An American’s Coronation Experience

Contemporary Blog

With the coronation last weekend, British pride was apparent throughout London. Patriotism surrounded lawns, and people packed pubs packed to watch the first coronation in 70 years. I thought of presidential inaugurations with the parade routes and extravagant rituals.

British royalty draws fascination from many around the world, mainly due its history and lore. Yet, it often seems the royal family is more like a reality TV show, with people obsessing over their appearances at major events, and family drama dominating front-page headlines. To me, the pomp and circumstance all seemed a bit silly, and we left after about 45 minutes of watching on the big screen at Hyde Park. While the King still maintains influence, he has no real governing power. I wonder how many people truly took part or even cared about the festivities. Tube trains ran on a normal schedule and were packed even while the coronation was in progress. I saw people on their morning jogs and bike rides around the Lancaster Gate neighborhood (near our hotel) and Hyde Park despite the crowds. Most businesses continued to stay open. We were still able to walk around much of this fascinating city, enjoying its art galleries other attractions, which were open throughout the day. While I may not have been as “impressed” by the coronation festivities as others, London was a terrific experience in my first trip outside the U.S.



Coronation Commotion

The atmosphere around London on the days leading up to the Coronation was one of excitement and bustle. Workers were hard at work setting up massive screens in parks to allow for viewing parties, in anticipation of the thousands of passionate supporters that would arrive to support their king. Safety was clearly a priority for the event, as you could not even step near Buckingham Palace, and many major roads had fences put up along the sidewalks to prepare for the parade. Dozens of police lined every street and landmark in anticipation of the massive crowds. Just about every shop and restaurant window displayed congratulations and commemorations for King Charles III. You couldn’t walk fifty feet without seeing something mentioning the Coronation, whether it be a window, sign, or even bus advertisements. But not everyone was in a festive mood. Walking through the streets of London meant that you were likely to encounter some protestors against the Coronation and the immense costs of the ceremony, which cost over $120 million. Despite this, the vast majority of people were feverish. When I visited Buckingham Palace on May 3, three days before the Coronation, I observed people already camped out along The Mall waiting for a chance to see the soon-to-be king. On the day of the Coronation, I partook in the celebrations by heading to one of the watch parties, and, despite the constant rain, I saw hundreds of supporters who had arrived hours before draped in the Union Jack buzzing to witness this historic event. You could hear the crowd singing the Anthem as it was playing during the procession to the Abbey, and loud cheers all throughout London when Charles III was officially crowned King.

With the intense security, this was as close as you could get to the Palace during the coronation.

Trafalgar Square with fences in preparation for the parade.

The Wrens at Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park, located fifty miles from London, is an estate which hosted the Ultra project during WWII. The purpose of Ultra was to break coded German messages and doing so required a large corps of people with varying skills. All of them needed to be able to keep the nature of their work a secret. Engineers and mathematicians as well as computer operators contributed to the codebreaking effort. The staff grew from 150 at the start in 1939 to nearly 10,000 by the end of the war. The majority of those employed at Bletchley were women, specifically members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, aka Wrens.

The exhibits at Bletchley Park had a model of a Bombe machine, with a button which allowed visitors to run it within certain settings to witness how it worked. The hut which focused on the Wrens used actors to describe their work at Bletchley. This worked alongside placards in the room, which described how the workers in Hut 11 would receive a “menu” or instructions from Hut 6 for what settings to put the Bombe in. This involved turning the 108 drums exactly as they needed to be in order to move on in the codebreaking and translation process. This work had to be incredibly careful and required significant effort and focus to operate the machines properly, and the Wrens provided the numbers and skills needed for this project. The exhibits at Bletchley on the process of codebreaking showed how the Wrens’ operating of the Bombe machines was a vital step in the process of decoding and conveyed to me just how necessary their work was yet how overlooked it is oftentimes. The conditions in the spaces where Wrens worked are described on placards as stuffy, dark, and claustrophobic. Being inside the huts felt this way to me even without experiencing them alongside the number of machines and people they worked amongst every day. The Bombe machines, as shown in pictures at the site, nearly reached the short ceiling and were set up in rows along the entire length of the hut. Operating the Bombe required precision, because putting a plug in the wrong spot or shifting the gear slightly over could cause a delay in finding the correct settings to decode with and, thus, waste time that could be used finding lifesaving pieces of information. The tenacity of the Wrens and all staff at Bletchley made the Ultra operation as successful as possible, even under the stressful conditions of their work.

