She looked up at the heavy black hands of the clock on the wall and sighed. There were no windows in the War Rooms, the warren of underground space used by the Prime Minister’s staff. The low ceiling was buttressed by the beams from one of Nelson’s ships of the line. Signs warned, Mind Your Head. The once magnolia-colored walls had faded to a dull yellow and the floors were covered in ugly brown linoleum. Overhead were braces of drainage pipes, where gurgles of sewage from the New Public Office could be heard. While the air was filtered by a special ventilation system, there were still lingering odors of unwashed bodies and too-often-worn clothes, chemical toilets and stale cigarette smoke.
The windowless typists’ office was lit by four green-glass pendant lamps and adorned with several gas masks, along with steel helmets and whistles for air raid drills. It was quiet in the small room, but outside, in the hall, the subterranean air was punctuated with the clatter of typewriters, conversations in low voices and the piercing ring of unanswered telephones.
The only evidence it was spring was the calendar on the wall. May 1940.