Site Name: Dollis Hill - Standby WW2 Cabinet War Room (Paddock)Brook Road
RSG site visit 19th April 2001
[Source: Nick Catford]
Paddock was built at the start of the 2nd World War below the Post Office Research Station in Dollis Hill. The purpose of the two level citadel was to act as a standby to the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall. The bunker became operational in 1940 with the War Cabinet meeting there on 3rd October.
Churchill did not like the new bunker and by the autumn of 1943 the standby cabinet war rooms were relocated to the North Rotunda in Marsham Street, close to Whitehall; Paddock was abandoned the following year.
During the cold war, Paddock was suggested as a replacement for the North London Group War Room at Partingdale Lane, Mill Hill but this was rejected by the GLC. It was also, along with Station Z at Harrow, suggested as the Main Control Centre for the whole of London with the 4 (later 5) Group Controls reporting to it. The idea of 1 central control was never adopted and the upper floor at Paddock was relegated to a Post Office social club.
Following closure of Post Office Research Station, in the mid 1990's the site was sold to a property developer who converted the Research Station into luxury flats with a new housing estate on the rest of the site. The single storey surface building above Paddock was demolished but the citadel, which has local authority listing was untouched and two access points were retained one an unobtrusive steel door in a wall between two houses and the other a brick blockhouse beside the road which also houses a small electricity sub station. The site has now been handed over to a housing association.
Behind the southern entrance door door is a narrow spiral staircase that descends thirty feet to the upper level of the two level citadel. Signs on the wall indicate this is Floor 27 (the lower level being Floor 28) which seems strange as there were certainly never 26 floors above it. At the bottom of the stairway is some ventilation plant with the air intake trunking and some electrical switchgear.
Photo: The upper spine corridor
Photo by Nick Catford
The spiral staircase enters one end of a 120 foot long spine corridor. Immediately to the left is the ventilation and filtration plant room with everything still intact. Beyond this is a second spiral stairway down to the bottom level. There are rooms left and right along the corridor, most are empty apart from the occasional filing cabinet and table but there is a long room on the far end on the left that still contains a GPO frame. On the right hand side of the corridor in the centre is a wide stone stairway up to a the norther entrance (the original main entrance) and down to the lower level. Beside this is a room with the walls covered in wire mesh which would have given a similar effect to a Faraday Cage although with no ENP during the war it is unclear what this room might have been used for. At the far end of the spine corridor signs point to 'Emergency Exit' which would have been another spiral staircase up to the surface. This has been bricked off at the bottom, there is however another spiral staircase down to 'Floor 28'.
Photo: The plant room
Photo by Nick Catford
The lower level is (April 2001) flooded to a depth of one foot and in one area a short side corridor and the rooms surrounding it are covered, in sheets of dry rot which is very picturesque appearing a little like cotton wool. There is some evidence of recent new wiring on this level and there are several new pumps lying in the water. This work seems to have been abandoned and the wiring now is probably useless. Again there are rooms on both sides of another long spine corridor. The largest room is the 'Map Room' with windows into four adjacent rooms. At the southern end is the main plant room with a standby generator, more ventilation plant and numerous 1940's control boxes and switchgear.
Photo: The Map Room
Photo by Nick Catford
Those taking part in the visit were Nick Catford , Keith Ward, Tony Page, Robin Ware, Bob Jenner, Andrew Smith, Caroline Ford and Robin Cherry.
During October 2001 the water in the lower level was pumped out and new lighting installed in both corridors, the two flights of stairs, the plant room and the map room. The owners intend to open the bunker to the public (with guided tours) on two days a year.
[Source: Nick Catford]
A history of 'Paddock'
[Source: Ken Valentine]
No sooner had the First World War ended than governments started to worry about what might happen in a second one. From 1924 Britain had committees of officials examining ARP questions and this examination intensified after Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933 and as the conviction grew, based on experience in WW1 and in the 1930s, that the bomber would 'always get through'. It was assumed, naturally enough, that the main target for enemy air raids would be central London.