G-D SAVE THE KING: A Comrade’s Time at the Coronation – A Contemporary Blog

The loudest crowd reaction I have ever witnessed came as a wave of boos directed at Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, during his introduction at the 2019 draft. Nice? Not in the slightest. Powerful? There’s no doubt. Well, Roger – or rather the draft crowd – recently lost its place atop my list of booming audiences. As King Charles III was crowned, the communal roar of ‘God Save The King’ engulfed me while I stood in Hyde Park on Saturday, May 6. The noise of our crowd and the echoes of surrounding clusters silenced any noise coming from the wind, birds, and rain. Yet as I communicated my unique experience to friends back home, they quickly reminded me that Coronation Day also welcomed many protests. While I stood in a crowd of supporters I was sure that a differing national perspective hit the streets as well, and I wondered how their interaction with the heavy police presence differed from mine. While police lined tight passageways for civilians and celebrities to move throughout the city, they also clashed with protesters along the way. Bright yellow signs were one way to identify protestors; the color easily contrasted the supportive and native blue, red, and white, and messages like “Not My King” and “Abolish the Monarchy” spoke for themselves. Posters covered the streets in the days leading up to the Coronation as well, with many questioning the use of taxpayer funds – well over 100 million pounds – to pay for the ceremony. Discussions regarding royal gems, headlined by India’s call for the return of the Kohinoor diamond, represented a larger debate over British imperialism.

Simply put, the Crown’s relationship with its constituents is far more complex than I had imagined. While I doubt I will ever see another Coronation, I am unsure whether opposition will gain enough steam to fully dismantle the monarchy. I certainly won’t forget the goosebumps that rang through my body as “G-D Save The King” was chanted amidst opposing voices calling out, adding complexity and depth to my interpretation of the Royal family, past, present, and future.

*Two posters that stood out to me during my time in London, showing two differing responses to the Coronation.

