The Churchill War Rooms, housed beneath the heart of London, England, kicked off the study tour in an exciting and informative way. As an amateur historian, I am always thrilled to explore and evaluate historical museums, and the setup of the war rooms was both creative and effective. The museum’s layout was designed to immerse us in the past; the war rooms themselves were essentially untouched from the time that Churchill and his team left at the end of the war. The narrow hallways and dim lighting made it easy to imagine what it was like to work for hours below ground under tense conditions. It was harder to picture what it would be like to work 18-hour days consistently, spending only a few hours a day above ground, and sleeping below the earth with the same people I worked with all day. The lives of Churchill’s team must have been incredibly stressful, but their quotes throughout the exhibits implied that they felt privileged to have had the experience of working under an amazing leader for a truly noble cause.
An entire portion of the museum is dedicated entirely to Winston Churchill himself. It explains his impact on the nation during the war and then backtracks to his early life and earlier political career, before pushing ahead to his postwar influence. The museum toys with the British memory of WWII as the “People’s War”: the idea that everyone on the home front and those fighting across the world all made sacrifices in order to win the war. While immortalizing Churchill as an incredibly strong leader in a time when the empire and world were in danger of Nazi domination, the museum does not deify the Prime Minister or imply he singlehandedly defeated Hitler’s regime. It even includes criticism from his peers and everyday British citizens to remind guests that he was a human with flaws, although a remarkable human, nonetheless. Great Britain lends credit to Churchill as the driving force of the British effort during the war, but the museum does well to also include the stories and opinions of everyday people who experienced the Blitz, rationing, and the otherwise intense working and living conditions of the Second World War.