At the same time there was a strong desire to limit annual defence expenditure, both as a contribution to international disarmament and, in the early 1930s, as a way of minimising the burden carried by a national economy painfully struggling out of depression. By the end of 1935, however, it was clearly no longer safe to assume, as had been assured in the 1920s, that there would be no major war within the next ten years. After the Election of November 1935 it was decided early in 1936 to appoint a Minister for the Coordination of Defence and to launch an expanded five-year programme of rearmament. France ratified a bilateral pact with Soviet Russia and on 7 March Hitler sent his troops into the Rhineland in defiance of the Versailles and Locarno treaties. The Cabinet now called for contingency plans to be devised for coping with a potentially dangerous situation and among new sub-committees set up under the Committee of Imperial Defence was one on "the location and accommodation of staffs of Government Departments on the outbreak of war".
Chaired by Sir Warren Fisher (Head of the Civil Service), the 5-man sub-committee reported early in 1937 with a suggestion that an alternative centre of government should be planned in the London area where Ministers and possibly Parliament could be relocated if Whitehall were to become unusable. After endorsement by the Cabinet in February 1937, this work was further developed in great secrecy by a new 5-man sub-committee under Sir James Rae (Treasury) and resulted in two alternative schemes, one of which was for accommodating not only civil servants but also Ministers and Parliament in London's northwest suburbs; if however, this short retreat were to prove insufficient, a further withdrawal should be made to prepared accommodation in the western counties.
For the 'fighting' Departments work on bomb-proof underground citadels was to be continued, including one for the Admiralty at Oxgate in north Willesden. In addition, plenty of buildings convertible for use by civilian staffs would be available in wartime London in the form of evacuated schools, especially in a borough like Willesden on the north-west edge of the zone of the capital covered by the Government's wartime evacuation scheme. At one stage Wlllesden's schools were scheduled to accommodate some 1,400 civil servants, with Gibbons Road, Leopold Road and Furness Road schools taking about 700 from the external-affairs Departments and Willesden County (Doyle Gardens) and Pound Lane about 500 from the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.
When this suburban scheme was examined further in the autumn of 1938, after the Munich crisis, the Office of Works wished to retain and develop it but the Committee of Imperial Defence preferred to shelve it in favour of the more radical alternative scheme for moving the entire government machine into the western half of the country in one operation. However, construction of four underground citadels would go ahead: one each for the three Services and a fourth which became the bomb-proof Emergency War Headquarters at Dollis Hill.
When war came in September 1939 the Government's current plan was to shift some 44,000 less-essential officials immediately into the western half of the country but to defer moving some 16,000 of the more-essential officials to various towns in the West Midlands until Whitehall had actually become untenable. In June 1940, however, the situation was changed dramatically by the fall of France, bringing the western half of England within easy reach of German bombers. Moreover, the unhappy experience of the French Government in Tours and Bordeaux suggested that a withdrawal of the British Government from Whitehall to the West Midlands could have a catastrophic impact both on national morale and on international confidence, whereas a regrouping in the north-west suburbs would leave the Government still in London. So the planned move to the West Midlands was now virtually abandoned, leaving the 1938 suburbs scheme as the only prepared alternative.
On 2 September 1940, five days before the start of the London Blitz set off a major invasion alarm, the Chiefs of Staff in a discussion about evacuation schemes noted that the pendulum had now swung away from the radical move to the western counties favoured in 1939 and back towards a slimmer version of the 1938 suburbs scheme: while there would be no general evacuation of Whitehall's civil servants to the suburbs, a 'pool' of suburban schools would be formed with 6,000 places for allocation among any Departments bombed out of Whitehall.
When the Civil Defence volume of the Official History was published in 1955 some of the scheme's features were still secret and nowhere was the phrase 'the London suburbs' clarified further. The following describe in some detail the central place which north Willesden was given in the plans and also what happened in the event, particularly at Oxgate and Dollis Hill. DOLLIS HILL The Research Station In 1914 the first steps were taken towards establishing a research branch of the Post Office's Engineering Department on the crest of the Dollis Hill ridge; and the first workshops were set up here in 1921. Gradually small permanent buildings began to appear on the eight-acre site and in 1933 the majestic main building, designed and built by H.M. Office of Works was opened by the prime minister J. Ramsay MacDonald.
It was evident that in any future war the pioneering work done on telecommunications at Dollis Hill would be extremely important for the war effort and that the site would be a likely target for enemy bombing. So on the outbreak of war in 1939 the building was concealed beneath a blanket of camouflage netting which made its outlines unidentifiable from the air.
