The Cabinet War Rooms, also known as the Churchill War Rooms, is part of the Imperial War Museums and served as the British government’s headquarters during World War II. Churchill’s government-held 115 cabinet meetings in the Central War Room, which also included a dormitory for staff, private bedrooms for important government officials and military officers, and a switchboard for telephone operators. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, and there are plenty of interesting exhibits and places to explore throughout the War Rooms. There are also many interesting facts about this underground nerve center that we will share with you below.
Same, Yet Different
The Churchill War Rooms are actually two different museums. The Cabinet War Rooms describes the full underground complex that the government used during the war, while the Churchill Museum is the other half of the equation and dedicated to Prime Minister Churchill’s life and service.
While it was mentioned above that 115 cabinet meetings were held in the Cabinet War Rooms, not all of them took place while Churchill was Prime Minister. The first meeting held here was under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in October 1939. After the Battle of France began on May 10, 1940, Chamberlain stepped down as Prime Minister since Labour would not form a coalition government with him, paving the way for Churchill to become Prime Minister and his War Cabinet (including Chamberlain, Clement Atlee, Viscount Halifax, and Arthur Greenwood) would meet in the Cabinet War Rooms for the rest of the war.
Gone and Mostly Forgotten
In 1945, the lights were turned off in the War Rooms after six years of service. The rooms remained untouched until the 1980s, when they were reopened by the Imperial War Museums as a visitor attraction.
It’s an Enigma
The Cabinet War Rooms are home to one of the surviving Enigma coding machines, which the German Navy used to encode their communications. A team led by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park ultimately broke the code of the machines.
The Intimidation Game
No, you didn’t read that header wrong. If you visit the Cabinet War Rooms, you’ll notice the tables and seats are arranged in such a way that they form a well with three seats dead center. These central seats were for the heads of the British Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force. Churchill liked to get up close and personal with his military leaders and was well-known for pushing them beyond their normal comfort levels in cabinet meetings.
Since many of the staff members in the War Rooms worked and lived there twenty-four hours a day, there were a number of measures to counter the negative health effects of spending constant time underground. One was the artificial sun lamps in which staff had to stand in front in nothing but their underwear and a pair of protective goggles. Apparently, incidents of sunburn were common, and one girl nearly went blind because she forgot to put her goggles over her eyes.
Found His Stash
When the Cabinet War Rooms opened in the 1980s to prepare them as a museum, one of the IWM staff members found sugar cubes stashed away in the desk of Wing Commander John Heagerty. Since the government rationed sugar during the war, it appears that Heagerty squirreled his ration of sugar away and, judging from the shape in which the cubes were found, he’d shave off a little as needed to make them last.
Strong, but not *that* Strong
The Cabinet Warm Rooms were built with a steel protective structure overhead and later had five feet of concrete known as “The Slab” added to protect staff from bombs as well as a net to catch any wayward German explosives. However, while the War Rooms could survive a close blast, a direct hit would not have protected them. As such, keeping the War Rooms’ location a secret from the Axis Powers was extremely important.
The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms house a number of his personal items, including bowlers, cigars, and even one of his custom “Siren Suits.” Siren Suits were onesies that people wore during WWII when going into bunkers that could be easily put on and provided a level of modesty and warmth underground.
Broadcasting from the Bunker
Churchill’s office/bedroom in the Cabinet Warm Rooms included his own personal BBC radio broadcasting equipment. Churchill only used it four times during the war.