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Tourist & Leisure Attractions - Wartime London

Belinda and Mike - follow our tourist travels in the UK

London - Britain at War & Churchill War Rooms, September 2012

On our first trip to wonderful London since 2008 we decided to take in some Second World War (WWII) attractions.  First up was the Britain at War Experience in Tooley Street, a short walk from London Bridge mainline station.  Next we visited Churchill War Rooms at Westminster, the captivating underground bunker for the wartime government cabinet.  Then we took a stroll in the early autumn sunshine through St. James's Park, seeing Buckingham Palace on the way, to the recently unveiled Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park.
Please note that the Britain at War Experience has closed since our visit.
 

Britain at War attraction in Tooley Street, London
After a 10 minute walk from London Bridge station down the (very) busy Tooley Street we arrived at our first attraction, the Britain at War Experience.  It didn't look much from the outside...

Britain at War: London Underground air raid shelter section
...but once inside Britain at War our first experience was via a 'lift' down to an area decked out as a London Underground air raid shelter, a place many Londoners headed for during air raids.

The Home Front exhibits at Britain at War
There was an underground wartime cinema here too, showing the wartime news, followed by the Home Front section which gave an insight into how the war affected everyday lives.  So with the menfolk called up into the services...

A Land Army girl at the Britain at War Experience in London
...the Women's Land Army took over many farming jobs to keep Britain in food during WWII.  They were paid 1 12 shillings (1.60) for a 50 hr week while Britain was at war.  We also saw a bomb disposal display, ration books and WWII shops.

Britain at War - entering the Anderson shelter
Belinda just couldn't resist trying out this Anderson shelter at the Britain at War Experience.  Inside, just as it says on the tin, we could hear the bombs dropping and explosions all around during an air raid, well scary!  It provided a glimpse of what our grandparents endured during the Blitz in WWII.

Trying out a wartime gas mask at London's Britain at War attraction
Mike just couldn't resist trying out this wartime gas mask - just don't go trying out all that other clobber too!  Some 44 million gas masks were issued to civilians prior to the Second World War and had to be carried at all times in case the Germans dropped poison gas, but they never did.

Wartime evacuees
Many children from towns and cities were evacuated to the countryside during World War Two and stayed with host families.  Many returned, older, years later and their families hardly recognised them; others had inevitably lost one or even both parents.

WWII Prime Minister Winston Churchill at his desk in the Britain at War Experience
So here's the great man himself busy at his desk in Britain at War.  Winston Churchill was Britain's Prime Minister throughout the war, later to became Sir Winston Churchill in recognition of leading Britain to victory in the Second World War.

Britain at War exhibit - servicemen in the pub
We learnt that beer (and cigarettes) were not rationed during the war as they were considered morale boosters.  In this smoky pub scene (called Rainbow Corner, a GI club) we saw off-duty servicemen enjoying a pint or three, while the GI guy on the left appeared to be chatting up a pretty girl (Land Girl maybe?).  Many Americans came over to help Britain's war effort and their cheeky persona led to the famous expression: over-paid, over-sexed and over here!  Jitterbug anyone?

Blitz: bombed scene devastation at Britain at War Experience
This last area at the Britain at War Experience depicted the utter devastation caused in the Blitz by a German air raid, complete with shuddering sound effects, smoke and dramatic lighting.

Entrance to Churchill War Rooms in London's Westminister
A short tube trip later and we arrived at the rather nondescript entrance to Churchill War Rooms, the secret underground headquarters of the wartime British government.  We were issued with...

Churchill War Rooms: War Cabinet Room
...an Audio Guide handset for the self-paced tour.  Churchill War Rooms is part of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) and the first room we viewed was the War Cabinet Room, the place in the underground bunker where Winston Churchill's government and military command plotted their actions and devised strategies during the Second World War.  They met here 115 times, particularly during the Blitz and the German V-weapon offensive.

For links to our visits see our UK tourist resources.

