MUSEUMS / Curator's Choice: Cabinet War Rooms

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The Independent Culture
Down here, there's no sense of time or change of season and, for this reason, my curator's choice would have to be what's known as the weatherboard. This consisted of a handsomely painted bunch of signs, which a civilian member of staff instigated and would duly change around. Basically, the rooms are situated in the basement of what is now the Treasury building and are surrounded by concrete above and around, which enabled them to withstand a 500lb bomb, although this was fortunately never tested. They are also soundproofed and, of course, there are no windows. Therefore no one knew if there was an air-raid going on and, equally importantly, they didn't have a clue what the weather was doing. The reason I've chosen the weatherboard is simply because it's the sort of thing I wish I could have now.

The site was ready for action one week before war began, in August 1939, and the idea was for shelter while the air raids were going on. The planners worked here from day one right around the clock until its closure in August 1945 and the cabinet held meetings here principally during the heavy bombing raids of the blitz period and the V weapons period, late 1940 and June 1944 to early 1945. Churchill rarely slept here but he used it for broadcasting to the nation and the world in 1940 and 1941, during the Blitz. One of his night shirts, one of his cigars and his personal chamberpot remain in the room and my office is mainly filled up with his old furniture.

Phil Reed is curator of the Cabinet War Rooms, which are open from 9.30am-6pm