War Through Varied Lenses

Walking through England, there are museums, monuments, and historical sites everywhere you look. When I visited the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill War Museum, and Bletchley Park I found them to represent history in completely different ways.
The Imperial War Museum was immense and it displayed a lot of items and descriptions for soldiers from England, soldiers from Germany, families at home, and so much more. I feel like every corner I turned, there was a new gas mask or uniform I was looking at. One room was built to look like the inside of a house. It’s wallpaper showed pictures of families wearing gas masks, pictures of kids playing, and pictures of soldiers. There was a fire flickering in the middle of the room, and a radio next to that. The radio was playing an old broadcast that was talking about the war, but it was hard to make out exactly what the voice was saying. As I was walking around it was insane to imagine that this was how people lived for six years. Leaving the house, there was an air raid shelter that I was able to squeeze inside. I wasn’t even able to stand up straight while I was in there. Right outside of the shelter was a display showing all of the bombs that might have been dropped on the fake home I was just in which was chilling to imagine. The Imperial War Museum explained so many different topics by trying to have them be as relatable to viewers as possible, and walking around really showed me a lot of different perspectives of the war. It it helped me understand just how many different perspectives there could have been during the war, whether that be that of a soldier, or that of families sheltering in place at home.
Opposing the broad perspective of the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill War Museum focused completely on Churchill and the behind-the-scenes of planning the war. In all of my history classes we have always talked about important people meeting in a room to discuss big plans for the war. I don’t think I completely understood the work that went into planning such complex things as war until I was able to walk through the war rooms and hear workers from this time talk about their jobs and experiences. There were maps that took up the entire wall that had lines and pins scattered all over them showing where troops from both sides were. There were statistics posted everywhere showing casualty rates of both friend and foe, and every wall that surrounded me was covered in paper. I can’t even comprehend the amount of work that went into keeping such accurate information and deciding which information was important enough to be posted. In addition to looking around, I was listening to an audio guide that was explaining what I was looking at. When first person accounts started playing of the people that worked there it showed me everything in a new perspective. So many of the rooms had typewriters and beds in the same space. Listening to a woman tell me how she would wake up, start working and continue working all day, only to go to bed and repeat the same process the next day told me exactly how dedicated everyone involved in the behind the scenes of the war was to this cause. This museum was a lot more specific to what kind of work these people were able to complete and how it helped the outcome of the war overall.
Bletchley Park was similar to the Churchill War Museums in how it focused primarily on one thing, which in this case was codebreaking, but it differed because it explained how the workers did their jobs. Bletchley Park focused on explaining the Enigma machine, and all over the park there were little interactive games that explained the process of codebreaking. The first thing I saw when I walked into the museum was what looked like a little gear. I found out that this “gear” was actually a ring of letters that made up a rotor. This rotor was then set to a certain order of letters (depending on which code was being used) and there was a plugboard that lined up each letter typed to what the coded letter would be. Despite seeing the enigma machine being taken apart in front of me, I still don’t completely understand how it works. This helped me to develop a deep respect for those that worked here and understood such a complex concept. This respect was only grew because there were pictures of young women all over the walls next to explanations about how they worked all day every day to break this code, yet they couldn’t let anyone know what they were doing. They were about my age, or even younger which completely blows my mind. This museum was different because it explained the process of how information was gathered and how workers did their jobs instead of simply explaining the overall effect this work had on the war.
These museums represent history in completely different ways, but I find this valuable as it shows how there are many ways to view a national war. Every single person has a different memory of WWII, and seeing so many different museums has let me start to understand that the collective memory of WWII is insanely varied. Depending on what your experiences were or what you’re focused on studying, you can view WWII completely differently than someone else which I has made me love learning about it even more.

A Contemporary Coronation

The first week of my World War II Study Abroad experience was spent in London, England at a very exciting time in the country. This past Saturday, May 8th, the United Kingdom crowned King Charles III in the nation’s first coronation ceremony in seven decades. Filled with pageantry and spectators, London seemed to be brimming with national pride for the duration of our trip. Symbolizing this national pride, the Union Jack flew over many important streets and buildings throughout Central London, such as over Soho.

The wet weather on the day of the coronation did not keep large crowds from forming, with one watching the ceremony on a jumbotron in Hyde Park.
With his coronation, King Charles inherits the British sphere of influence, the Commonwealth, which is comprised of many former British colonies.  Former British colonies, such as Canada and Australia, had their flags displayed above the final stretch of the procession.
The coronation procession ended at Buckingham Palace. In many ways, the ceremony reminded me of a presidential inauguration in the United States, though with religious elements and comparatively miniscule political power. Overall, having the ability to be in London at this time was really incredible and I cannot wait to see what awaits me in the next countries our group travels to!

The People’s War as Seen Through the Eyes of the Women in the War Rooms


The War Room’s conference room

By Cecelia Minard

The sites we visited while in the United Kingdom shared a common theme of solidarity and sacrifice. We had discussed the Brits’ sacrifices during the Second World War in our class on “Bombing the People,” but seeing these displays brought it to life. While the US Americans back home were peripherally affected by the war, the British were more directly affected, dealing with intense nights of German Luftwaffe bombings, known as the Blitz. The artifacts and historical records displayed at Bletchley Park, the Imperial War Museum, and the Churchill War Rooms demonstrated the British collective experience during the war. The British had to come together to survive.

