Short read: The nerve-centre of the entire war…
Long read: Let’s start with a few salient facts… 1) Where we meet – if you know how and where to look – you can see the dagger that was plunged into the heart of Nazi Germany. 2) Until the middle of 1944 there were more British civilian deaths than military. 3) Europe, like a prison door, had clanged shut – this country stood alone and at bay in guarding the future of the civilised world. And Westminster? The nerve-centre of the entire war, it was a city transformed: sandbagged tombs in the Abbey (ditto Eros in Piccadilly Circus); a pillbox and barbed wire in Parliament Square; a machine-gun nest on the Members’ Terrace; bombers caught in the scissors of searchlights; barrage balloons and air-raid shelters; nights out of the Revelation of St. John – fires that turned the moon blood red and canopied the Thames with smoke. Any of that left? Well, more than you’d think. And in some cases it’s not just “trace evidence.” That history is writ here in stone. We end at the Cabinet War Rooms, the fortified bunker that housed Winston Churchill’s centre of operations during the war. Guided by Joanne and Andry R.
WESTMINSTER AT WAR – THE PRACTICALS
The Westminster at War walk takes place every* Sunday afternoon at 1.45 pm. The meeting point is just outside the riverside exit of EmbankmentTube. N.B. the Churchill Museum – the Cabinet War Rooms – where we end, is just a stone’s throw away from WestminsterTube. *Except November 10 and April 26
And surely in order here, a mention of our other great World War II walk: The Blitz. It goes at 2.30 pm every* Thursday from just outside exit 2 of St. Paul’sTube. *Except Dec. 26
LONDON WALKS SOUPÇON
“At the Windmill, the young lovelies were on stage ‘Continuous daily from 11.15 a.m to 7.30 p.m.’ The Windmill’s line of leggy chorus girls strutted and kicked right through the Blitz, prompting the management to adopt the slogan, ‘We’re Never Closed.’ Since the Windmill was best known for its bevy of nudes, the local wits soon changed the slogan to, ‘We’re Never Clothed.'”
“Some of the damage has been curious. A section of one big block of flats was taken out as neatly as a slice carved from a cake. Homes on Dover Street were opened up like dollhouses, so that passersby could see pictures still hanging on a wall or some trivial little ornaments still arranged neatly on a mantelpiece that was dangling in space; it seemed as though people’s lives as well as their inanimate possessions were being dissected in public.”
“When the tram reached the middle of Westminster Bridge, the driver refused to go on any further, insisting that it was too dangerous. He changed his mind after a few minutes, though, and the tram continued its interrupted route over Westminster Bridge and up the Victoria Embankment. When it reached the corner of Horse Guards Avenue, its journey ended forever. A high explosive bomb, 550 lbs of TNT, hit and exploded just behind the tram. The carriage was demolished. The driver, conductor, and all but three of its thirty-three passengers were killed instantly.” Editor’s Note: I’m haunted by this footnote to December 29, 1940. If the driver hadn’t stopped in the first place. Or if he hadn’t changed his mind, had stayed put, had heeded his sixth sense that ahead lay death. London’s history can sear your mind. I can never pass that corner without thinking about that night, that tram, that 550 lbs bomb exploding, that driver and his conductor, the thirty passengers who were killed, the three who survived. That corner isn’t just a nondescript corner in central London. It’s got meaning. It explodes in my head.
LONDON WALKS REVIEWS
“by far the most impressive series of walks that I have ever encountered are those offered by London Walks” Travel and Enjoy
“London Walks was acknowledged as the premier walking tour company in the entire world“ American Tour Guides Convention
“The original and best – there are several companies offering walking tours of London but London Walks (London’s oldest) is easily the pick of the bunch” London, Cadogan Guide
“We’ve done several walking tours with London Walks over the years and have never been disappointed. The latest one we did on a chilly Sunday in January was the one called Westminster at War. We walked around areas and up streets I’ve been to before but discovered lots of things I didn’t know about. The guide as always was very knowledgeable about his subject. The guide finished the tour by taking us to the Churchill War Rooms where we spent a couple of happy hours.” island163 Letchworth, UK
“On our last day in London, we walked the Westminster at War tour with Rex. He was very informative and passionate about this subject. We learned so much about London and its history. Thanks for a great tour. ” Phyllis B.