Hello from England! My time here in London has been incredible, and I have seen so many different cultural landmarks it’s making my head spin. I have noticed in London that the concept of silence has recurred. It caught my attention during my visit to Westminster Abbey on the first day. Walking into the cathedral, I was struck by the grandeur of the Gothic architecture. The flying buttresses and enormous stained glass windows were impressive. But I was also caught by the ban on photography in tandem with the quiet emanating through the entryway. The other visitors set an example by staying quiet and respectful of the dead buried in the structure, honoring the impressive names buried there. Sitting in a huge chamber with vaulted walls, I would have expected to hear many echoes of conversation. I was caught off guard by the silence in such a popular tourist destination.
Later in the week, The Churchill War Rooms also reminded me of silence. These bunkers were where Winston Churchill went to work during he Blitz after 10 Downing Street was hit by a bomb. These cramped concrete corridors exemplify the struggle of Londoners during the Blitz, with furtive work done in 12 hour shifts underground. Churchill himself demanded complete silence throughout the structure, to the point that the analysts used special typewriters that didn’t clack during use. I can’t even imagine working in a dark, silent concrete bunker underground, without the opportunity to see the sun for weeks at a time. A guest speaker who lived through the Blitz reinforced the idea that Churchill knew the power of his words, reinforcing British morale during the war and keeping hopes high.
The site that most exemplified silence to me was Bletchley Park. A pleasant hour train ride from London and midway between Oxford and Cambridge, Bletchley became the center of British intelligence during WWII. ULTRA was based here, as well as the cryptanalysis efforts that cracked Enigma. Many wooden huts were built on this former family estate, each housing a different unit of military intelligence or cryptanalysis. Those employed here were sworn to secrecy, only allowed to tell each other which hut they worked in. The secrets of Bletchley were first revealed in 1974, 30 years after the war ended. Many employees took the secret to their graves. The silence of these tireless workers demonstrates both their recognition of the importance of their work and their respect for the war effort. Seeing the huts they worked in reinforced my understanding of their experience.
I experienced other silences in London. The quiet of the Tube as Londoners returned home from work. The contemplative silence while walking through the Holocaust Memorial in the Imperial War Museum. The gaggles of tourists in awe at the sight of the London Eye and Big Ben lit up at night. Silence was a strong component of my time in England, and I feel it served as a nice contrast to the loud and effervescent America I am used to. I look forward to what comes, in Bayeux and beyond.
P.S. Here are some of the pictures I took in London: