#23 – Cabinet War Rooms & St. James Park

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I just took a quick shot of “Big Ben” as we came out of the tube station. FYI- Big Ben is commonly mistaken as the tower, but it is actually a big bell inside.

Cameron and Eli have been dying to see some more WWII history, so we picked a card from our London Walks for Kids box and came up with the Cabinet War Rooms.  The war rooms were in the underground basement of the New Public Offices, and were converted in 1938 to offices for Winston Churchill to use during the war.  The rooms could never have withstood a direct hit from a German bomb, but fortunately they were never struck directly and offered a place for Churchill to direct the war.  

The museum offered audio tours for adults and children, for no extra charge and the kids thought they were great.  They gave me a child’s handset so that I could follow along with my kids, and I was really impressed with the recorded dialogue that was definitely meant to entertain children.  So we walked through the rooms, put the appropriate number into our handset, and listened to all kinds of history, anecdotes, jokes and facts.  

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Simon totally listening carefully to his audio guide.

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The Cabinet Room. The room where Churchill made strategic plans about the course of the war that would effect the entire world.

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Chiefs of Staff Conference Room

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The room where Churchill had a private ohone line across the Atlantic ocean to speak directly to the US President and high ranking US military officials. Our audio guides played a recorded conversation between Churchill and Roosevelt. It was so interesting.

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Churchill knew he needed American help to win the war so I think he did his best to court the president.

The war rooms included a really detailed a museum about Winston Churchill, and I found these two quotes amusing.

This was the first time we’d used audio guides in a museum and I’m a big fan.  It was so effective in creating the atmosphere of tension, drama and historical magnitude.  We were all captivated. 

Until some of us weren’t.  I could have easily stayed another hour or two but Mim and Simon eventually hit their limit so we finished it out and waited for my parents and Eli and Cameron in the gift shop.  

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Hitler describes Churchill. Propaganda much?

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The Map Room, where all the locations of armies were plotted and progress was tracked.

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The phones are color coded and this is where all the latest war news came in. There was a direct line into Churchill’s office so he could be notified immediately of incoming reports. If you look closely you can see some sugar cubes on the desk closest to the glass. The war ended and the war rooms were closed up. For 30+ years they remained untouched, when they opened them up again they found this sugar ration, completely intact, in a desk drawer.

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Churchill’s office and bedroom, he was known to sleep very little.

After visiting the Churchill museum I thought for a long time about great leaders.  It seems that so many accomplished historical figures who were ambitious and passionate, had some noticeable character defects.  Churchill was just the right man for the job, and yet he wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy type guy.  I guess that’s just how God works, with His imperfect people.  And I’m grateful for their genuine efforts and contributions in our world despite their shortcomings.  
After we left the war rooms we ate lunch in a back alley little sandwich shop.  It was nearly 2:00 and the owners warned us up front that they didn’t have much left after the lunch rush.  But they threw together some sandwiches for us that they thought we (the kids) might like and it hit the spot.  (Along with a couple shortbread cookies and cakes.) 

After that my parents took Cameron with them to do some more site-seeing and I took Eli and the littles to St. James Park, as I had promised them that I would.  The park was lovely. 

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Duck Island. In 1664 the Russian Ambassador made a gift of Pelicans to the city and they were introduced at St. James’s park. It became a tradition and now the park as over 30 species of water fowl.

While they were playing in the sand at the park a little boy threw sand in Simon’s face.  Everything got ugly from there.  

I managed to console Simon, but he wasn’t feeling well so he never quite recovered.  He eventually fell asleep on my lap on the park bench.  I asked the kids if we could leave but they had waited all day long to play and so we stayed.  Then it started to rain.  That morning when I had checked the forecast it said 14% chance of rain.  14%! I wouldn’t bet anything on those odds.  So we had no umbrella or jackets.  We took refuge under a tree until the rain subsided and then we decided to make our way home. 

I looked up the quickest route home on my phone, and saw that it was by train.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I generally avoid the National Rail because Eli and Cameron need tickets and because it stresses me out.  But because Simon was not feeling well and wanting to be held and carried, I thought the rail would be easy. No transfers, just a 25 minute ride home.  

We started walking toward the closest rail station but I was having the hardest time negotiating the map.  Nothing seemed to make sense and I couldn’t think very clearly with Simon whimpering and clinging to my neck or legs.  We walked past Buckingham Palace, and then I realized that we were going the wrong direction so I picked a new station and went back toward the park.  We walked and walked, and every time I looked at my phone it said 

0.5 mi – 8 min. 

We would walk for five minutes and I’d check my phone. 

0.5 mi – 8 min,

We would change directions, go down a different street, I would look at the street maps they have on every corner.  And STILL 

0.5 mi – 8 min. 

I was at my wits end, and now people were getting out of work. I had NO idea where I was, it was a part of the city that wasn’t touristy, it was more of a business center.  I finally asked a women how to get to the rail station and she looked at me with great pity and said “Follow Me.”  

She was so kind to offer to help, but she walked really fast and I was trying to carry Simon and hold hands with Mim and keep a close eye on Eli (who doesn’t know how to walk fast.)  I was also more than a little bit ashamed of the mess I’d gotten myself in, and I often feel insecure in these situations that people judge me for having too many children when I clearly can’t handle them all.  I don’t think this woman was judging me, and thank goodness because little did she know that I have FOUR kids.  

We finally made it to the station and I reassured her that we could handle it from here and she went on her way.  I was so flustered that I couldn’t really get my bearings so I made my best guess about which platform we needed to get to.  When we got to the ticket gate I realized I hadn’t bought a ticket for Eli but the TFL employee took pity on me too, and let us through.  We walked down the platform to get to the train that was waiting, only to realize that we needed to be on the next platform over, and as soon as I looked up I saw our train pull away. 

We made our way over to that platform and I collapsed on a bench to catch my breath.  The trains only come every 20-30 minutes and it was going to be awhile before the next one came.  At first I assumed that the train we wanted would come to the same platform as the last one, but fortunately I had the intuition to check, but the trouble was, all the platform listings were on the OUTSIDE of the ticket gates, and I didn’t want to have to risk getting Eli back through without a ticket. So I stood there, for several minutes, like an exhausted idiot, while all the professionals bustled past me toward their trains.  I finally just asked someone, made it to the right platform, and we boarded our train back home. 

Sometimes this city feels like such a crazy, chaotic, complex universe that I will never get my head around.  It was all so overwhelming and I felt so small.  But every day like this is surrounded by days of wonder and awe.  And even if I never figure things out, even if I always feel small, I just keep reminding myself that no one matters more or less than I do, and I try to just muster up some gratitude for this crazy, chaotic, complex city.  

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I do love these huge rail stations.

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