Churchill's Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of Britain's Victory by Richard Holmes
|Churchill's Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of Britain's Victory by Richard Holmes|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A look at te Cabinet War Rooms and the background to the war which made them necessary. More scholarly than easy reading it still repays effort.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: June 2011|
|Publisher: Profile Books|
Nowadays, when there is a security threat it seems to be mandatory to whisk the leader and other important personages off to a secret location deep inside a mountain or in a distant forest, but Churchill fought his war – our war – from a series of basement rooms right in the heart of London and within sight of Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. The Cabinet War Rooms didn't have their own air supply, were infested with vermin and lacked proper toilet facilities, but they were Churchill's choice. He spent a few nights down in the CWR but usually lived in the No 10 Annex upstairs – throughout the worst of the bombing.
It's seventy year since the CWR became operational but it was to be 1984 before their importance was recognised and they were opened to the public. This book has been published in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum, who own the War Rooms, but we're fortunate that it was written by historian and Churchill biographer Richard Holmes, who died not long before the book was published in paperback.
If you're looking for a step-by-step guide to the CWR and a gossipy reworking of what life was like underground then this really isn't the book for you. If, on the other hand, you're interested in knowing quite how we came to be fighting this type of war with heavy bombing of cities, or want a history of Churchill's war then it's perfect. Holmes was well-known as a television personality with a real talent for evoking the way that war felt, but he was primarily a noted military historian (he held the rank of Brigadier) and he had a real insight into the ups and downs of the war. The book is a little slow to get going – when it's giving the background to the War – but picks up considerably when the bombs start falling.
Secrets were kept more readily in the nineteen-forties. Nowadays the world and his wife would have published their diary of what went on before the last of the lights had been turned off. Even after the war few people talked about the CWR and piecing together the functions of the various rooms has been a labour of love. It's a tribute to Holmes' skill as an author that the information has been stitched together so well and that it fits into the context of the war so seamlessly.
It is, though, Churchill who shines through the book. In some books I've noticed a tendency to laud the man, but overlook his faults. Others concentrate on his faults and wonder quite how he managed to achieve what he did, but Holmes presents the man of extremes, warts and all, without ever allowing us to lose our respect and admiration.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For more on the Second World War we can recommend Sealing Their Fate: 22 Days That Decided the Second World War by David Downing. Churchill's first premiership forms the first part of A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Churchill's Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of Britain's Victory by Richard Holmes at Amazon.com.
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