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Welcome to the War Rooms!

One of my favorite adventures in London was visiting the Churchill War Rooms. I find the people and forces which shaped the 1930s and 1940s fascinating. Visiting the actual underground offices and living quarters from which much of WW2 was directed was an early addition to my “absolutely must do!” list of attractions.

 One of Churchill’s most famous quotes, “Never have so many owed so much to so few” came up multiple times during the tour for good reason. The people who worked here put in long hours and weeks. Since they rarely went up and outside special sunlight lamps had to be brought in to help ease the illnesses caused by lack of sunlight. Yet they pressed on, knowing it vital to the war effort.

The only way they new what the weather was like outside

The War Rooms were closed up literally days after VJ-Day. Years of work and living in close quarters were abruptly over. The officer who’d overseen the operation of the War Rooms sent each person a note thanking them for their faithful and cheerful service. That was all. They fade into history.

It was largely thankless work. For some, it would be decades before they told even their families what their true role in the war effort had been. No one but their coworkers knew how they had worked. And all they got in the end was a “well done”. The satisfaction they had done their duty, well and cheerfully. And yet, watching recorded interviews with them (now in their 70s and 80s), you can see the raw pride in what they had participated in.

There’s something there about the way to work that I need to learn.

Man in uniform!

A whole section of the Churchill War Rooms was, as you might expect, dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill – arguably one of the great human shapers of 20th Century history.

It’s always interesting to dig into the pre-fame lives of influential people and try to imagine what someone who only knew them as a child or young adult might predict for their future. In Churchill’s case, it’s doubtful that many would’ve predicted success – he was horrible in school, receiving constant bad marks for both academics and behavior. His early military career was marked by a certain recklessness (which earned him delighted fans anyway!) and his early political career by crushing defeats which led to a dark depression. Hardly the sort of man to take a country and half the world on his shoulders and lead them through some of the most disturbing chapters of recent history!

Churchill on Churchill

And then you look at his working habits. Apparently, he would often stay in his pajamas all day –dressing only when he had important meetings. Even on the days he did dress, the entire first half of the morning was spent working right from where he’d woken up – secretaries and assistances shuffling in and out of his bedroom. He took an hour-long afternoon nap. He didn’t exercise. He literally pretended to be deaf when someone suggested an idea or objection he didn’t like (forcing it to be repeated by someone else before he agreed to comprehension). Hardly the habits of a highly-effective leader.

Except that he was an incredibly effective leader. He led in his style, in his way, playing to his strengths. He didn’t concern himself with how other people said he should act or order his work. I can’t really imagine Churchill reading a book on time management. He knew what had to be done and he barreled through– taking a nation and inspiring future generations in the process.

There’s something there about the way to work that I need to learn.