British Pride & Legacy

On the day our group arrived in London, my first World War II related thought came to me at Russell Square, the train station that would soon become very familiar to us all. The train speaker reminded us to “mind the gap” as we exited the small, cramped train, and I immediately noticed how deep underground the station felt. There was no sign of sunlight, the tunnels were dark, cold, and seemed to stretch forever. This subway system, called The London Underground, aka the Tube, sheltered many London citizens during the relentless German bombing campaign in September 1940. It was surreal to imagine people sleeping on this exact station platform and the tracks down below 83 years ago, while Hitler’s Luftwaffe pounded London from above.

A Tube station in London. Many used these underground stations to shelter from the brutal German bombings.

Our group moved to the station’s stairs, where we climbed a few flights, only to be greeted by a pack of Londoners waiting for a lift (elevator) that would bring them up to street level. We were, in fact, far below ground. As we emerged from the station, I took in my first look at London architecture. The street had a mix of new, modern buildings that sat right next to old, traditional, beautiful architecture. This gave me the impression that as much as London progresses into the future, it values its history incredibly.

London embraces its history through conserving its old architecture, like this building.

We continued to learn how Britain honors its past through our visits to the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum the following day. These two sites are also located underground, beneath the Treasury in Westminster. The war rooms were occupied by Britain’s key government leaders and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. These basement offices protected the command center from German bombing and had the proper communication equipment to allow Churchill to broadcast to the British public and speak with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 2005, a part of the war rooms was transformed into the Churchill Museum, which chronicles his life and legacy in Britain. From visiting these sites, it became clear to me that Churchill led the British people bravely through the war, and he used his excellent speaking skills to rally the U.K. in desperate times. While World War II was considered a “people’s war” for the British, due to the sacrifices made across society, these two sites are concentrated on the British government’s wartime efforts.

This command room was where Winston Churchill met with his Cabinet. He sat in the middle wooden chair, often filling the unvented room with his cigar smoke.

The next day brought us to the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth and Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. We could have spent all day at the museum, as it had many interesting exhibits. Admission into the Imperial War Museum is free, which is nice because it makes it easier for British citizens to visit and learn about their history. The museum’s World War II exhibit highlighted the war effort on the home front, how citizens of Commonwealth nations answered the call, and the impact of the United States entering the war. While the attack at Pearl Harbor was a devastating blow to the U.S., Churchill and Britain were relieved that their Western ally would now be fighting alongside them.

Britain was not shy to show its relief when the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor and entered the war. Churchill said, “Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”

The Bomber Command Memorial commemorates the 55,000 members of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command who perished during the war. It was unveiled in 2012 and its roof contains aluminum from a Canadian bomber that crashed over Belgium in May 1944. Different from the other memorials and museums we visited, the Bomber Command Memorial displays a somber reflection of the cost of war. To someone unfamiliar with the strategic bombing casualties, the memorial might come across as patriotically British, but the quotes engraved honor victims of all nations who were killed due to strategic bombing in World War II. As Allied and Axis bombing campaigns killed many, the memorial displays lessons from the war that must not be forgotten.

The Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command Memorial. Strategic bombing during the war killed many civilians and airmen, both Axis and Allied.

While many in London flocked to Buckingham Palace for the coronation, our group headed 45 miles north, to Bletchley Park. This small community served as the center of intelligence operations for the Allies and was secretly tucked away in England’s rural countryside to protect its operations from German bombs. Mathematicians, scientists, engineers, – and others were recruited to work at Bletchley, mainly focusing on deciphering Germany’s Enigma Code. The codebreaking work was tiring, and members of Bletchley Park were not allowed to discuss their work with outsiders. It quickly became a close community where romantic relationships developed. Many of the codebreakers are honored today, like Alan Turing, who was shamed for being homosexual after the war. The Allied intelligence efforts shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives.

Throughout our sites, I observed many British citizens also visiting to learn about Britain’s World War II legacy. Overall, I think the British people take tremendous pride in being British, and World War II is a major reason why. The war showed their ability to sacrifice, adapt, and endure. As Europe was being taken by Hitler, the British refused to stand down and prepared to defend their homeland. Another takeaway from London is the tight alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States. Each location was not shy to mention America’s efforts alongside Britain’s to help achieve victory. Visiting London made me feel a closer connection to the people of Britain.

4 thoughts on “British Pride & Legacy

  1. I concur. It’s good to be reminded how close Britain was to being invaded, how willing they were to stop any invasion,& how they deeply appreciated their Allies’ help.

  2. Had me sunken in from the first paragraph. So much emotion in this writing! The bit about the tube particularly, and enjoyed reading the lot. Xx

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