Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Olympics Finally Arrive in London (Almost)

I have interrupted our blog schedule* for an Olympic-related post! (Can I say 'Olympics', or is that trademarked? Do I have to call it London 2012, as everyone here seems to refer to it? Will I get in trouble for using the 'O' word?** Will you visit me in prison? Why does my hair look like it was dragged through a bush overnight?)

*We follow a rigorous blog schedule, as you may have noticed: ignore the blog for two months, then churn out four or five posts, then forget about the blog again. The most astute among you will have registered that we are in the middle of our tri-monthly (does that imply three times a month, or once every three months? This is in that tricky basket with bi-annual...) blogging frenzy, and we still have a couple more posts to go back to after this one. Lucky you!
Our Apartment gets ready to support the Kiwis
(**Kate Middleton's mother has been in trouble for referring to the 'O' word in her party-planning business...  There is talk of her being charged over misuse of the brand! ((Read the story here.)) Who is safe from the marketing madness?!)

While London, and hopefully the rest of the world, is gripped by Olymp.. 'London 2012' fever, we thought we should join the gravy train. On Saturday morning, we got up nice and early and headed down to the local town square to watch the Olym.... London 2012 Torch (?) The O Flame? The Torch Relay? THE TORCH AND RELAY OF DOOM? Er anyway, here 'tis:

The Torch Bearer Arrives
Sarah Smit, creator of a theatre company for teens
The 'Security' Guards
Some Horses
The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery
They even brought their own canons!
Sarah talking to the Mayor of Greenwich
Sunday also dawned bright and sunny, and so we set off on an adventure (Sorry, you'll have to wait 'til the next Frenzy for details!). On our way home, we began to see groups of people streaming down a road, this soon grew to crowds of people, and we then realised that they were gathering to see the Torch Relay (Got it right that time). We decided to follow the crowds, in the hope of seeing the Olym Flame. What we didn't bargain on was being right in the thick of the action! We had to stop our car and wait for about 15 minutes, but soon we found ourselves in the middle of the O-citement!
We're surprised that we're allowed to be so close to the action
Choice as, bro! 
It starts!
Torch Relay 2012 - ahh, so that's the magic phrase
The Police have some sweet rides over here
Coke, the drink of healthy athletes
Media frenzy
The Torch Bearer!
Jo Cleverly, a 79 year old runner who has spent most of his life getting involved
in local running-related events.
His grandfather won the 3 mile race in the 1908 Olympics (can I use that word yet?)
Me and the Olymp Flame London 2012 Torch!!!
Lets take another look at those police faces.
 Yep, definitely checking out our hot red ride...

Young Jo
O-fever has arrived!! And only 3 more sleeps until the O-pening Ceremony! And only one more week until we get to watch our first sporting event! Aaaannd, the sun has come out!! 29 degrees yesterday and today, and heading for 30 tomorrow!! (I love the person who invented the exclamation mark!)

Churchill's Secret War Rooms

 In early May, we managed to secure a half-price voucher to visit one of London's secret war locations - the Churchill War Rooms.

During the 1930s, aerial bombing technology developed rapidly and the threat of an international conflict grew ever greater. In 1938, it was considered necessary to plan for such an event, and thus a refuge was created in central London that could be used by senior Chiefs of Staff and the War Cabinet. The space was created out of basement rooms beneath the Office of Works, beside the present-day Treasury buildings and just blocks from No. 10 Downing Street. The Cabinet War Rooms became operational during August 1939, though they are more associated with Churchill, who used them extensively after he became Prime Minister in May, 1940.

