Legendary wartime British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill’s hatred of noise was well documented. As well as leading the battle against Hitler, he also waged his own personal war on excessive noise.
A permanent exhibition at the Churchill War Rooms reveals how the PM imported noiseless Remington typewriters from the United States for his staff. He also banned whistling after he became increasingly irritated by excess noise.
Staged by the Imperial War Museum and located at King Charles Street, London, the exhibition invites visitors to see the secret World War II bunker and museum and learn the full story of Churchill’s life and legacy.
The group of basement offices at Whitehall became the centre of Britain’s war effort during World War II. The Cabinet War Rooms were used by the Prime Minister, other government ministers and military strategists. Plans for the rooms had been drawn up soon after World War I, as it was feared any future war could cause 200,000 casualties in the first week.
The building was chosen in June 1938, as it had a strong steel frame, a large basement and was near Parliament. It was adapted to offer basement meeting rooms for the War Cabinet, a map room and a military information centre.
On 27th August 1939, one week before Britain declared war on Germany, the Cabinet War Rooms became operational. Meetings took place there 115 times, including during the blitz. The rooms were used 24 hours a day, every day, until 16th August 1945. They housed 200 people and some staff even slept there until the end of the war.
The exhibition is entitled “Undercover: Life in Churchill’s Bunker” and includes testimonies from staff members who recalled Churchill’s strict rules and aversion to noise. One of the exhibits is a printed sign that warns employees, “There is to be no whistling or unnecessary noise in this passage.”
Giving an eerie realism to the museum, recordings of Churchill’s famous speeches are played throughout the bunkers, as visitors are invited to walk through an eerie labyrinth of dark corridors and view the transatlantic phone room, where there was a direct line to American president Franklin Roosevelt. You can see the map room which was staffed 24 hours a day by army and navy officers and you can even enter Churchill’s bedroom.
The bedroom contained a small single bed which was overshadowed by a massive wooden desk, with a broadcasting microphone on top.
Despite Churchill’s best efforts to reduce noise – and the formation of the Noise Abatement Society, which led to the Noise Abatement Act 1960, establishing noise as a statutory nuisance – excessive noise continues to be a problem today.
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ noise maps, traffic noise in particular causes problems, with many main streets in cities around the UK recording noise levels of more than 70 decibels during the day. A study by Defra has also revealed almost half of respondents feel their lives are blighted by excess noise.
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