Monday, May 31, 2010

Leaving London

By Chuck

Today was our last shot at London, after a day of recuperating—Claire's foot and my energy. Our goal was to revisit the British Museum, then to see the Churchill War Rooms and Museum and finally Sir John Soane's Museum. Since it was a Bank Holiday and there was work being done on some of the underground lines, we had to alter our routes. When we surfaced, there were no indications of which way to go to get to the War Rooms, despite following Rick Steves' advice; but, after minor stumbling around and watching a few minutes of the BUPA run—which helps support charity work of Leukaemia and Lymphoma research—we found it. By the way, this 10,000 meter run follows the same route the 2012 London Olympic marathon is expected to use.

Winston Churchill

The War Rooms were quite extensive, with the Churchill Museum as an optional sidebar about one-third of the way through the exhibit. There were some awesome maps in two of the rooms and some terrible statistics about the shipping casualties from the U-Boats.

Map Room

There was a filmed interview with a number of former War Room employees or their children. It was interesting to get different perspectives on life in that environment. The work was fast-paced; the hours were long; the air was definitely unfresh. Sometimes, people would go home late at night in the dark, simply to get fresh air. Churchill was a severe taskmaster with a horrific (and useful) work ethic—he would often work from 8am until 3am. His secretaries were expected to keep up with him; otherwise, they could expect to endure some of his wrath. He dictated directly to them as they typed up his remarks in triplicate—but, they had to insert and align the carbon copies noiselessly; then he would sign them.

Photograph of Churchill by Yousuf Karsh

The War Rooms were directly beneath government buildings on Whitehall Street. They were underground but were, nevertheless, never fully bomb-proofed; so they used secrecy as a defense measure, since a direct hit would probably have destroyed the center. It was not uncommon during the Battle of Britain for employees to exit the War Room and continue home, only to find entire blocks of houses obliterated by German V-2 rockets. However, it was usual for employees to sleep in the bottom level of the bunker, where there was no recirculated air. I was embarrassed to discover at this late date that this aspect of WWII occurred long before the U.S. entered the War.

Cabinet War Room

The rooms are left as they were immediately upon the conclusion of WWII; some rooms were left intact; some were refurbished after consulting with those who had used them or relying on extensive photographs taken at that time. There were rooms for Clemmie, Winston's wife, and a kitchen for his personal chef. Most of the beds were simple steel frame military type. Winston had the only flushing toilet in the entire facility! His bedroom is laid out with a cigar and chamber pot—separate from each other.

Legend For Interpreting Alarms In The Bunker

Detective's Bedroom--Churchill's Personal Bodyguards

Minister of Information Bedroom

Clementine Churchill's Bedroom

Churchill Kitchen

Churchill's Family Dining Room

Churchill's Bedroom

Foolishly, I neglected to check the open days for Sir John Soane's Museum; after managing to get there and having trouble locating the entrance to the facility, we checked and found out that it is closed on Mondays, anyway. So, the only benefit of this leg of the journey was to find an open Chemist, where we were able to get an ankle support and Ibuprofen for Claire's injury.

We made a delightful discovery upon exiting the War Rooms: The Nissan Figaro is a small retro car manufactured in 1991 by Nissan. The car was originally sold only in Japan. Despite the limited 20,000 car production run, the Figaro has become popular with owners in the UK and Ireland.

Nissan Figaro and Smart Car

We finally realized that we were hungry; so we began looking for an interesting, inexpensive cafe. We eventually found a small place that had a Chicken Curry lunch special. Claire got herbal Lemon-Ginger Tea with hers and I ordered a regular tea; the first time she returned to the table, the waitress asked me what I had ordered; I told her, again; she brought a Cappuccino! Fortunately, I like both tea and coffee.

Curry Lunch

Since it was the same distance to the British Museum as to the nearest Tube station, we decided to walk; but, London streets are not straight and we had to constantly refer to our inadequate tourist map of Central London to find our way there. As usual, we eventually found our way there.

We decided to separate, to make the best use of our limited time, today. I rented an audio guide and began working my way down the list of memorable items, using the interactive display; unfortunately, they are not listed by relative location; so, I was bouncing all over the place; and, finding one's way around the numbered rooms and several floors was more time-consuming than one would wish—notice the affectation of British jargon: “One”; I guess it creeps into one's style over time—after all, we have already been here a week!

I revisited several items: first, the Rosetta Stone. This is the object that allowed us to finally decipher Egyptian hieroglypics. Napoleon's army found it in Rosetta, Egypt; when he was defeated by the British, it came to England and, eventually, the British Museum. Second, I revisited the Parthenon Sculptures; I noted that they have changed the name from the Elgin Marbles—presumably to downplay the “borrowed” aspect of the acquisition; also, I discovered that I had mispronounced Lord Elgin's name for many years: It is spoken with a hard 'g' as in “go.” The narration mentioned that we can now see them at eye level, a great improvement over what Athenians saw on top of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Thirdly, I revisited several Assyrian objects, including the gate-protecting Winged Lions. I was intrigued to find that the sculptures of the lions have 5 legs each—you can only see 4 at one time, however; which legs you see depends on your viewpoint: Side or frontal.

At this point, both the narration and I jumped around the museum a bit. I saw a voluptuous Tara sculpture from Sri Lanka—unusual since Tara is associated with Mahayana Buddhism and Sri Lanka is generally thought to be Theravadan. Also, I have previously only encountered modest images of Tara. Claire had the camera; so, I was unable to take pictures.

I loved the 4 ton Hoa Hakananai'a stone sculpture from Easter Island, the Chinese Tang Dynasty funereal clay figures, the West African bronze image of a 16th century queen, the Sutton Hoo helmet and weapons from a 6th century Anglo-Saxon burial mound of a local Chieftain in Suffolk. I walked quickly through the timepiece exhibit with hundreds of clocks and watches.

By now, it was 4pm and the time agreed to meet Claire to determine our next move. We were beat, we still needed to get back to Homer, and we need to prepare to leave, tomorrow. We saw a lot, here; but, there is so much we did not see; one of our perspectives has been that we know we cannot see it all; so, we left with only slight regrets—not seeing the British Library, holding “the literary treasures of Western civilization: Shakespeare's Hamlet, early Bibles, the illustrated Lindisfarne Gospels, the Magna Carta and the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland—not necessarily in order of importance.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. ~ Winston Churchill referring to the role of the RAF during the Battle of Britain during WWII


Carol said...

I was impressed with the austerity of the high ranking official's private and workday chambers. The focus was on the war, and the preservation of a nation, not on one's comfort. I wonder if the the war rooms of our leaders today are as high minded and selfless.

Can't believe you guys are leaving London already.

Chuck and Claire said...

It was all for God, country and King George--no sacrifice too great.
We cannot believe we are leaving London, either; I could have stayed for at least another week.

elisabetta said...

This was ur most impressive posting & it's inspired me to pursue further research, this evening. Apropos of WWII, am going to the Geo Schultz lecture in Firenze this Thursday eve hosted by both the Stanford Club and Democrats Abroad: topic is "A world free of nuclear arms."

He's 90 NINETY years old, a WWII marine. I don't love republicans but if he's anti-nuclear, still on the lecture circuit, (as well as in a successful 2nd marriage after losing his first wife,) then my hat's off to him.
You guys are from Davis: they were described as a "power couple" ~ what do u think?

David said...

C & C:
Thanks for the interesting blog on British WWII history. The blogs for your entire trip have been fun and interesting to read. Enjoy the British Isles and send as many Arts & Crafts architecture photos as you can!