The Squander Bug, used in England to discourage wasteful spending

During the Blitz, Londoners frequently hid in the underground railway system- known as the Tube- for protection. Government-issued Anderson shelters came in kits of six sheets of corrugated iron or steel to be constructed as bomb shelters in citizens’ backyards. Both the US and the UK rationed food but it was more severe in the UK than in the US, with sugar and meats being especially scarce. English families were even encouraged to send their kids to the countryside to protect them from the bombing raids. Nearly everyone participated in the war effort, leading the British to call the Second World War the “People’s War.”

The War Room's kitchen

The War Room’s kitchen

I saw this highlighted consistently. The Imperial War Museum included a reconstruction of a standard house as it would have been in London during the war. Complete with a dining room table that doubled as a bomb shelter, gas masks, examples of rationed meals, and even a full-sized Anderson shelter in the back.

Churchill’s War Room Office

The Churchill War Rooms also demonstrated the British collective memory of the war, though in a different way than the Imperial War Museum. While the latter focused on the citizen’s common experience, the Churchill War Rooms focused on politics. Yet to me, the most interesting part of the War Rooms museum focused on civilian life, specifically the women that worked there. There was one chef for the War Rooms, a woman who felt her contribution to the war was feeding the decision-makers. 

Another woman working in the War Rooms was Churchill’s secretary. Churchill’s brashness startled her at first, but she later got used to his direct communication style and was quoted saying she enjoyed working for him. She was kept busy almost constantly, writing down anything Churchill needed. These are a few examples of how British women contributed to the war effort.

Beneath the Surface: The Subtle Presentation of the British “People’s War”

Beneath the Surface: The Subtle Presentation of the British “People’s War”

Interpretive Blog

Erik Ehrenfeld

     Some of the museums that the World War II study abroad group visited in Britain were focused on a particular topic or person, such as code breaking at Bletchley Park and the Prime Minister’s wartime command from the Churchill War Rooms. Others attempted to present an all-encompassing narrative of the war, as seen at the Imperial War Museum. Nevertheless, these facilities told their stories through individual displays that portrayed WWII as a “People’s War.” The idea of the People’s War holds that the conflict erased Britain’s societal barriers through communal suffering and a shared determination for victory. Following days of site tours and reflection, I found that patterns emerged in the museums’ content and presentation that subtly implied a classless struggle against a common foe.

    Two artifacts in the Churchill War Rooms suggested this interpretation. The first was the Prime Minister’s Colt .45 pistol that he carried during World War I and owned thereafter.

While notable because of its ownership, the pistol was indistinguishable from others of the type and could have been issued to a common soldier rather than the future Prime Minister. This similarity suggested that Churchill and his soldiers used the same equipment and shared the dangers of the trenches. Another display contained sugar cubes that an RAF wing commander had hidden in his desk.

The officer probably stashed the cubes to prevent theft, as rationing limited the availability of sugar; however, another possibility is that he illegally acquired the cubes and concealed them in his desk. Wartime rationing and the black market, therefore, affected all Britons, from enlisted soldiers to wing commanders. Thus, while neither of these objects’ captions mentioned the concept, the People’s War narrative existed beneath the surface of the displays.

London: The People’s Pride

While walking around London, there seemed to be a great deal of national pride. It was the coronation weekend, so it made sense that spirits were raised, and people were happy, but I do not think it was only that. The British flags hanging around every street and the shop windows with King Charles III were most likely because of the coronation, but the national monuments that are constantly around are a part of people’s lives every day. On our first day in London, we saw red guards marching down the street and everyone, even the British people, stopped and turned for them. We heard a few gasps and whispers as they walked by. I often wonder how the British people view the monarchy, and to be there for the coronation of a new king brought some light to that. I stood in the crowd and waited with people for the coronation. People brought champagne bottles, flew British flags, and cheered when the king was crowned.

