Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Churchill War Rooms

Greatest Briton of all time!

Commander Kelly's conservative tour of London continues with a mandatory visit to the Churchill War Rooms or the Cabinet War Rooms as they were called.

After the 9/11 attacks, a valuable bust of the great man was loaned by the British government to the Bush administration.  It occupied pride of place in the Oval office of the Bush White House.  Barack Obama chose to send it packing to the British government.   Here is the link...

Visit the Churchill War Rooms and decide for yourself if you find the current occupant of the White House's judgement sound or otherwise.

Here is what historian John Julius Norwich writes...

"The Churchill War Rooms...are London's only true time capsule.  Down you go, through that poky unassuming little entrance at the foot of the Clive steps, and instantly seventy years fall away; there's a war on and we're in the thick of it.  It's not for claustrophobes, this rambling rabbit-warren of winding passages and corridors, but it leads to the two great strategic nerve centres of the whole complex: the Cabinet Room and the Map Room.  Neither of these was used very much at first; while Neville Chamberlain remained Prime minister, he presided in the Cabinet Room only once, in October 1939.  But when Churchill took over in May 1940 he had no doubts.  'This,' he said -- and we can almost hear him saying it -- 'is the room from which I shall direct the War.'  Altogether there were to be 115 Cabinet meetings there over the following five years, the last being held on 28 March 1945, six weeks before VE day.
Churchill at Westminster (Photo James Hooper)

And, inevitably, it is the spirit of Winston Churchill that still fills the War rooms...To the health-and-safety minded nannies who rule our lives today he would have been anathema: smoking like a chimney, drinking like a fish (though less than is generally believed; he was s upper rather than a swallower, and a single whisky and soda could last him two hours or more), abhorring all physical exercise, working most mornings from his bed but frequently dictating until 3 or 4 a.m. the following day.  He was, as we know, subject to terrible 'black dog' depressions; he could be petulant, unreasonable, impossibly demanding; he frequently drove his staff raving wild.  And yet, one and all, they loved him.  when the black dog loped away and his eyes began to twinkle, no one was kinder, funnier, wittier or more sparkling company.  whatever he was doing--arguing with his generals, painting a picture, singling old music-hall songs, building a brick wall or feeding his beloved goldfish--took up his entire concentration for as long as it lasted; nothing else mattered; indeed nothing else existed.  there was a child-like innocence about him...

We all prefer to remember him during the dark days (1940), marching through the ruins of the Blitz in this strangely old-fashioned clothes -- blue spotted bow tie, heavy watch-chain and that extraordinary headgear, halfway between a top hat and a bowler -- his very presence inspiring the bombed-out victims with a new determination, defiance and hope.  That was the Churchill magic.  An anonymous London woman put it as well as anyone.  'Gradually,' she said, 'his stature grew larger and larger, until it filled our sky.'"  A History of England in 100 Places, John Julius Norwich, 2011.

I have visited the War Rooms many times over many years and I keep coming back for inspiration.  Here is the link for the Churchill War Rooms...

Young Winston
Here you will see many his intimate personal objects that bring the biography of the Greatest Briton--greater than Shakespeare or any English King--according to a 2002 poll, to life.  If you study his chronology carefully you will see that he was born on November 30th, 1874--about 8 months after the wedding of Lord Randolph Churchill and the American, Jennie Jerome.  You can see the grim "correction" book detailing the corporal punishments he received at the grade schools that he so despised.  You will find photographs of his nanny Mrs. Everest of whom he wrote in My Early Life, "she had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole of the twenty years I had lived."  You will see the German Mauser pistol which he employed to dispatch the enemies of Queen Victoria (polo injuries made it difficult for him to wield a sabre) at the last major British cavalry charge in the battle of Omdurman in 1898.   You will learn of his heroic escape from a Boer prisoner of war camp during the Boer war in 1899.

When Churchill was First Sea Lord during the First World War, he conceived the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.  After this disgrace, he resigned from the British war cabinet and then served on the Western front in 1915 as a lieutenant colonel of the 6th battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.  Imagine if Donald Rumsfeld had served as a battalion commander in the battle for Fallujah in Iraq after his resignation as Secretary of Defence in 2006.

You can listen to recordings of his most inspiring wartime speeches.  You can see the comfortable one-piece "Siren Suit" that he wore when out of the public eye.  The Map room is just as it was left at the wars' conclusion in 1945 with pins denoting the positions of warships at sea.  You may find a lock of Churchill's flaming red hair--yes, he was a ginger!  You will see the video highlights from the state funeral that followed his death on January 24th, 1965 (from Queen Victoria to the Beatles).

Horse Guards on the Parade Ground
Here is Commander Kelly's suggestion for the perfect day out with Winston.  Arrive at the Churchill War Rooms at its opening at 9:30am.  Tour the museum for about an hour--more than that and Stendahl syndrome begins to kick in.  Proceed to the nearby horse guards' parade ground for some good old-fashioned British pomp and circumstance.

Hail a black cab and head for the Churchill Arms (5 pints according to!) on 119 Kensington Church Street, Noting Hill, London, W8 7LN.  There you will find more Churchill memorabilia, liquid restoratives and excellent Thai food.  Here is the link...

Be sure to lift a glass to the memory of Winston Spencer Churchill!

Beer and Thai food -- Yum!

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