Churchill’s Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of Britain’s Victory (RCAF Journal - SUMMER 2014 - Volume 3, Issue 3 - Book Reviews)

Cover of the Royal Canadian Air Force Journal Volume 3, Issue 3

Cover of 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

London, United Kingdom: Profile Books Ltd, 2009
246 pages
ISBN 978 1 84668 225 4

Review by Lieutenant-Colonel Doug Moulton, MBA, CD

As the Canadian Forces Liaison Officer to the United Kingdom Air Warfare Centre at Royal Air Force Waddington, I had on many occasions the opportunity to tour the various locations of the Imperial War Museum. One in particular piqued my curiosity and resulted in my reading of this book. Written by Brigadier Richard Holmes (Retired), CBE, TD, JP,[1] Professor of Military and Security Studies at Cranfield University, Churchill’s Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of Britain’s Victory tells the story of life and struggle during World War II in the British headquarters. His book is an excellent read which I recommend to anyone with an interest in Churchill and the command and control of British forces during the Second World War.

Written 70 years after the complex became operational and 25 years after it was opened to the public, Holmes has endeavoured to share with the reader the experiences of those who called the headquarters home for the majority of the war. Having had the opportunity to explore the museum at length, the book provides a realistic insight into the nuances of living underground in the dark, cramped quarters, while at the same time trying to carry on normal, everyday activities.

The book—divided into six chapters, each of which is organized chronologically —looks first at the secret of the hidden headquarters and the reasons behind its selection. The book then moves on to discuss the conditions associated with the Battle of Britain, the German bombing campaign and the effect that they had on the headquarters’ functioning. Chapter Three focuses on the actual operations of the headquarters and its management of the worldwide effort of British forces. Chapter Four then returns to the everyday experience of living underground and the people who made it all happen, from security to the feeding of the troops. As the war moved forward and allied successes accumulated, it soon became apparent that the headquarters had to go on the road. This monumental task is described in Chapter Five and touches on a number of issues, including that of civilian secretaries travelling on military transport and the challenges that caused. Finally, Chapter Six looks at the headquarters’ transition from nerve centre to museum. Important from the perspective that few, if any, outside the headquarters’ circle really understood what occurred in these cramped quarters during the war. The foresight of those who recognized this facility’s uniqueness has resulted in millions having had the opportunity to see a large portion of the actual headquarters as it was.

A well-researched book, Holmes has corralled a wide variety of sources to bring the story alive. Combined with appropriate maps, figures and photographs, Holmes has succeeded in rendering an understandable and enjoyable read, providing an insight into one of the most important headquarters of the Second World War. Churchill’s Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of Britain’s Victory is a well-written book that will prove an enjoyable read for the Churchill enthusiast.


Lieutenant-Colonel Doug Moulton, a Sea King pilot, is currently the Deputy Chair, Department of Exercise and Simulation, Canadian Forces College, Toronto.

Note

[1]. Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Territorial Decoration, Justice of the Peace  (return)

 

 

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