NEVILLE'S COURT Situated in Dollis Hill Lane, opposite the north-east corner of Gladstone Park, is a handsome range of about sixty up-market flats, built c. 1935. Neville's Court became important in WW2 because it lay, very conveniently, only 200 yards south-east of the research station.
EMERGENCY WAR HEADQUARTERS The path, which led to the creation of a suburban Emergency War Headquarters at Dollis Hill, differed from that which led to the Central War Room complex under Whitehall (Storey's Gate).
Some time in 1937 the Cabinet called for the planning of an alternative wartime headquarters where Ministers could meet and work in comparative safety. Sir Maurice Hankey, secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence and chairman of the Deputy Chiefs of Staff Committee, handed this task down to his deputy, colonel Hastings Ismay, whose assistant was major Leslie Hollis.
Two possible kinds of location were to be considered: first, a central war room in central London; second a location outside the capital. At an early stage it was pointed out that the phrase 'central war room' was a misnomer since what was really intended was an Emergency War Headquarters. But 'CWR' continued in use for many years though the initials were officially interpreted from Christmas 1939 as 'Cabinet War Room'. The main rooms in the complex were to be a War Cabinet room, a Chiefs of Staff room and a comprehensive map room.
By June 1938 it had been decided to construct a Central London CWR in the basement of the Office of Works building in Storey's Gate facing St James's Park, which was considered to be the sturdiest structure in Whitehall. The detailed arrangements were entrusted to Ismay and Hollis, liaising with the Office of Works and with the mapping experts of the three Services. Hollis later recorded in his book (1956) that he asked for and obtained the help of the civil servant Lawrence Burgis who had until then been Hankey's secretary and knew how to handle the civil Departments. But the key man was Eric de Normann, who had joined the Office of Works in 1920 and had recently attended a one-year course of study at the Imperial Defence College; at the time of Munich he was described ministerially as the "linchpin" of the CWR enterprise.
During the summer of 1938 the Storey's Gate basement was cleared and its ceiling shored up with stout timbers nine inches square, steel supplies being short. Partitions were then inserted to produce a very large map room (where the current situation in all theatres of war could be displayed), a War Cabinet room and a smaller room for the Chiefs of Staff. The whole complex was fitted with air conditioning, an independent power supply and secure telephonic communications with the Service departments, the Foreign Office etc. This protected basement was considered strong enough to survive the collapse of the building above it, especially after steel strutting was inserted in the early autumn of 1938 at the time of the Munich crisis, but the experts knew that it was not proof against a direct hit from a heavy bomb and work on strengthening it was still going on in 1941.
In contrast, the suburban Emergency War Headquarters at Dollis Hill (sometimes called CWR2) emerged from the work of the Fisher and Rae sub-committees, which produced the North-West London Suburbs Scheme. Although not proposed in the Rae Report itself, the Dollis Hill site had evidently been in De Normann's mind since 1937; and several references to it as the chosen place for CWR2 occur in his correspondence in May 1938. In the same month the Office of Works assigned one of their architects F. M. Dean to "the Dollis Hill job"; but drawings were not examined in detail with Cabinet Office officials until the Munich crisis had given these contingency plans a new urgency.
On 14 October 1938 the three men who had worked together on CWR1 (Hollis, Burgis, De Normann) attended a meeting at the Office of Works in Storey's Gate at which De Normann presented "preliminary plans" for creating a purpose-built, totally bomb-proof war headquarters deep under the grounds of the Dollis Hill research station. This new HQ would in general replicate the facilities of CWR1, including in particular a large map room with a usable wall surface of over a thousand square feet and a cabinet room with seating for thirty people, all housed in a sub-basement nearly forty feet below ground. The sub-basement would be protected by a roof of concrete five feet thick (probably in two layers with an intervening layer of sand as a shock-absorber) while over it would be a first basement considerably larger in area, protected by another concrete roof three feet thick. The entrance to this citadel would be concealed within a new three-storey building already planned by the Post Office to meet its own peace-time needs. The ground floor of this building would be used for stores for the Post Office engineers' new experimental station. In peacetime the first and second floors would be used by the Post Office for lecture rooms, offices etc. but in wartime they would be adapted for use in quiet periods by a War Cabinet and its secretariat, by the Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Planning Committee, etc; during periods of air attack, however, there would be a general descent into the subterranean citadel. The cost of the war HQ was put at nearly £250,000.
