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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Churchill's bunker revealed

By Jackie Storer
BBC News Online political staff

For Nicholas Soames - the grandson of wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill - the timing could not have been more appropriate.

Sir Winston Churchill
Churchill's famous victory salute
As the UK wages a sophisticated, high tech battle to liberate Iraq, back home the British people are being given an insight into the contrasting, humble living quarters from where Sir Winston directed politicians during the Second World War over 60 years ago.

The Cabinet War Rooms (CWR), an underground complex below the Treasury near Downing Street - the nerve centre of Winston Churchill's war administration - opened to visitors in 1984.

Until now, only a third of the 3,000 square metre site used between 1940 and 1945 was on display.

But from Tuesday, visitors will for the first time see several new rooms as part of a 7.5m project undertaken by the Imperial War Museum.

The links between our country and America are as Churchill himself would have wanted them to be - stronger than ever
Gordon Brown
They include Mrs Churchill's bedroom, Churchill's kitchen and dining room and the bedroom used by Brendan Bracken, his close friend and War Cabinet Minister.

To coincide with the 40th anniversary of Churchill's death, a new museum costing 6m and funded entirely from donations, will open in January 2005, to commemorate his life.

'Living history'

Mr Soames, who was one of the first to visit his grandmother's bedroom, described the work as "remarkable and romantic".

He told BBC News Online: "I think it is a sort of inspirational project.

"I think the development of my grandparents' bedrooms and the living area of the Cabinet war rooms is a piece of living history.

"It is appropriate, as it so happens, that we are at war again."

Mrs Churchill's bedroom
Mrs Churchill's bedroom is by far the most feminine
More than 200 donors, dignitaries and Churchill fans attended the launch, including Alan Titchmarsh, Sarah Kennedy, Lady Boothroyd and actor Timothy West, who played Churchill.

Chancellor Gordon Brown took time off on the eve of the Budget to unveil a plaque officially marking the opening of the new rooms.

He joked: "Churchill said that politicians usually get things right after trying everything else and that is something that gives me hope as I prepare for my seventh budget tomorrow."


Mr Brown said he was particularly pleased that "the links between our country and America are as Churchill himself would have wanted them to be - stronger than ever in the year 2003".

Referring to his oft mentioned "prudence", Mr Brown stressed that fittings used in the displays had not been in storage for 50 years.

As for Mr Churchill, we were very in awe of him
Wendy Maxwell
"Such is the prudence of the Treasury, until a year ago, many of those old fittings were being put to good use in the normal workings of the Treasury," he quipped.

Mr Brown reminded the audience that Churchill had been named "the greatest Briton in the past 1,000 years.

"I think it is true to say that history has not dimmed his achievement and never will."

Working late

Among those listening to the chancellor's speech was Wendy Maxwell, 83, who worked in the Cabinet War Rooms throughout the Second World War as a personal assistant to Sir Ian Jacob, who later became a general.

Mrs Maxwell said while she had felt safe in Churchill's bunker, where she worked all night on defence committee meetings, it was now a very different place to the one she remembered.

Churchill's kitchen
Churchill's kitchen can be seen for the first time
"I have been coming back here for years," she told BBC News Online. "It has changed and it doesn't look like it was. It has been opened up - it was much smaller.

"First of all I didn't approve of it, but now I think it is a good idea."

Mrs Maxwell said she and the other workers did not know what was happening outside the war rooms because "it was all very quiet and we just worked here and slept here".

'No loos'

"It was very dark and the marines who guarded us used to wake us in the morning because we had no idea what time it was," she said.

"We had no loos. If you wanted to get up in the night, you had to find a marine who had a key and go upstairs.

Churchill's dining room
In the bunker the table is set for two
"As for Mr Churchill, we were very in awe of him.

"All the work came from him through my general so we looked after him. Any information he wanted came from us."

Churchill generally disliked the Cabinet War Rooms, preferring to be above the ground and to maintain a high profile as leader.

Simply furnished

However, in October 1940, Number 10 was severely damaged during an air raid and he subsequently began using the CWR more regularly.

Wandering around the complex, it is hard to believe that it was big enough to accommodate 200 people.

Churchill's detectives slept in a simply decorated room in bunks with grey blankets, a desk, black phone, chest of drawers and wooden filing cabinet.

Nicholas Soames
Grandmother's bedroom is 'remarkable and romantic'
Along a further corridor is the room used by Commander "Tommy" Thompson, one of Churchill's trusted aides, with single bed, desk and bedside table.

Nearby is the prime minister's dining room, complete with table set for two, paintings of country scenes, a fan and sideboard.

Exciting project

Clementine Churchill's bedroom is by far the most feminine, with pink patterned bedcover, flowery armchair, beside a table with stationary, ink blotter and a phone, and a chest of drawers with a mirror, candle and lipstick.

Phil Reed, director of the CWR, said opening the rooms had been "very exciting".

"They were left to rot for many years until we took them over and they have been restored to how they would have looked.

"We have used photographs taken at the end of the war which show us the contents of the rooms and their style.

"The rooms show a different side to Churchill - a more personal, homely side."

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08 Apr 03  |  Northern Ireland

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