'Excessive dislike of extraneous noise'

Ian Kikuchi: “My name is Ian Kikuchi, I'm a senior curator at Imperial Museums and we're here in the Map Room of Churchill War Rooms. This site became operational with the outbreak of the Second World War and was in use daily throughout that conflict, and this Remington Noiseless typewriter gives us an insight into the way Winston Churchill liked to work while he was leading his country during the Second World War. These were typewriters specially imported from the United States, on Churchill's request. Churchill had an almost obsessive dislike of extraneous noise. Here at the Cabinet War Rooms, whistling in the corridors was strictly banned. And he favoured these noiseless typewriters because they made a slightly lower pitched thudding noise, rather than the high-pitched clatter of most typewriters of the day. Churchill often preferred to give his dictation directly to a typist on a typewriter rather than have them take it down in shorthand to be typed up later. One person who used a Remington Noiseless Typewriter like this was Elizabeth Nel, one of Churchill's personal private secretaries. And in 1941, she had her first experience of taking dictation from Churchill. She describes it in her memoirs as a moment of great anxiety, but in due course, their working relationship develops. And a few months later, she's working late into the night with Churchill on a major speech of over 10,000 words taking shorthand for 3 and a half hours and then typing up 27 pages of this speech for parliament. And at one point, Churchill asks her if she's tired, it's getting on for, you know, 1 o’clock,  2 o’clock in the morning. And she says no, she's fine. And Churchill remarks, we must go along like the gun horses until we drop. Churchill was a man who inspired enormous loyalty from the staff and had very high standards. This was very much the working fashion that Churchill demanded from everyone around him. And that was what he got.”

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 Remington ‘noiseless’ Typewriter at Churchill War Rooms helps tell the story of what it was like for a typist to help Britain and its most iconic Prime Minister triumph during the Second World War.

Since the end of the First World War, the British government feared London would become a target for air raids in a new war. In 1938, with tension building in Europe, a group of basement offices in a Whitehall building close to Parliament was chosen as the site for what would become the Cabinet War Rooms.

These basement rooms were adapted to provide meeting places for the War Cabinet during air raids, and its ‘Map Room' housed a military information centre. Here, vital information was collected for King George VI, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the armed forces.

The Cabinet War Rooms acted as the centre of Britain’s war effort, providing secret underground headquarters occupied by leading government ministers, military strategists, and Churchill himself.

From 1940-45, the Cabinet War Rooms became the inner sanctum of the British government. Churchill's War Cabinet met here 115 times, most frequently during the Blitz and V-weapon attacks from Germany, and hundreds of men and women spent thousands of hours working here.

This presented a problem for Churchill as he insisted on a quiet working environment, and Britain’s Prime Minister ordered his staff to use special typewriters that would reduce unnecessary noise.

Remington ‘noiseless’ Typewriters were soon imported from the United States and quickly populated the Cabinet War Rooms. These typewriters were in constant use, generating typed reports and memoranda that would have crossed the desks of Churchill and his War Cabinet.

The Cabinet War Rooms were in use 24 hours a day until 16 August 1945, when the lights were turned off in the Map Room for the first time in six years.

In 1984, IWM opened Churchill War Rooms to the public for the first time. Today, you can visit these rooms and discover the story behind IWM’s Remington ‘noiseless’ Typewriter for yourself.

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