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Churchill War Rooms

 

The Churchill War Rooms is a museum in London and one of the five branches of the Imperial War Museum. The museum comprises the Cabinet War Rooms, a historic underground complex that housed a British government command centre throughout the Second World War, and the Churchill Museum, a biographical museum exploring the life of British statesman Winston Churchill.

After the war, the historic value of the Cabinet War Rooms was recognised. Their preservation became the responsibility of the Ministry of Works and later the Department for the Environment, during which time very limited numbers of the public were able to visit by appointment. In the early 1980s the Imperial War Museum was asked to take over the administration of the site, and the Cabinet War Rooms were opened to the public in April 1984. The museum was reopened in 2005 following a major redevelopment as the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, but in 2010 this title was shortened to the Churchill War Rooms.

Work to convert the basement of the New Public Offices began, under the supervision of Ismay and Sir Leslie Hollis, in June 1938. The work included installing communications and broadcasting equipment, sound-proofing, ventilation and reinforcement. Meanwhile, by the summer of 1938 the War Office, Admiralty and Air Ministry had developed the concept of a Central War Room that would facilitate discussion and decision-making between the Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces.

During its operational life two of the Cabinet War Rooms were of particular importance. Once operational, the facility's Map Room was in constant use and manned around the clock by officers of the Royal Navy, British army and Royal Air Force. Thesee Minister and the military Chiefs of Staff.

On 22 October 1940, during the Blitz bombing campaign against Britain, it was decided to increase the protection of the Cabinet War Rooms by the installation of a massive layer of concrete known as 'the Slab'. Up to 5 feet (1.5 metres) thick, the Slab was progressively extended and by spring 1941 the increased protection had enabled the Cabinet War Rooms to expand to three times their original size. While the usage of many of the War Rooms' individual rooms changed over the course of the war, the facility included dormitories for staff, private bedrooms for military officers and senior ministers, and rooms for typists or telephone switchboard operators.

After the end of the war, the Cabinet War Rooms became redundant and were abandoned. Their maintenance became the responsibility of the Ministry of Works. In March 1948 the question of public access to the War Rooms was raised in Parliament and the Minister responsible, Charles Key MP, considered that 'it would not be practicable to throw open for inspection by the general public accommodation which forms part of an office where confidential work is carried on'. Even so, a tour was organised for journalists on 17 March, with members of the press being welcomed by Lord Ismay and shown around the Rooms by their custodian, Mr. George Rance.

In 1974, the Imperial War Museum was approached by the government and asked to consider taking over the administration of the site. A feasibility study was prepared but came to nothing, the museum feeling it did not have sufficient resources to commit to the War Rooms. In 1981, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, known as an admirer of Winston Churchill, expressed the hope that the Rooms could be opened before the next general election. The Imperial War Museum was again approached. Initially still reluctant, the museum's trustees decided in January 1982 that the museum would take over the site, on the understanding that the government would make the necessary resources available. The initial costs were to be met by the Department for the Environment and the War Rooms intended to be self-supporting thereafter.

Missouri Civil War Museum


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