A visit to the Churchill War Rooms is a mix of authentic historical exploration and a modern, technology-driven museum experience.
Created underneath Whitehall in 1938 due to fear of German air raids on London, the Cabinet War Rooms were in constant use during the Second World War and functioned as a protected bunker where Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet, military strategists and auxiliary staff could coordinate the British war effort in relative safety.
The main part of the existing War Rooms is a fascinating warren of small rooms that have been thoughtfully restored to show what life was like in the bunker during the war. From the serious Map Rooms to the drab residents’ bedrooms, via Churchill’s secret telephone room disguised as a locked toilet, visitors can get some small idea of how it must have felt to work in such an important, secret environment at a time of grave crisis.
The War Rooms are complimented by video interviews with members of staff who served in the bunker during the Second World War and whose testimony brings a touch of warmth, humanity and even some humour to the experience.
Within the War Rooms is the Churchill Museum, an exhibition created in 2005 to explore the politics and image of Winston Churchill and his historical legacy. The interactive digital exhibits of this area animate historical documents in an engaging way and are a welcome contrast to the 1940s reconstructions in the rest of the War Rooms.
Churchill is undoubtedly portrayed as a hero throughout the Museum, but the exhibition does not shy away from illuminating some of the controversies that surrounded Churchill during his political career. Interactive screens invite visitors to explore historical evidence and give their opinions on such questions as whether or not Churchill’s views on Indian independence were primarily based on racism, or whether or not the statesman was totally justified in his absolute opposition to appeasing Hitler in the 1930s.
The Museum celebrates the famous British politician’s victories, legendary wit and bulldog spirit while offering a reminder that history is rarely black and white, and that Churchill was once an unpopular minister whose views often left him at odds with mainstream politics and public opinion.