The facts set out above show that the assertion made by Churchill's biographer Martin Gilbert that the Dollis Hill centre's "principal focus - the substitute War Rooms - were in an underground section of the GPO's research centre and had been built as part of the GPO's own emergency preparations before the war" is quite incorrect. In any case, the GPO did not need a hugely expensive bomb-proof citadel and the Treasury would never have allocated them the money.
Other faulty statements about this citadel have appeared in print since the war. The first mention of it was by Winston Churchill in volume 2 of his book on the Second World War (1949). At this time the official files were still firmly closed and Churchill's vague statement that a reserve war room called PADDOCK had been prepared "near Hampstead" was knowingly misleading; and the Official History used exactly the same phrase. Churchill also carefully omitted from his book, when quoting his minute of 14 September 1940, the sentence about Neville's Court in Dollis Hill Lane, which would have been geographically too revealing; but he forgot to delete 'Neville Court' when reproducing his minute of 22 October. There was no mention of the Dollis Hill citadel in Hollis's books or in Ismay's memoirs but in 1956 a long article appeared in a technical journal about Post Office research work at Dollis Hill (and elsewhere) including a site plan on which the relevant building was clearly marked PADDOCK. Later, in 1971, an edited version of Sir Alexander Cadogan's war diaries, published a few years after his death, contained a short entry about a War Cabinet meeting held in the "Dolls Hill War Room" on 10 March 1941; this provoked little comment at the time but it induced the writer of Volume Seven of the Victoria County History of Middlesex (1982) to place this war room wrongly in Dollis Hill House at the entrance to Gladstone Park. Some years later, when a feature article in The Times, echoing what Churchill and the Official History had said thirty years earlier, again tried to locate PADDOCK at Hampstead; Nigel West pinpointed its location accurately and clearly in a letter to The Times printed on 28 March 1984.
In fact the citadel, oblong in shape, ran parallel with Brook Road under the north-east corner of the research station grounds. It was both longer and wider than the building erected on the surface and the first basement may have extended under the pavement of Brook Road. Construction work for the citadel started at the beginning of 1939 without attracting much attention although it involved earth-shifting on a massive scale. Some parts of the underground work were not yet complete in January 1940 when the commandant-designate Captain B. F. Adams RN, who was already commandant of CWR1, was taken down to Oxgate by the Admiralty architect to see what his citadel might look like when finished. By the following June, however, the underground citadel had been completed. In conformity with the original plan of 1938 it consisted of a basement roofed over by 3½ feet of reinforced concrete and, at a depth of nearly forty feet below ground, a smaller sub-basement protected by another 6 feet of concrete (probably in two layers); with comparable protection at the sides, the subbasement was considered to be entirely bomb-proof. However, probably through shortage of time, the above-ground building seems to have been limited in the event to the ground floor only, provision for associated office staffs being made in the research station's main building. By June 1940 Dollis Hill was ready to provide a home for the War Cabinet incomparably safer than the makeshift CWR1 in Storey's Gate.
During the first ten months of the war, until mid-1940, London could hardly believe its luck. The war had been expected to open with massive air attacks on the capital and in the first three days of September 1939 hundreds of thousands of people, mostly schoolchildren, had been 'evacuated' from an inner-London ring, which included Willesden but not Wembley, under a long-prepared official evacuation scheme. But, when London suffered no substantial bombing during the 'phony' war, many of these 'evacuees' returned to their homes. The collapse of France in June 1940 brought German bombers to the Channel coast, reviving fears of bombing, and a second, much smaller, evacuation from London took place.
By this time, however, the bomb-proof Emergency War Headquarters at Dollis Hill was ready for occupation and De Normann advised Ismay to have the Dollis Hill Citadel all ready and manned by a skeleton staff so that, as soon as there are signs of the position in Whitehall getting too hot, the move can take place at short notice.
