridors. That was then.

And this is now. The books and charts in the Map Room have remained exactly as they were left in 1945.

This was Churchill’s bedroom. The walls are covered with maps. The last thing he saw on closing his eyes, and the first thing that greeted him on awakening, was the territory of battle.

One of the many telephones. Whose hand last held the receiver and what was the message?

Of course, we had to look the part...


Lovely friend R

...courtesy of the 'vintage boudoir', which I was delighted to find consisted of Fleur at Diary of a Vintage Girl, and her Vintage Mafia! Thanks lovely ladies.

We spoke to museum curators, and followed the drifting sounds of music, past the group sketching caricatures of Churchill at his bulldog best, until we found the dance hall, manned by the London Swing Dance Society. Here we danced the Charleston and the lindy hop, and gathered in a circle for the Big Apple. All too soon it was time to climb the stairs and emerge back onto the street, blinking under the stars.


snafu said...

I used to work in another part of that building, but we never had any dances.
But the Charlston? How old fashioned! I would have thought that something a bit more up to date like the Jitter-bug or even the Fox Trot would have been more in keeping with the times.

The Golden Eagle said...

It must have been fascinating to see it in person!

Great post.

Old Kitty said...

Oh this place... a very poignant visit for me for wildly different reasons. I think it was wandering around here when I knew things were over between me and the ex (yes, we went there together).

Awww love your vintage pics - the hair is amazing!! Take care

Out on the prairie said...

Fun to dance the night away

Shirley Wells said...

Great post. Great to see that it's all been kept just as it should be. Love that red phone.

Love your pics, too. Wow. That hair is amazing.

Francesca said...

I love the vintage hair look! I enjoyed reading this post and looking at the pictures, I loved history at school.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Loved the hair styles, and such a wonderful visit.

Lucille said...

My son was there that night but I have had a much better description of the evening from you!

Elliot Grace said...

...beautifully written, my dear ;)

An evening meant for a photo album. Well done!


Talli Roland said...

It's fascinating down there, isn't it? I think you were born in the wrong decade - you look fab in vintage gear!

Debbie said...

Loved the post. What time travelling fun.

Deniz Bevan said...

I've always wanted to visit the War Rooms. Thank you for sharing the photos!

Dolly said...

I so enjoyed reading this, and you look gorgeous with your hair like that. You really do suit vintage girl.

My pub was about 10 mins walk from the War Rooms you know.