Photo during the coronation of King Charles III

The patriotism made it surprising to see how much emphasis the British focus on the unity between the allies in the WWII museums. There was always mention of “The Big Three” and how Britain was able to win only after they had their allies fighting with them. It was not just at the museums when this came up. I was talking with one of my peers at Bletchley Park about the friendship between Churchill and Roosevelt specifically. We mentioned specifically the correspondence between them that we read and how Churchill was more open in their friendship. A British woman came up behind us and said, “Well, that’s not a surprise. We kind of needed you.” It was lighthearted, and we all had a nice laugh about it, but it was surprising to hear it said so bluntly.

Bletchley Park poster telling workers not to talk about the intelligence operations they were performing.


The Worms’ War: British Museums Make World War II about the People

The Churchill War Rooms were the headquarters for the highest level of the wartime government. As a museum, it exhibits focus on the life and legacy of Churchill, punctuated by some very amusing quotations, such as the Prime Minister’s “We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow-worm.” But, the exhibits also highlighted the others who worked in the bunker and the conditions they put up with. People like his secretary, Elizabeth Nel, and his wife, Clementine, spoke during the audio tour devoted to sharing what life was like for them in the war. Early in the tour, we got a look at the “dock,” a cramped basement area where guards, secretaries, and others slept while having to deal with rats and other inconveniences. The British idea of the “People’s War” was front and center at the CWR: the idea that the war involved every citizen in some way.

At Bletchley Park, the exhibit also focused more on those who worked there than what was actually done. They introduce codebreakers and engineers like the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service), intelligence officers, and mathematicians – explaining their contributions to Allied intelligence and the war effort. A bulletin listed every member of the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley in 1939. Speakerphones throughout the compound played recordings of actual Bletchley workers describing their experiences at this critical division. In addition to details about the codebreaking operation, these recordings also shared seemingly mundane information, like how the work bored them, how the compound food tasted, and the joy they felt when some American visitors brought pancakes with them. It became clear that although the museum was meant to educate people about Bletchley Park, it was also meant to celebrate the people behind its success, like Elizabeth Granger and Claude Henderson.

It was clear from these museums that England chooses not just to remember the soldiers who fought in battle, but also the thousands of citizens who were mobilized to support the war effort however they could. This national memory seems to have grown out of the solidarity of a nation ravaged by bombings designed to destroy the country’s morale, instead having the opposite effect. Winston Churchill may have been the head glow-worm, but perhaps during that war, the rest of the British people turned into glow-worms as well.


Point of View

Point of View

A Comparative Blog of English Sites

By Meg Brosneck


Our journey began in England with three central locations: the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill War Rooms, and Bletchley Park. Each of these covered WWII in unique ways, and visiting all three offered a chance to compare the different viewpoints of the war.

Continue reading

Bias in the Museums

         As someone who has spent their life within the United States, I have become accustomed to the portrayals and memorabilia throughout the nation. Now that I have traveled across the world and landed in London to study, I have begun to realize and observe how differently nations portray the same events. The Second World War is highly recognized and studied but the British and the United States, although allies in the war, have a different take and point of view.

            The United States often has WWII memorabilia and museums that demonstrate entering the war from December 7, 1941 as an unstoppable and driving force. The US is portrayed as well organized and already planned without flaws in sight, but the truth cannot be found within the bias walls of an American museum, but in the museums of other Allied forces halfway across the world. British propaganda signs were scattered throughout the Imperial War Museum stating things such as “The Yanks aren’t coming. Get ready boys.” This was a way to take a stab at the American forces for not joining the war before Pearl Harbor while also advertising to get more British enlistment. Often times, Churchill did not agree with the thoughts or actions of the American military forces but was forced to come to terms with them under a compromise. The American forces wanted to enter the war at full strength and brutally fight back the Germans, while the British had a more tactical and effective approach of deception attacks that would save thousands of lives. American museums do not demonstrate or give credit to the British powers for their ideas and strategies in war.

