Friday 30 April 2021

Imperial War Museums - Eat your heart out, Michelangelo



He said ‘Oh, you like drawing, do you?’ And I said ‘Yes, sir’… And he said ‘Right, you can work for us tomorrow’.
Myra Murden was still a teenager when she started working in the Cabinet War Rooms.

Born in Reigate, Surrey in 1924, she became a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1942, aged 18. She was a Leading Aircraftwoman during the Second World War.
Many officers and administrative personnel worked underground in the War Rooms, such as typists, stenographers, telephonists, and secretaries.

Myra recalls, “there were these tiny little cubby-hole places and I remember sitting and doing short-hand and typing there.”

She loved to draw and was often drawing and doodling between tasks. Until one night she was caught drawing a rose.

“This civilian went by and he said ‘Oh, you like drawing, do you?’ And I said ‘Yes, sir’… And he said ‘Right, you can work for us tomorrow’.
With that, Myra was sent through a trap door into a lower room to work for three draftsmen. In this room, the four of them worked on huge maps, used in the Cabinet War Rooms.

“I did the labels and I suppose the grotty jobs, but that didn’t worry me…And these three men, they did all the important secret work on the maps.”

“There was one huge map in the morning...they would put little crosses and things across the Atlantic where U-boats or submarines or ships had been sunk. And it was my job to draw a little submarine and put a little English flag on, or a swastika, or a ship on its side…”

Experience the power of Churchill War Rooms from the comfort of your home with our new online tour. Join live as our experts talk you through this remarkable historical landmark - with a chance to ask questions at the end. 

New dates added. Book your place now.

The Map Room was the nerve centre of Britain’s war effort. The room was not left empty for six years, during the Second World War. It was the beating heart of the Cabinet War Rooms.

Every retreat and advance, every defeat and victory, was recorded in calm, unemotional and faithful detail within this inner sanctum.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a great lover of maps and could often be found in the Map Room, which had the most up-to-date information on the war. Major-General Hastings Ismay recalled, “my visits often coincided with those of a sturdy figure in a siren suit”.

The ‘Map Room boys’ were said to ooze glamour and success, but Myra’s job was far less glamorous. She worked even further underground, in the sub-basement, in rather grim and dusty conditions.

Myra would not have been allowed in the Map Room. In fact, only a select few had access to the room.

Yet, the smooth operation of the Map Room depended on contributions from many members of staff behind the scenes. 

Like many other people who worked in the Cabinet War Rooms during the Second World War, Myra had to keep her job a secret from her family and friends. It was not until many years later that she could tell anyone about her work which contributed towards the outcome of the Second World War.

The Map Room has been preserved to look almost exactly as it did when the lights were switched off on 16 August 1945. 

When you can visit Churchill War Rooms again, pay close attention to the maps, which remain the same as they did in the Second World War, down to the pin holes. 

If you look close enough, you might see Myra’s handiwork.
Whilst you wait for Churchill War Rooms to reopen, experience its history at home using our audio-visual guide supported by Bloomberg Connects.

Discover the life and legacy of Winston Churchill with IWM curator Nigel Steel, hear from those who worked in the War Rooms, and more. 

Download the free guide on the Bloomberg Connects app.