Lasting Impact

Big Ben BWThe first place we visited as a group was the Churchill War Rooms near Westminster Abbey and Parliament. The Cabinet War Rooms were in a reinforced steel and concrete bunker that Churchill and his staff used to run the war. I was lucky enough to have visited the rooms last summer when I came to the Great Britain on a family vacation. However, I had not had the opportunity to take several World War II classes before visiting. As such, this visit possessed a poignancy my last visit did not. This time, I had studied the war and its difficulties in depth, and so it was immensely humbling to visit the small rooms in which the war was organized.

The men and women there worked without sunshine in secret, congested quarters doing what needed to be done. Sometimes, when I talk about the twentieth century–and especially World War II–I romanticize it; I fall for the glamour, patriotic declarations, and excitement in the old black-and-white films I love to watch. By visiting one of the places where they worked and learning, for example, about the low ceilings, limited protection, and lack of sunshine in the bunker, I appreciate Churchill and his staff’s endurance and determination even more.

I have been spending most of my time simply walking around London; as I have walked, I have come across monuments commemorating the war and the important contributors. The public and consistent acknowledgement of World War II struck me. In the United States, it frequently seems as though Americans do not possess a shared public consciousness about World War II and its costs, effects, and significance. The war is simply an event that happened in the past that affected our grandparents and their families and is commemorated in a single monument in Washington D.C. As we walked down the London sidewalks, we saw statues praising General Slim and General Montgomery and memorials saluting the women in World War II. In London, the war seems much more present in the national memory. Bombs fell on London itself and destroyed thousands of homes and locations representing thousands of years of British history.

However, the most memorable moment was when I walked into the back of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.  Westminster Abbey is a fantastically large and detailed cathedral, and the chapel was once considered to be one of the great wonders of the world. In the back of the chapel is a series of stained glass windows honoring the men of the Royal Air Force who served during the Battle of Britain. It seemed odd to me to place stained glass windows honoring World War II in a medieval chapel, but it highlighted for me the war’s significance in London as a destructive and powerful force that has left a lasting impact on the city and its future history.

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