            This analysis can bring many to the idea that the British would have survived the war and won without the American forces. American museums demonstrate their numbers and strength is what turned the war around, while British museums will not acknowledge how desperately they needed the American forces. Although Pear Harbor was a devastating day, it was a mere blessing for the Allied Powers because the American forces came in with the idea of “Germany First. Then Japan” which allowed for central focus to be on the Germans.

 Both the United States and Britain use bias in their displays. The British do not fully acknowledge the need for American forces and the Americans do not fully acknowledge their mistakes and adaptation to British ideology for the better. Each display allows a new form of information while also providing a bias. Combating a bias is only possible to see it from both sides.

Whose “People’s War”?

When visiting London, England we analyzed the British idea of WWII being a “People’s War.” This idea of a “People’s War” meant a war that was fought by everyone from ordinary people/civilians to the soldiers fighting on the war front. Everyone played their part and did what they needed to do for their country and for victory. I think Bletchley Park serves as a slight contradiction to the idea of a People’s War; highlighting the stark differences in experiences of the various people involved in the war effort.

Bletchley Park Entrance Sign

Bletchley Park is an estate north of London that served as the headquarters of “Ultra” and Code-Breaking Intelligence during World War II. Hidden from the public, intelligence agents used enigma machines and other varieties of code-breaking technologies, pieces of enemy code were taken from building to building by code runners and deciphered further. Knowledge obtained at this site would reveal German plans and formations and also helped put the allied forces at an advantage against the Germans.


Enigma Code-Breaking Machine

Recruitment for positions at Bletchley came from various avenues in England. Approximately three-fourths of the codebreakers at Bletchley were women who were recruited from Women’s Services such as the Women Royal Navy Service, Women‘s Auxiliary Air Force, etc. Further recruitment came from both networking and trusted aristocratic relationships, as well as, from newspapers and contests in which ordinary civilian winners were called in for interviews. These civilians had no idea where they were going or what they would be doing until they got to Bletchley. These ordinary people left their lives behind for new opportunity and new scenery, without a clue of what they were in for.

Code Breaking “Huts”

Mansion at Bletchley Park

When visiting this site, it was interesting to compare my original thoughts of what the compound would look like versus the reality. I had envisioned a desolate area, clearly affected by wartime, with small sheds as huts that sat extremely close together. Instead, Bletchley was a beautiful estate, with a pond, a mansion and significantly larger buildings than I expected. When visiting Bletchley Park, you would not think that an enormous secret code-breaking program was happening. Other than the “huts” where the code-breakers worked, the grounds looked more like a country club than a military compound. While Bletchley made significant contributions to the war effort, it does challenge the notion of WWII as being a “People’s War” due to the fact that these code-breakers and everyone else involved in Bletchley were pretty much isolated from the war, unlike the city of London just to the south.

The recruitment of ordinary, everyday citizens using magazines and puzzle contests in newspapers definitely contributes to this ideal, but the fact is, Bletchley Park, a significant force in the success of WWII, was actually over an hour outside of the city of London. London at the time was being barraged with bombs during the Blitz and was in a state of despair. Bletchley, while conditions were still not the best, still managed to escape most of the fallout of the war, unlike if they were in the heart of London. With the differing experiences in wartime, I believe that the lines of what defines a “People’s War” seem to blur.

Weathering the Blitz: The Importance of Morale to the People’s War

World War II was the greatest conflict in human history by any measure. People experienced it differently based on their nationality and personal background. In England, modern historical memory derives from the concept of a People’s War. This ideological framework holds that all individuals must make sacrifices for the common good during Britain’s darkest hour. The father of the People’s War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill understood the social anxiety and physical destruction that German bombs and rockets unleashed on London. Londoners weathered the Blitz by rationing food and supplies, evacuating children to the countryside, observing blackout conditions, spotting enemy aircraft, taking shelter, keeping calm, fighting fires, and rescuing those trapped in the rubble. It was not simply in the air but in homes and metro stations that the Battle of Britain was truly won. Only the resilient spirit of the British people could overcome Nazi terror and barbarism.