At top official level Sir Patrick Duff, permanent secretary at the Office of Works, who had been a member of the Warren Fisher sub-committee way back in 1936, wrote in similar vein to the Cabinet secretary Sir Edward Bridges saying that Dollis Hill was "in a totally different category" from the improvised CWRI, which could never do more than sustain the collapse of the building above it, and that this new "safe place" should now be occupied by a nucleus of selected staff. To drive home the point, Duff offered to take Bridges to look over the Dollis Hill set-up and the visit was arranged for the afternoon of 19 June. Whitehall officials generally were convinced that Dollis Hill would have to be used if Whitehall became uninhabitable; but Churchill himself had a deep-seated aversion to entertaining any thoughts about leaving Whitehall although there was clearly a possibility that a move might have to be made.
With the fall of France Hitler thought that the war in the West was won and that Britain had no alternative to making an agreement with him, which would give him a free hand to tackle Russia. But Britain, led by Churchill, was obdurate, forcing Hitler to the view that an invasion of part of England might be necessary to ensure its future passivity; and the Battle of Britain was fought in the summer of 1940 to achieve local air supremacy over the eastern half of southern England. This carried a danger that at some point London might be heavily bombed in order to draw Fighter Command into decisive aerial combats, but Hitler continued for a time to forbid his pilots to bomb London. It was only after Churchill, with questionable wisdom, sent strong forces of BAF bombers to make repeated raids on Berlin that Hitler decided at the end of August to let loose his bombers on the British capital. A few days later the London Blitz began.
The huge raid on the docks and East End of London, which started at teatime on Saturday 7 September and continued through the night, produced in some quarters a state of alarm bordering on panic. The codeword CROMWELL was issued, warning the defence forces to be ready to meet an invasion, but it was widely misunderstood to mean that the invasion had already started; and some premature demolitions took place. Nor was Whitehall immune. On the Saturday Bridges sent Churchill a paper about the underground citadels and their degree of readiness, which had clearly been drafted some time before but may not have been sent forward earlier because of Churchill's well-known refusal even to think of leaving Whitehall. It must have made him guiltily aware that he had not done his homework and had never yet visited the Dollis Hill citadel. Historians must ask why Churchill repeatedly sent the RAF to bomb Berlin in the last week of August 1940 without familiarising himself with existing contingency plans for handling the possible consequences of enemy reprisals.
Churchill was still rattled several days later when he called in Duff and accused him, quite unfairly, of having "sold him a pup" by letting him think the Whitehall CWR1 was bomb-proof when it was not. Returning to his office, Duff immediately wrote to Bridges, whom he knew well, to record that he had replied to Churchill's accusation "with some emphasis", saying that he had been at pains to assert at every opportunity that CWR1 was not, and could not be made, bomb-proof.
On the morning of 8 September the first thing Churchill did was not to visit the battered East End, as one might infer from his biographer's account. Instead, he now did what he should have done several weeks earlier: he hurried out to Dollis Hill to see for the first time the emergency war HQ and Neville's Court. Describing next day the outcome of this "rather unexpected" Sunday morning excursion, Churchill's office told the Office of Works that he had approved the plan to knock together two adjoining flats in Neville's Court to form a double-flat for himself and his secretaries. A separate air-raid refuge for his entourage behind the block of flats was considered a good idea. One week later the Office of Works requisitioned the whole of Neville's Court for the Government.
Churchill also expressed a wish, during or just after his trip to Dollis Hill, to hold a War Cabinet meeting here on Thursday 12 September "so as to give everyone a run over the course" This proposed meeting at Dollis Hill was later deferred until the following Monday and after further slippage eventually took place on 3 October. In the meantime Churchill, who liked to spend his weekends at Chequers, would pause on his way there to drop in first at Dollis Hill and then at Uxbridge (HQ of No. 11 group, Fighter Command). John Colville, his junior secretary, records that on Friday 20 September a two-car party, which included Winston's wife Clementine and son Randolph, inspected "the flats where we should live" [i.e. Neville's Court] and "the deep underground rooms safe from the biggest bomb" [i.e. the citadel] where the War Cabinet and its acolytes would work and, if necessary, sleep.
A few days after the Blitz began, the question of code-names was reviewed and the name PADDOCK approved for the Dollis Hill citadel. The reason for the choice is not entirely clear but the name had been well-known in the district for a century, ever since the famous horse-racing firm of Tattersall took over the site of Upper Oxgate Farm where they established a purpose-built stud farm and called its lands Willesden Paddocks. When the Paddocks disappeared under houses after WWI one of the new roads running towards Oxgate from Brook Road, some distance north of the research station, was given the name Paddock Road. The code-name PADDOCK seems to have been used first by Churchill in a minute addressed to Bridges on 14 September 1940; thereafter it was used by officialdom at all times.
