Although the Churchill War Rooms and the Churchill Museum attract almost 500,000 visitors annually, Winston Churchill ironically “didn’t enjoy his War Rooms.” As Jonathan Asbury notes in Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, during the war Churchill presided over meetings in the cabinet room and was a fixture in the map room but he probably never ate in the dining room reserved for his use and slept only a couple of nights underground in his assigned bedroom.
Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms is published by the Imperial War Museum and provides more than 150 photographs in a coffee table book format. Most of the photographs are color images of the restored rooms along with various equipment and objects (stirrup pumps, broadcasting equipment, fans, and a famous Churchill “klop”) used in the rooms. The photographs are clear, crisp, and bright. The book would have benefited from the addition of more contemporary images from the war years.
The photographs are supported by text, capsule information, and quotes from the men and women who served in the war rooms, including Leading Aircraft Woman Myra Murden who observed, “The building to me had masses of corridors. How the heck you ever found your way around I shall never know.”
Among the most interesting images in the book are the wooden arms of Churchill’s chair in the cabinet room that is “gouged with scratch marks that speak volumes for the nervous energy of its occupant and the tension of the hundreds of meetings that he presided over in this room.”
The restoration of the Churchill War Rooms over the years has been a pain-staking effort that has been occasionally received timely assistance. For example, as recounted in the book, an American soldier retrieved the sign for Clementine Churchill’s room from a bin in 1945 and four decades later arranged for its return before the War Rooms opened to the public in 1984.