Dication in bed and days in a siren suit – life in Churchill’s war rooms

Winston Chrchill seated at his desk in the No 10 Annexe Map Room, May 1945.
Winston Chrchill seated at his desk in the No 10 Annexe Map Room, May 1945.
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IN the darkest days of the war, Winston Churchill liked to be served breakfast in bed and to remain there, secretary and typewriter at his side, until he rose at 1pm, newly released letters and papers reveal.

Documents and images showing what life was like in Churchill’s War Rooms under central London have been released to coincide with the film Darkest Hour, in which the actor Gary Oldman impersonates the former Prime Minister.

The Map Room as it is seen today.

The Map Room as it is seen today.

They include a rare surviving example of a letter confirming a typist’s appointment, at the weekly rate of 47s plus a 13/6 bonus – around £150 at today’s prices.

A testimony from Churchill’s private secretary, Elizabeth Layton, describes him as “a very caring person underneath”.

It reads: “We of his personal staff were completely devoted to him, even though he was inclined to be impatient and demanding.

“He was somebody who drew our loyalty and our deep respect and affection. The negative side was only on the surface.”

The papers disclose that Myra Nora Collyer, a secretary working in the war rooms, remembered the “masses and masses of corridors” and the need for “sun ray lamps” once a week because everyone was working 12-hour shifts underground.

Margaret Walker, a typist and secretary, recalled that Churchill “used to wear a siren suit and we used to see this shortish, fattish, tubby man bouncing along”.

A siren suit, similar to a boiler suit, was an all-in-one garment which could be easily put on over other clothing and used by people who had to leave their homes for air raid shelters during bombing raids.

One letter, which appears to have been written as a joke by the War Rooms typing pool, is headed “most secret” and laments the “acute shortage” in Britain of silk stockings, chocolates and cosmetics.

The War Rooms have been open to the public since 1984.