By George Christopher Thomas, Travel Writer

LONDON, ENGLAND – Right across the way from London Bridge, which I am happy to report is not falling down, is Churchill’s “Britain At War” Experience.  This interactive and hands on museum offers visitors a look into life for civilians during World War Two.  This museum has been visited by hundreds of thousands of school children since it opened, and will unfortunately be closing the first week of January 2013.

I asked the nice lady running the gift shop why it was closing, and she informed me the rail service has always owned the building and they are expanding the station after the first of the year.  Well, either way I got the tour and it was fascinating.  They start you off in a World War Two type elevator, although here in England they call it a lift.  Once you get down into the museum you get to view a short film about the war then it is off to view the attractions and exhibits.  They have a bunch of real gas masks to try on, an Anderson Bomb Shelter that is life-size, and more information than you can shake a stick at.

From an American perspective, it was really interesting to learn what the British went through starting in 1939.  We didn’t get into the war until December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The Brits were under attack long before Pearl Harbor Day, and the American help under the “Lend Lease Act” was just not helping out enough.  I found all of the exhibits interesting, but especially the government issued Anderson Bomb Shelters.  I sat inside the fully restored one in the museum, with it being a bit cold and dark, just trying to imagine what it must have been like listening to the air raid sirens and fearing for one’s life.  I was shocked to learn over 13,000 Brits died in the Nazi bombing of London alone, it seems like such a large number of people.

Everyone in England during that time was expecting a large amount of causalities as the Germans dropped bombs on the cities of Britain.  There were trenches being dug in public parks and some street shelters were built as well.  But the best way the government believed to protect the populace was with the Anderson Shelters.  This shelter was designed to be put in people’s gardens.  It was sort of a tunnel, made from curved corrugated iron sheets which were bolted together.  There was a flat steel plate at each end, with an opening in one of them for a door.  The Anderson Shelter had to be partially buried, with a hole at least one meter deep being dug, and the shelter fitted inside of it.  The roof was supposed to be covered with at least 2 feet of soil.  These shelters were issued free to low income families, and over two million were built starting in 1938.  They could withstand almost anything but a direct hit, and are credited with saving many lives throughout the war years.

Once France had been defeated, in June of 1940 the Germans began bombing England on a regular basis.  First they attacked the radar stations and ports.  Then they switched to bombing the Royal Air Force (RAF) bases, because in their war plan destroying the RAF was key before invading Britain.  They came dangerously close to success, but then Hitler lost patience and ordered the Nazis to destroy London.

It was utterly fascinating to walk through the museum and see the war through British eyes.  Although they are shutting down the “Britain At War” experience in its entirety, they told me they are distributing all the exhibits to the other museums throughout London, and one can still ignite the historian flame in all of us.  (For more information, please visit

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