One of the great itineraries for lovers of history is a World War II tour of London. As the living memory of the great generation who lived through WW II passes on, the physical history of that period takes on ever-greater importance. No city has a denser collection of that physical history than London, which served as the center and beacon of Western resistance to Fascist aggression during the mid-twentieth century. Some of my favorite days in the last twenty years were spent with family and friends who lived and served during that period, touring the Imperial War Museum , Churchill War Rooms, and HMS Belfast and listening to their stories in the midst of these museums’ rich collections of wartime memorabilia . As we approach D-Day (June 6), the anniversary of the Allied landing at Normandy, there is no better time to visit (or revisit) these great museums.
If you can make it before June 11, a great addition to your WW II itinerary would be tickets to go see Terrence Rattigan’s Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Siena Miller, James Purefoy and Sheridan Smith, Flare Path is set in 1941 in a Lincolnshire pub and hotel where RAF bomber crews gather with their ladies between “do’s” or bombing raids to relieve stress and refuel. A lovers’ triangle unfolds over the course of a long night waiting for the boys to return from a “shaky do” (dangerous and difficult mission). Based on Rattigan’s own experiences as an RAF tail gunner, the script is a tribute to the British “stiff upper lip” written with classic English understatement masking the precarious lives of the crews and their loved ones. The ensemble cast is excellent, and the sets, costumes, music and special effects transport you back to wartime England. Bring a couple of cans of SPAM for dinner and you’ll have the perfect evening to top off your WWII day.