Film interviews playing out in the Churchill Museum, London
We followed through the bunker's narrow underground corridors before moving into the Churchill Museum, opened in 2005 by...

Enigma cipher machine in the Churchill Museum
...the Queen.  In this shot there's a captured German Enigma cipher machine and behind, we think, a picture of the Colossus wartime computer.

Churchill Lifeline in Churchill War Rooms museum
Deep inside the Churchill Museum we tried this awesome interactive timeline - the Churchill Lifeline cataloguing key world events during his time.  By tapping on the year the months opened up to reveal events in documents, photos and film.

BBC relaying Churchill's legendary speeches from the War Rooms
Winston Churchill's wartime morale boosting radio broadcasts to the nation were legendary and the BBC had the necessary facilities installed here in the War Rooms.  'we shall fight them on the beaches... ...we shall never surrender!'

Shorthand typists busy at work in the Cabinet War Rooms
Key government and military staff lived and worked underground in the bunker, some didn't see daylight for weeks on end.  Although a reinforced three-metre concrete slab was fitted above the rooms, a direct hit from a large bomb of 300 kg + would have wiped out the Cabinet War Rooms.

Churchill War Rooms: Map Room
The Map Room was the bunker's information centre.  On view were the colour-coded telephones called the ‘beauty chorus’, wall mounted wartime maps and the Convoy Map seen at the far end.  Amazingly, the Map Room has been left exactly as it was at the end of WWII - haven't the staff aged well!

Cramped bedroom in Churchill War Rooms
During the course of World War Two, important cabinet members had sleeping quarters in the underground War Rooms; these were rather basic and cramped except for...

Churchill's bedroom and office in the Cabinet War Rooms
...Churchill’s Room which was more spacious, carpeted and had a more comfy looking bed, although he only slept in it three times!  However, he made some of his wartime speeches from his desk here.

Many people in St. James's Park, London
London is a very popular tourist destination of course, even late season, as you can see here in St. James's Park still thronged with people late in the day as we made our way to the Bomber Command Memorial.

Viewpoint towards the London Eye over St. James's Park Lake
We paused a while on the bridge over St. James's Park Lake, admired the early autumn colours and spotted the London Eye, a previous London visit for us back in 2002.

Royal crown in St. James's Park made out of hedge
London's parks are fabulous (see our Hyde Park visit) and just to remind us of that we came across this royal crown in St. James's Park made out of hedge.

Buckingham Palace and Victoria Memorial
Presently we crossed The Mall into Green Park and stopped to take this shot of Buckingham Palace and Victoria Memorial.

Outside the Bomber Command memorial in London's Green Park
At the Hyde Park Corner end of Green Park the Bomber Command Memorial is housed in this pavilion.  Unveiled in June 2012, the memorial cost...

Viewing the Bomber Command memorial
...some 6m and forms a worthy tribute to the 55,573  - half the total who flew - Bomber Command airmen who perished on bombing missions.  The odds...

Bronze statues of the Bomber Command memorial in London
...sure were stacked against those brave guys.  The bronze memorial statues depict a bomber crew.

 

Bomber Command and the memorial have both attracted controversy and disagreement, what with the carpet bombing of German targets - instigated by Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris - during World War Two and the somewhat imposing memorial attracting criticism from some quarters.  What's clear though is that at last the bomber boys have been recognised for the huge sacrifice they made to defend Britain during WWII - and that can't be argued with.

We used supermarket reward vouchers to cover the entry cost for both Britain at War and Churchill War Rooms, otherwise the costs at the time of our visits for adult entry would have been 14.50 and 16.50 respectively.

Churchill War Rooms is part of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) so watch out for their 'voluntary' donation that is sneakily added in to the entry price, as we discovered the previous year when we toured Duxford military aviation museum.

 

Sadly the Britain at War Experience attraction has now closed.
You may also like to view our visits to London's Imperial War Museum, RAF museum at Hendon and the Royal Signals Museum, Dorset.