The Rooms were very basic, and Churchill is said to have disliked them, choosing only to use the facilities when bombing made it risky to meet above-ground. The War Cabinet held 115 meetings below ground, and numerous civil servants, military personnel, and government ministers spent time in the Rooms. To this day, some of the rooms remain exactly the same as they were when abandoned at the end of World War Two, while others have been reconstructed.
Conference Room for the Chiefs of Staff
The War Cabinet Room is the largest, and it was set up in a board-room type layout, with maps covering the walls. This room has remained untouched since WWII ended. Apparently it was usually a thick fog of cigarette and cigar smoke. Eugh - it's bad enough to imagine being in stuffy, damp rooms below ground with no fresh air coming in, without picturing ten men sitting around in a closed room and chugging out poisonous smoke! (That is, in addition to the usual poisonous fumes that men chug out...)
The  Meeting Room of the War Cabinet
There was also a Transatlantic Telephone Room, where Transatlantic communications took place no, not via telephone cable, but via radio-telephone link. A civilian monitored the conversations at each end, and the leaders were soon disconnected if they strayed into forbidden topics! In 1943, Bell sent a scrambler device to London, which came with 40 tonnes of equipment (! - these were installed in the basement of Selfridges Department store, Oxford Street). An extension was installed in the Rooms, but it was so top-secret that everyone was told it was the Prime Minister's toilet, and should not be used.

Look at all those pretty telephones
The Courtyard Rooms were a series of bedrooms for Churchill, Mrs Churchill, and selected private office staff. These rooms were acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 2001, and have been reconstructed since then, as they were in a poor state. Churchill only slept in his bedroom three times, preferring to use a suite at a disused Tube station, though he did use it for business, and he even delivered four wartime speeches from the space.
The desk from which Churchill made some of his most famous broadcasts
A pair of slippers is next to the bed,
and a half-smoked cigar on the nightstand
Clementine Churchill's pretty room
The rest of the War Rooms are made up of service rooms, for typists, planning staff, and communications facilities. Some of the offices of more senior staff doubled as bedrooms.
The room of Brendan Bracken,
Minister of Information
Tommy Thompson, Aide de Camp
to the Prime Minister
The Map Room was a central point for information on the war, and featured maps, charts, books, and telephones. This room is largely the same as it was at the end of the war.
(Not the Map Room)

Post-war, four of the rooms were preserved and tours of the facility were available. In 1984, the Imperial War Museum finished a restoration of the Rooms, and in 2001, they restored the rest of the space (that which had not been publicly accessible after 1948). There is also a Churchill Museum in the middle of the War Rooms, which was fascinating - we spent over an hour just in this one room. It was very well-balanced, and this historian was very impressed by that.

This is certainly one attraction I can recommend - we really enjoyed looking around the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum. (This is starting to sound a bit like a sales advert... But really, it was great!) I love history! And with every blog post, you all come closer to loving history too!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sunny Days and Pillboxes

Back in Christchurch, I, Michelle, enjoyed sniffing out the World War Two connections of the city. We both enjoyed exploring the tunnels and gun emplacements at Lyttelton, and we once took a tour through the Cracroft Caverns during Heritage Week.

(For those of you not familiar with the Caverns, they are large chambers built into the Cashmere hillside during WWII that were designed to serve as operational headquarters in the event of a Japanese invasion. During the war, the military took over the historic Cracroft Wilson homestead and secretly built the caverns below. The largest underground room is 30 metres long and 7 metres tall.  In a conspiracy theory that warms the cockles of my heart, the homestead "burnt down" just days before it was due to be handed back to the Cracroft Wilson family, and thus the existence of the caverns - outside of military knowledge - was not discovered for nearly 40 years. Convenient, eh?) 

Anyway, where I am going with this is that I am fascinated by WWII, and it's amazing what one can discover even in one's own backyard, so to speak. Incidentally, I did read a story over the weekend of a guy who found a WWII pillbox in his London garden, and decided to remove it. After a week with a pneumatic drill, he had only managed to demolish the 30cm thick reinforced concrete roof. Those things were made tough!

Inspired by the thought that there might be more of these things around, I went on an internet hunt for information about WWII sites near us. It didn't take long to find something, so on a sunny (!!!!!) Sunday afternoon we set out to find our local gun emplacements. 

Success! They were full of litter and covered with graffiti, but it was still an exciting discovery. These pillboxes are located right beside the Thames, on an outcrop that would have allowed them to protect the Royal Arsenal (where we live) from attacks.

View from the pillbox west towards Woolwich and London

View east down the Thames

A plane heading in to land at London City Airport

View along the Thames path. Woolwich is to the left.
The river curves back around to the right after this, so central London
is actually in about a 2 o'clock direction from here.

You never know what might be just around the corner from your house...