On Westminster Square, the Churchill War Rooms are situated in reinforced concrete bunker, which served as Great Britain’s command and control center for most of the war. Churchill lamented that the Nazis had driven his government underground, because he believed it was symbolic of Hitler’s power over him. Nonetheless, Churchill used the facility for cabinet meetings and wartime strategy. Today, the War Rooms are a public example of the war effort at the highest levels of command. Those commanders and statesmen needed typists, guards, codebreakers and even cooks. To that end, the War Rooms highlight the important contributions that everyday people made to defeat Nazi Germany, because they worked long hours under tight security as the very fate of the world hung in the balance. In the bunker, British citizens worked in stale, smoke-filled rooms, slept in a cramped concrete cellar, and absorbed a minuscule amount of daylight. Even so, I was impressed by the humility of typists and messengers who recalled their experience of the war and claimed to be simply doing their part.

Winston Churchill is enshrined throughout London as a moral leader who personified dogged resistance to German bombardment. To an extent, he certainly did; I for one particularly enjoyed the emphasis on his heroic speeches and witty quips, such as: “We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow worm.” Still, historians should take care not to deify him. Instead, we must unpack his perspective to imitate his statesmanship. From a secure phoneline disguised as a “water closet,” Churchill formed a close relationship with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who wrestled the U.S. Congress into aiding Great Britain. The famous Map Room, where British officers tracked every theatre of war, exemplifies the global nature of WWII, which could not have been won without help from the Soviet Union as well as current and former British colonies. Additionally, Churchill expected British colonies to carry on the struggle if the mainland were lost. He understood the necessity of waging war with all means at his disposal, because he saw Adolf Hitler as a tyrant and the essence of evil. To Churchill’s credit, the War Rooms note the blood spilled by Commonwealth nations (e.g. India, Australia, Canada…) in the struggle against Axis powers around the world.

Without strong diplomacy, charismatic leadership, and effective air strategy, Great Britain may have succumbed to the Nazis. English historical memory attributes much of this victory to Prime Minister Churchill, but it would be folly to think that it was his alone. He himself believed that the seeds of victory were sown with the bravery of British airmen, the endurance of working-class families, and the selflessness of first responders. “Keep calm and carry on” was the mantra of a time when it took courage to leave for work in the morning or fade into sleep at night. When recalling the Battle of Britain, it is important to acknowledge the contributions of those too often left out of the limelight. We must remember not only the gritty politician whose speeches energized the nation but also those listening on the radio as the bombs erupted around them. Otherwise, the so-called People’s War evaporates into a myth used by the powerful to explain away the suffering of many.

A War of Country Against Country

The wall quote at the entrance to the Churchill War Rooms.

One of the many meeting room tables in the Churchill War Rooms.

The main meeting desk in the Churchill War Rooms.

Our class learned about and discussed multiple aspects of World War Two in seminar all semester, and the term “People’s War” was thrown around a lot in discussing the English experience. The reality of the term “People’s War,” truly did not hit me until I visited London and the Churchill War Rooms. The theme of a “People’s War” in Britain is emphasized throughout the museum. Before visiting London and the War Rooms, I always thought of World War Two as a battle between militaries and leaders, for example, Hitler vs. Churchill, or RAF vs. Luftwaffe. After leaving London, I see how much effort individual people made during the war, especially in England! Getting the support and help of a country is difficult, and it is extremely impressive that Winston Churchill was able to do just this. Each Churchill speech or statement  was strategic in that it made the country rally together to fight the Axis powers. In the museum, there was a tablet with around fifty Winston Churchill quotes, broken up by date. The most  powerful came in  his first speech as prime minister in 1940, when Churchill said, “You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”  Thus Churchill conveyed to his people that the war was not world leader against world leader, or even military against military,  but a total war of country against country. This quote left such an impression upon me, I even jotted it down in my cell phone. Seeing London and the War Rooms allowed me to fully comprehend the “People’s War” in England.