To commemorate the 80th anniversary of Churchill War Rooms becoming operational, Imperial War Museums has digitised the original visitor book containing the names of numerous well-known visitors, including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, General Dwight D Eisenhower, Winston Churchill himself, and Clement Attlee.

Visitor book from Churchill’s War Rooms. [Photo credit: IWM]
Visitor book from Churchill’s War Rooms. [Photo credit: IWM]

Due to rising political tension with Germany in the 1930s, plans for a purpose-built underground war room were drawn up in spring 1938. The search for a suitable site began, and on 31 May 1938, Colonel Hastings Ismay confirmed the basement of the Office of Works in Westminster as the ideal location for the war rooms.

After a year of clearing the building, sandbagging alcoves, installing telephone lines, and strengthening key rooms, the lights were finally switched on in the Central War Room on 27 August 1939. The site became a crucial hub for gathering military intelligence, with up to 500 staff members working underground at the height of activity.

On 12 May 1942, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the Cabinet War Rooms, the day after the Luftwaffe bombed and sank three British destroyers. General Dwight D Eisenhower signed the visitor book on 29 May 1942, the day before Operation Millennium, the ‘thousand bomber’ raid on Cologne.

James Taylor, curator at IWM, says:

Winston Churchill stated that the Cabinet War Rooms was the place from which he wanted to direct the Second World War. He retrospectively signed the first page of the visitor book with the dates of his term, 11 May 1940: Churchill’s first full day as prime minister, and 26 July 1945: the day the Conservative Party, led by Churchill, lost a general election to Clement Attlee’s Labour Party.

The war rooms are a unique and vital location in our national history, and this visitor book is a visual reminder of the powerful figures that walked its corridors during that period.

The Churchill War Rooms are open to visitors. For more information, visit
www.iwm.org.uk.


This article appears in issue 109 of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.



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