Although Churchill never believed that a German invasion was an odds-on possibility, he was emphatic on 14 September about the need to take precautions, having belatedly recognised the need to have alternative accommodation in reserve. Doubtless with an eye on how it would look in a post-war book, he wrote to Bridges: "We must expect that the Whitehall-Westminster area will be the subject of intensive air attack any time now. The German method is to make the disruption of the Central Government a vital prelude to any major assault on the country. They have done this everywhere. They will certainly do it here, where the landscape can be so easily recognised and the river and its high buildings afford a sure guide, both by day and night. We must forestall this disruption of the Central Government."
What Churchill was talking about here was not the wholesale removal of the Government machine to the western counties (an idea favoured in 1939 but abandoned in June 1940) nor even a general movement into empty buildings in the North West London suburbs (as proposed in 1938) but a strictly limited move of a few hundred key people into the subterranean citadels and associated above-ground accommodation like selected schools. Speaking of the movement of "the high control" from the Whitehall area to PADDOCK and other citadels he said: "We must make sure that the centre of Government functions harmoniously and vigorously. This would not be possible under conditions of almost continuous air raids. A movement to PADDOCK by echelons of the War Cabinet, War Cabinet Secretariat, Chiefs of Staff Committee and Home Forces GHQ must now be planned and may even begin in some minor respects. War Cabinet Ministers should visit their quarters in PADDOCK and be ready to move there at short notice. They should be encouraged to sleep there if they want quiet nights. All measures should be taken to render habitable both the Citadel and Neville's Court. Secrecy cannot be expected but publicity must be forbidden."
After dealing in with arrangements for the citadels of the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Ministry, Churchill concluded:"Pray concert all the necessary measures for moving out not more than two or three hundred principal persons and their immediate assistant. Let me have this by Sunday night, in order that I may put a well-thought-out scheme before the Cabinet on Monday."
In response to this urgent demand Bridges explained how accommodation at the PADDOCK citadel had been allocated. Besides War Cabinet ministers and their secretaries, an upper echelon of the War Cabinet secretariat, including Bridges and Ismay (head of Churchill's Defence Office), would move to PADDOCK, leaving the lower echelon under Ismay's deputy Hollis in Whitehall. The Admiralty and Air Ministry had their own bomb-proof citadels but the War Office would need space at PADDOCK for their Secretary of State, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff with half a dozen assistants, and Advanced GHQ Home Forces. Sleeping accommodation was being prepared in Neville's Court but temporary billets had been earmarked in the neighbourhood in case the flats were not all ready when needed. Above-ground working accommodation could be made available within 24 or 48 hours in the Post Office research station for Cabinet Office staff who had originally been assigned to Willesden County School, two miles away, but whose presence at the Dollis Hill nerve-centre was later deemed to be desirable.
On Thursday 3 October 1940 PADDOCK finally served the purpose for which it had been created. A meeting of the War Cabinet began at 11.30 am, attended by Churchill, twelve other Ministers and the three Chiefs of Staff, with an agenda of normal range and length. Also held that day in the PADDOCK citadel were meetings of the Chiefs of Staff (including Ismay) and of the Joint Planning Committee, whose secretary was Hollis. Churchill later wrote in his book: "A citadel for the War Cabinet had already been prepared near Hampstead, with offices and bedrooms and wire and fortified telephone communication. This was called PADDOCK. On September 29 I prescribed a dress rehearsal, so that everybody should know what to do if it got too hot. "I think it important that PADDOCK should be broken in. Thursday next therefore the Cabinet will meet there. At the same time other departments should be encouraged to try a preliminary move of a skeleton staff. If possible, lunch should be provided for the Cabinet and those attending it". We held a Cabinet meeting at PADDOCK far from the light of day, and each Minister was requested to inspect and satisfy himself about his sleeping and working apartments. We celebrated this occasion by a vivacious luncheon, and then returned to Whitehall. This was the only time PADDOCK was ever used by Ministers."
