“Never, never, never give up.” — Winston Churchill
Today, we sank our teeth into some British history.
This morning, we visited Churchill’s War Rooms and saw the underground command center where Churchill and his staff strategized and managed the war. The Prime Minister, his cabinet, and the office staff worked around the clock towards the victory against Hitler in this safe haven during the Blitz, when German air raids relentlessly dropped bombs on the city of London. During the Blitz of ’40 and ’41, thousands of civilians were killed and countless buildings were damaged or destroyed while Churchill and his team feverishly worked below ground.
During our tour, I was especially drawn to the stories told by the “girls” who worked there, the secretaries who typed the plans that won the war. Young British women, about the same age as my mother was then, packed suitcases and stayed in the underground offices for days on end, so that they would be available whenever they were needed. They slept in the Docks, a narrow hallway of bunks devoid of privacy. Because of sun deprivation, they were allotted time under sun lamps and many ended up with “sunburns” without enjoying any fresh air or actual sunshine. They were sworn to secrecy, of course, and couldn’t even tell their families where they worked. One young woman vaguely told her mother that she worked “in an office.” Her mother responded, “I knew they wouldn’t give you anything important to do.” Meanwhile, she was typing the war strategies, including, in ’44, the plans for D-Day.
Our next historical stop was a pub called The Marquis of Granby. Historic? Well, yeah. Inside, they had a “division bell” that sounds an alarm so any MPs enjoying a pint can scurry back to Parliament to cast their votes. They also had a tasty hand-pumped ale which we had to try along with a pretty good club sandwich.
Then, we toured Westminster Abbey, led by our tour guide David, a walking encyclopedia of who’s who in British history. He rattled off the names of the glitterati buried there, going back to 1066 — so many Henrys, Marys, and Georges. Besides ogling the centuries-old tombs, we walked over the under-the-floor graves of many famous Brits, like Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and W.H. Auden. This is the coronation church, so Elizabeth ascended to the throne here in 1953. It’s also the spot where William and Kate were married in 2011.
By the time we heading back to our apartment, British days of yore were seeping out our pores. Something tells me we’ve only just started our history class.