Winston Churchill: A Look Into The War Bedroom
Tucked away under the busy streets of Westminster is the heart of Britain’s wartime operations. Cabinet War Rooms lay 10 feet underground in Whitehall, in the basement of the Treasury building. They were established in 1938 and provided an underground meeting place for those at the head of the British war effort – including Winston Churchill himself. They became fully operational on 27 August 1939, just one week before Britain declared war on Germany.
They remained in operation through World War II and were abandoned in August 1945 after Japan surrendered.
Cultural heritage experts Helen Lindsay and Vicky Singleton examined War Rooms, now one of Britain’s most treasured museums, as part of the Channel 5 documentary ‘Secrets of the Imperial War Museum’.
One of the chairs in the meeting room shows signs of where Churchill would have sharpened his nails into the chair arm, apparently during tense periods.
The facility included dormitories for staff, private bedrooms for military officers and senior ministers, and an office room for Churchill himself.
He used the bedroom for work, host meetings and his daily hour-long nap.
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Churchill’s bed in his underground bedroom.
Churchill ‘hated’ sleeping in his combined office and bedroom.
Churchill’s chamberlain, Frank Sawyers, admitted after the war: “It was one of the inflexible rules of Mr. Churchill’s daily routine that he should not miss this rest.”
The bedroom was wall to wall with carpet – the only room in the facility that had such a luxury. Rug was a rare commodity in wartime, and the level of rugs indicated the seniority of the person who inhabited the room.
Still, according to the documentary narrator, Churchill had a hate-love relationship with his underground bunker.
The narrator said: “Churchill hated living down here and avoided sleeping in his bedroom at all costs.
“But the work was a different matter. It was from this desk that he made some of his famous war broadcasts.”
Churchill gave four wartime speeches from the underground bunker.
His desk was equipped with a microphone that linked directly to the BBC Broadcasting Room. He gave four speeches from the underground bedroom.
Jonathan Asbury lifted the lid on life in the war rooms in a 2016 interview with the Daily Mirror.
He said: “[Churchill] liked being able to show them off in front of visiting generals.
“He wanted nothing more than to show the card room to those who really showed Britain had their finger on the pulse, and then take them next to his study for a drink.
“He found out when he became Prime Minister that if there was a direct hit on the war rooms, everyone would be dead, so he ordered all sorts of extra building work to be done and inspected it himself every night, getting concrete over his shoe.
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The famous desk from which many wartime decisions were made.
“But when there was a bombing raid, he would much rather climb on the roof, which he often did, and even see the raid.”
Churchill’s bedroom walls were covered with maps, and curtains would be drawn if he received a visitor who was not authorized to see the maps.
Circles indicated the most vulnerable site to any possible invasion.
One of the most exciting spaces of all is a small room with an engaged sign.
It was thought to be Churchill’s private toilet, when in fact it was so much more.
Look inside the map space, used for military planning and strategy.
Inside, there was a telephone that Churchill used to make top-secret calls to President Roosevelt.
Sir. Asbury told The Mirror: “There’s a clock showing the time in America and the UK and a set of instructions telling you not to shout the phone down because it would distort the voice.
“Apparently Churchill sounded like Donald Duck every time he shouted the phone down, and Roosevelt had to stop himself from laughing.
“Churchill would call Roosevelt ‘old friend’, and Roosevelt would call Churchill ‘Winnie’. This was before D-Day, they were clearly discussing important things, but there was an element of relaxation between them.”
The war rooms were in constant use during World War II, with an extra layer of concrete known as ‘The Slab’ installed during Blitz.
While Churchill rarely slept in the bedroom, but instead preferred to sleep on 10 Downing Street or Annex No. 10, his daughter Mary Soames often slept in the bedroom assigned to Mrs. Churchill.
They were abandoned and made redundant on August 16, 1945, when Japan surrendered. The lights were turned off for the first time in six years, and the light from a free world finally shone again.
Secrets of the Imperial War Museum is available on My5.