In fact the last sentence of the this passage is untrue: PADDOCK was used for a later War Cabinet meeting on 10 March 1941. The error is repeated by Churchill's biographer M.Gilbert in Finest Hour where after saying (p. 800) that "in the event Dollis Hill was never used" he says (p. 823) that "on October 3 the Dollis Hill centre of Government was used for the first and last time Churchill's error is understandable because he was prevented from attending the 10 March meeting by a sudden bronchial cold and he may have failed to note it in his diary; his biographer has no such excuse as the minutes of the meeting are available.
The second War Cabinet meeting at PADDOCK, like the first, was not held here as a result of a heavy blow dealt to Whitehall during the Blitz. Primarily it was to ensure that the PADDOCK machinery was still in good working order. But there may have been a secondary motive. Although after mid-November London still suffered occasional heavy air raids, the main worry in March 1941 was the thorny question whether British forces, including Commonwealth troops from the Southern Dominions, should be sent from Egypt and North Africa to help Greece to resist a German invasion. The Australian premier Robert Menzies had come over to London on a three-week visit, during which he regularly attended Cabinet meetings, and a meeting at PADDOCK may have been seen as an opportunity to impress him with the depth and thoroughness of British contingency planning. Menzies on this occasion gave the War Cabinet a 40-minute review of the Australian war effort.
In October 1940, shortly after the first War Cabinet meeting at Dollis Hill, a descriptive note was written about daily life at PADDOCK. Government now occupied not only the 19 rooms of the basement and the 18 rooms of the subbasement but also the ground floor with its 22 rooms and lavatories. These rooms were used predominantly for work while other workrooms were available in the main Post Office building. Staff could use the Post Office canteen for meals and had living and sleeping accommodation in Neville's Court, where about thirty NCOs and men were quartered so as to allow a 24-hour guard over the whole complex to be maintained.
Life was not easy at PADDOCK. One opinion expressed about it in June 1940 was that it would be functioning more like a GHQ in the field than a Government office in Whitehall. On 22 October Churchill told Bridges: "The accommodation at PADDOCK is quite unsuited to the conditions which have arisen. The War Cabinet cannot work and live there for weeks on end, while leaving the greater part of their staffs less well provided for than they are now in Whitehall. Apart from the Citadel of PADDOCK there is no adequate accommodation or shelter and anyone living in Neville's Court would have to be running to and fro on every Jim Crow warning. PADDOCK should be treated as a last-resort Citadel."
Three days later the wartime limitations of Neville's Court were underlined when Sir Patrick Duff described the difficulty of finding a way to construct deep shelters on the site because of the tendency of the ground at Dollis Hill to become waterlogged.
In January 1941 Churchill gave up his double-flat in Neville's Court (flats 18 and 27) and the armed guard, already reduced from a squad of 40 to one of 20, was about to be reduced further to half a dozen. The danger of Whitehall being devastated by enemy bombing receded when the Germans invaded Russia in June 1941 but five rooms at PADDOCK continued to be earmarked for Churchill and his staff, seven for other War Cabinet Ministers, three for War Office chiefs, seven for Home Forces Advanced GHQ and ten for part of the War Cabinet secretariat and Joint Intelligence Committee, besides the map room, the Joint Planners' room and a room for the Dominions liaison officers. The War Cabinet room was, as at Downing Street, long and narrow, with the prime minister evidently seated half way along one side of a long table.
These arrangements continued with little change for another two years into the summer of 1943 when Churchill, warned about the progress of German plans to bombard London with V-weapons, reviewed the list of all available citadels in London and chose as his own safe place not PADDOCK but the bottom floor of the new purpose-built North Rotunda (to be demolished in 2001) in Great Peter Street Westminster. In the autumn of 1943 the best of PADDOCK's furnishings and furniture were removed to the North Rotunda, which was known to the War Cabinet secretariat and to De Normann and his colleagues as ANSON - an apt name for a building sheltering a Former Naval Person.
PADDOCK had now served its purpose and was redundant. From December 1943 colonel Ives, who had been for many years in the War Cabinet secretariat and in 1942 had succeeded the naval captain Adams as commandant of PADDOCK, had the job of looking after both PADDOCK and ANSON until the Dollis Hill citadel was finally locked up and abandoned at the end of 1944
The whole of the Post Office site at Dollis Hill was sold off to the private sector before 1980. The citadel is now on Brent Council's list of 'locally listed' buildings.
Last updated 1st March 2003
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