Video story

How sugar cubes reveal Churchill War Rooms well preserved past

When IWM took over the Churchill War Rooms in the early 80s, three sugar cubes were discovered, hidden away in a desk drawer of the Map Room . This perfectly preserved everyday item, found while preparing the site for its public opening, helps tell the story of life in 1940s Britain and what it was like to work at this underground complex.

The Cabinet War Rooms, as they were originally known, were a group of basement offices in Whitehall that were occupied by leading government ministers, military strategists and the Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Second World War.

The day after Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, which signalled the end of the war, the complex was vacated and left untouched until Parliament ensured its preservation as a historic site in 1948. Knowledge of the Cabinet War Rooms and access to it remained highly restricted until IWM took it over and began investigating, inventorying and preparing the site for the public.

During this process, an envelope containing three sugar cubes was found hidden away at the back of a drawer in the central Map Room. Sugar was in short supply during the war and this stash belonged to Wing Commander John Heagerty, one of the Map Room officers at the Cabinet War Rooms, whose name was on the envelope IWM found hidden away.

The sugar cubes hadn't been touched since the complex stopped being used at the end of the Second World War, more than 35 years earlier. From the shape of one of the cubes it looks as if Heagerty may have implemented his own rationing system, as you can see small amounts have been shaved off one of the sugar cubes.

Since IWM was formed more than a century ago, our collections have told the stories of the many different kinds of people involved in conflicts. The three sugar cubes on display at Churchill War Rooms continue this tradition, illustrating what daily life was like during the Second World War for the men and women who worked in the Cabinet War Rooms.