When visiting the Churchill War Rooms, I was most struck by the exhibit dedicated to the life of the man himself, Winston Churchill. In the dark, cavernous room, artifacts from throughout Churchill’s life were illuminated under bright lights and memorialized in great detail. In one step I went from looking at Churchill’s childhood report cards to an encasement of a magnificent velvet romper— a kind of socialite outfit representative of the leader’s flare. Filling an expansive room with such diverse Churchill relics went a long way to show how contemporary England lionizes its wartime leader. Although given to arrogance, crudeness, and histrionics, Churchill spun these features to be endearing, not condemnable. In fact, one station took visitors through a virtual circuit of Churchill’s zaniest quotes from adolescence to death. Strolling through the exhibit, it is clear that the collective memory of Churchill is still one of admiration. As a viewer, I smiled at the school records outlining Churchill’s disobedience. I laughed at the timeline showing Churchill’s never-changing daily ritual (which included several drinks, baths, and cigars). Walking through the exhibit, I began to understand why Churchill remains so revered by people across the world. His leadership showed grit, rebelliousness, and passion. During the Second World War, the Allies needed a leader to inspire the public toward victory at all costs. Churchill fulfilled that role.
It is no wonder why affixed to the central wall of the Churchill exhibit is a quote by Beverly Nichols of the Daily Telegraph stating, “he [Churchill] mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.” The leader used his gifts of rhetoric and performance to steel the Allied populations. When morale was low, like in the wake of Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor, Churchill called for perseverance and pushed the people to keep fighting. During a time of unprecedented destruction, the free world needed a leader willing to speak honestly and fervently to the people, and they got that leader in Winston Churchill. In a way, Churchill’s distinctive leadership during the war allowed his transformation from man to myth in the public memory.