Operation Black Door! Churchill War Rooms

How do you find a way to make “history” interesting and more than reading a collection of extracts and pictures on a wall?
Well it’s a question the Imperial War Museums have clearly been asking themselves and equally clearly, have resolved it with an interactive experience at the Churchill War Rooms.

I was invited along to an evening’s entertainment codenamed Operation Black Door, by The IWM at the museum, where after hours, you are greeted by actors who take you back to a time when the war rooms would have been collating and working through information as World War 2 progressed, advising Churchill on what measures to take.

Headed over to the Churchill War Rooms, via The Mall, for Operation Black Door

The scenario is that you have a modern computer which is trying to work out why certain things happened during the war. There are four missions and you are randomly given one of them and have to find the answers to the four challenges. Using the app which you need to download to your phone and headphones so you can follow it, you make your way around the bunker, passing helpful staff from yesteryear who can guide you if you are lost.

I am by no means a whizz at technology so it took me a little while to get into the swing of things, as the Artificial Intelligence known as Ciggie, talks you through your mission, but even I could work out how to find the missing bits of information and decipher them! 

A telephonist I interrupted as she took important messages!!

I loved that the people in the hallways were all in character – I was stopped by one who exclaimed rather enviously at the generous amounts of fabric in my skirt and wanted to know where on earth I’d managed to get it. (With the War on there were strict rules on fabric rations and how much could be in a dress/skirt including its length hence most were of an A-line design). I whispered back to her “I have an American boyfriend – that’s where I get my stockings too!” to which she nodded in complete understanding. 

As you wander around you can see extracts from Churchill’s memoirs. I recall reading once how he famously said “History will be kind to me, for I shall write it” which always struck me as how things are unchanged – no matter their circumstances people will continue to write their own version of events to portray themselves in a good light. That’s just human nature.

But back to the mission! My husband was my partner in espionage and we were tasked with discovering why we were distrustful of the French and what or why matters happened in Gibraltar. I know a little of the War, not just the fashion, but I had no idea, so we worked our way through the clues ending up in the cabaret room where a lovely lady was serenading all those who had gathered for a drink at the bar.

It was a good opportunity to grab a drink and get our bearings – as we listened to the information on the headphones and worked out the cypher codes which unlocked more information. The use of the app meant you had to concentrate as it used modern twists like scanning to unlock more information. Like this picture of a sheet of music which had important information revealed only when you’d found the passwords and scanned it.

Other parts of our mission involved being briefed by character actors representative of the time such as General Ismay, Churchill’s head of staff. He informed us of a situation involving the French who had signed as Allies with the Germans. Their decision, and the placement of their fleet, left Britain vulnerable should those boats be taken over by the Germans. 

General Ismay sets out the scene – and the three options facing Churchill

I won’t set out what the situation was as you may choose to do the event and it might spoil it for you. I will say it was shocking – and surprised I had never been told anything about it in school. But then it most certainly was not Britain’s finest hour. Churchill himself was apparently physically ill at the consequences of his decision. But it was  a very difficult and different time when “the end often justified the means” and you had to live with the consequences after.
For every action there is a reaction and this explained what followed in Gibraltar – which again I can’t tell you as it might spoil it for you!

Whilst that part was a very sobering experience I was still very glad to learn about it to broaden my knowledge of that time – and we were uplifted by looking around the museum and seeing how people had all worked together to try and achieve victory.
There were also lots of pieces of information on how everyday life was handled to remind you this was a group of ordinary people just doing their best and trying to maintain a semblance of life. Like Churchill’s wife trying to prepare for Christmas – and if this was the drinks when they were rationed, I’d love to know how much they were consuming before!!

Only a handful of alcohol for your daily ration!
What a beautiful hair up do from Clemmie – Churchill’s wife
Ladies at work in the war rooms
One of the bunker’s very sparse bedrooms used by staff

Walking around and enjoying the opportunity to read up on things I also was delighted to meet the lovely Isabel, who’s on Instagram and Tik Tok and was taking in the whole experience too.

Delighted to meet Isabel Chan who was exploring the War Rooms too on another mission!

My thanks to the IWM for the invitation to attend the event. I found it amusing, interesting, confusing, and fun in equal measure and ultimately a fun way of spending an evening.
I understand it was also held earlier this year for three days and may well be repeated again. So if you’re interested I’d certainly sign up to their newsletter so that you know when the next one is.


Yana x

Whilst the ticket for this event was a gift from IWM this review is entirely my own views and thoughts on the event.


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