It was 1967 that I was invited to the Royal Air Force base at Biggin Hill to attend the five day RAF Officer Selection, to be tested and interviewed as to my suitability to become an RAF officer.
In my article “I am still learning more on history” I mentioned the Cabinet War Rooms in Central London.
My interest in visiting the Cabinet War Rooms came about by reading R.V. Jones book Most Secret War, because in his writing, Jones reported his various meetings in this secret underground bunker with the Chiefs of Staff and the Prime Minister of Great Britain during WWII, Winston Churchill. I wanted to verify the information he was giving, and experience what had taken place some 70 years previously. His whole writings seemed to imply he was the most important person in the Second World War apart from Churchill.
I was not to be disappointed in what I learnt and saw, although gained no reference or mention when asking guides to R.V. Jones having worked there.
Located near Horse Guards Parade, opposite St Jame’s Park, and under what is now The Treasury Building, it was decided in 1930’s, because of the impending war with Germany and the probability of aerial bombardment, to build a central emergency working space for the War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff of the military. One week before the outbreak of the Second World War, on 27th August 1939, the secret bunker was opened, and was in continuous until the end of the war in 1945.
At the end of the war in 1945, staff left their desks, control rooms and living quarters and returned to their normal working places, leaving the secret underground bunker as is, to be used as stores. But in the late 1970’s the Imperial War Museum was tasked with preserving this historic site, and to open the site to the public. From 2005 this site was fully open and included the Churchill Museum dedicated to the life and work of this great British Prime Minister.
A new entrance was opened allowing public access to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, the old access being in what is now The Treasury Building.
To protect the people working in the bunker, (it is stated that over 500 people worked at any one time in the facilities), extra wooden and steel girder reinforcements were built into the bunker, and a steel and concrete two-metre deep slab lain in the void above the bunker.
Among the many rooms and facilities is a room called the Map Room, it is said to be in the same state as it was left in 1945, with the original maps on the walls. One wall shows the Atlantic Ocean, and was used to chart the progress of the merchant shipping, more often being in convoys, still showing the tiny pin holes marking the ships positions. This room was staffed 24 hours a day by officers of the navy, army and airforce, to keep track of the war.
A link from the Cabinet War Rooms Map Room was back to another famed wartime site I have visited, The Battle of Britain Operations Room, at RAF Uxbridge. (click to see article). It was from this Ops room, that information would be fed to the Cabinet War Rooms. as can be seen by a board giving details of flights during the Battle of Britain.
Links would also be to other war time facilities, including Bletchley Park. The German encrypted messages made on the Enigma Machine would be decoded in Bletchley Park, which helped the Navy plan and fight the Battle of the Atlantic, against the German naval fleet and submarines.
The museum also contains as stated the Churchill Museum, more on that later.
I spent about four hours in the Cabinet War Rooms, so I was somewhat hungry and thirsty, and had an English Afternoon Tea, in the Switchroom Café. Finger sandwiches, (I eat one before taking this picture), made of cheese and cucumber and smoked salmon, a cup of English Breakfast tea with milk, and a piece of cake just like my mother used to make, with strawberry and cream filling, not like mass made factory cake. Paradise.
English Afternoon Tea in the Switchroom, Cabinet War Rooms.