Our trip to London had been carefully planned, but in our concern with hundreds of little details it had never occurred to me that scheduling a visit to the Churchill War Rooms at the end of a week of seeing all of the major sights would turn out to be so perfect. In fact by learning about so much of the history of this great city I truly understood what was at stake when Adolf Hitler threatened to overtake the whole of Europe with his warped political philosophies. In an effort to keep the peace much of the continent had bowed to his demands only to realize that his appetite for domination was not easily sated. For a time Great Britain seemingly stood alone in its determination to remain free from Nazi tyranny and the consequences for doing so were grave. Somehow through the inspired leadership of Winston Churchill the people fought valiantly against the greatest of odds.
History will never know how things might have ended had Great Britain compromised with Germany as some desired. It is uncertain if the people would have been able to endure the unrelenting attacks from the air on London were it not for Churchill’s determination to convince the citizens that surrender was not an option. The entire world might be very different today if Britain had fallen before the United States eventually entered the war. Instead the people of the British Isles fought with every fiber of their courage even as the landscape around them was turned to rubble. They were a proud and determined people with a leader who loved his country and its freedoms so much that he was committed to making whatever sacrifices needed to save Britain from unwanted domination.
The Churchill War Rooms were hastily created in an underground area near the government offices in the center of the city of London. They became the nerve center for the planning of strategies and battles. While they now appear secure from dangers above ground the fact is that they might have been instantly destroyed had an enemy bomb caused the building above them to fall. The honeycomb of offices, sleeping quarters, and conference rooms was improvised to provide safety to the key leaders of the war effort, including Winston Churchill. Today it stands as a vivid reminder of what was at stake not just for the people of Great Britain, but for the entire world during those fateful years when evil was overtaking most of Europe, Africa and the Pacific.
I had not realized how deeply affected I would be by viewing the Churchill War Rooms, but as I walked through a maze of rooms left just as they had been on the day that war ended for Europe I was moved to tears at virtually every turn. Because I had spent a week learning so much of about this great country I was able to fully understand both the fears and the determination that the citizens must have felt as the specter of pure evil hung over them. They were literally on the brink of losing all that they had ever cherished, and after fifty seven straight nights of bombing over the city they must have felt even more terrified. Somehow their leaders found the inspiration needed to keep hope alive, and much of what they did took place in the tiny rooms below the ground.
The tour of the Churchill War Rooms lays out both the brilliance of leaders like Winston Churchill and the humanity of the British people. I literally heard their voices telling the story of one of the darkest times in history. I saw their faces in countless photographs and films, and witnessed the devastation that seemed almost unending. All of my senses were immersed in a retelling of the horrors of the time and the bravery of a generation that said a resounding “No!” to those who would enslave nations.
I felt humbled beyond words and filled with my own private thoughts as I slowly wound my way through the tales of privation, loss, and courage. The ghosts of the people who had worked there came fully alive as did all of the citizens who chose to stand firmly against surrender. I felt the spirit of good versus evil, right versus wrong. I understood the humanity of what had happened before I was even born.
When I returned to the light of a gloriously beautiful day I was happy that I had time to sit quietly and collect my thoughts. I had been moved from one emotion to another and I needed a moment to simply meditate on what I had seen. Never before had I quite understood what my parents and grandparents had felt during that terrible war. Not once had I realized why occasions like D-Day in Normandy were so important to them. I had not fully comprehended how frightening life must have been nor had I felt so grateful for freedom.
As we walked through lovely gardens in sight of those underground bunkers I felt a sense of profound appreciation for the most simple aspects of the world. I saw the flowers and the birds in a new light. I felt gratitude for the people of Britain for holding the line against the evil that threatened the future into which I came.
I smiled when we encountered a political demonstration in the streets in front of Parliament. It was a raucous affair decked with flags and the nation’s colors. Traffic was stopped for miles around. The sound of bagpipes filled the air. People spoke their minds without worry. It was a show of freedom that might not have been there had things gone differently during World War II. I silently gave thanks for the folks who had said to Adolf Hitler, “Not today!”