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Churchill's Chair

It was in the early 1970’s that I commenced working for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office George Street in Whitehall. Fresh from College and a temporary job I took up my position as a General Secretary working for a Senior Economic Advisor. I was placed in an office with two older women, one of whom was in her middle age, the other quite close to retirement – both of whom seemed ancient to my young eyes. Both ladies had worked for the Government for many years and were well settled into their positions. What they thought of a flighty, mini-skirted eighteen-year-old I will never know, but they took me under their wing and within a few months, under their guidance and tuition, I became an efficient secretary and able to navigate the complexity of the Government department in which I worked.

I was into my third or fourth month when during idle chatter between ourselves I discovered that the elder lady, Miss P had worked in the Churchill War Rooms during the war years. During our discussion, she promised to take me on a tour of these old offices, which she told me lay beneath the building in which I worked. Within a few weeks she had arranged with an ex-war colleague, Harry, a custodian, for us to visit the rooms. It was an amazing experience walking the corridors and peering into the rooms with Ms P revealing the days she spent in those offices beside me. After a while I was left to wander alone whilst Ms P and her colleague caught up with a cup of tea and a chat. Alone in Churchill’s Office, with no one around, I decided to take the opportunity and sit in Churchill’s chair. I sat glancing at the items on the desk pondering the decisions that had been made when a voice startled me out of my reverie ...

"Hallo".

My world suddenly shifted. I jumped up flustered and red of face. Before me stood a man in airforce uniform. Watching me he said

"New around here?"

I nodded.

"Cat got your tongue?"

I shook my head and he gave a small bark of a laughter as he limped into the room offering me his hand.

"Captain Mitchell and you are…?"

Our hands touched lightly

"Sue, Sue Moss … I came here with Miss P, she showed me around. I work …".

"Slow down!" he smiled. "Ah, let me see, Miss P?"

There was silence whilst he contemplated the name.

"Of course, Miss P, I remember Miss P. How is she?

"Good, she’s with … "

He turned away from me and moved towards the chair that I had knocked back in my fluster. He placed it back in its proper position and leaned across the desk to move a few items into place. He looked up and asked.

"Have they shown you around?’

"Yes".

"Good. Would you like to see more?"

I looked at him surprised, I thought I had seen everything.

"Miss P took me on the tour".

He smiled, then aimably said

"Did she now, would you like to see more?"

He moved forward, gently taking my arm to usher me out of the room. We walked side by side down the corridor before moving into a dim lit passage, leaving the fluorescent lights behind us. He limped into the darkness. I hung back slightly confused at the darkness that lay ahead. He turned towards me.

"Well, are you coming". I looked back and then towards him.

"Are you sure this is alright. I mean Miss P never …"

He broke in rudely.

"Miss P wouldn’t know about this. Are you coming or not?"

He moved forward and I hurried to catch him up.

Just as we moved into the darkness a light came on above us. We moved again towards more darkness when just as before another light automatically came on. I stopped confused. Looking behind me I could see nothing but darkness. Ahead lay the light we stood in and beyond that darkness. I looked toward the almost blue glow above me, puzzled. Captain Mitchell turned toward me

"They’re sensor lights".

Baffled I looked at him.

"Sensor?"

"Lights that sense your approach and turn themselves on".

"Oh!".

I had never heard of or seen anything like them before.

"It’s a new technology", he explained

"Technology?".

"Of course, you don’t understand. Look do come on and I’ll explain more of this later to you"

Our footsteps softly echoed in the corridor as we moved forward.

"Where are we?" I asked.

"Under Whitehall", he replied. "These passages stretch for miles. To the Palace, House of Commons; Ministry of Defence and … other places".

I nodded knowingly. I had heard from members of the staff that they existed – rather like the "hole in the wall" that people mentioned but I had yet to experience in the main Office.

We stopped at a heavy metal door – he pressed his hand up against what looked to be a glass plate and the door slid open with a hiss of air. We moved forward into a confined space. There was a slight humming in the air. The door slid shut behind us. I felt the warm air waft across my face and looked towards the ceiling, which seemed opaque. Captain Mitchell moved toward another door, which also slid open.

"Come on, this way".

We moved forward into another corridor – this one brightly lit.

"Captain Mitchell. Sir". A young man saluted. He seemed to expect us.

"This way, please Sir". He indicated that we sit in what looked to be a low-hung car - a car without wheels. Before I had time to examine the vehicle, my arm was taken and I was assisted in. The young man strapped me in across both shoulders.

He smiled at me "For safety".

Captain Mitchell climbed in beside me.

"Comfortable?".

I nodded confused. Suddenly with a whish, the car-like contraption seemed to hover for a second, then float on air, before moving swiftly forward. minutes it stopped. Released from the straps I shakily stepped out. Our mode of transport still floated on air. I bent down to look underneath, no wheels. There was nothing. I looked up. This sleek compact contraption was dissimilar to anything I had seen before. Captain Mitchell watched me carefully, noting the confusion on my face.

"It’s electromagnetic. It transforms energy, lifting and moving on the momentum provided by the electrode current . It’s difficult, it’s almost inexplicable for me to explain to you – you’d have to be a mathematician to understand."

I nodded . I had little understanding of what he had just told me.

"You’re very pale, are you okay?"

Again, I nodded, turning back as the car like contraption slid silently forward, gaining speed, its body tilting slightly as it rounded a bend and disappeared from sight. I was swept by a sudden consciousness that something was strange.

"You don’t say much do you? This way".

We moved up some stairs towards a small platform. Ahead lay another door. I watched him press his fingers lightly over a small box covered with numbers. The door slid open with a hiss. We moved into a large well-lit room. Before me stood a mass of plate glass windows. I moved towards them and looking down I could see what looked to be a huge work area, above which hung eight enormous flat television screens, set out in two layers. I stared toward them stunned at the colourful images they displayed.

I turned questioningly towards Captain Mitchell. He stood in front of an open lift. He indicated that I join him and I moved forward. The doors silently closed. Within a second the doors slid open and we moved into the huge auditorium that I had just viewed through the glass windows. There was a murmur of voices, a faint clicking sound. Low pitched ringing. Uncomprehendingly, I looked around. In front on the huge screens, people were busily occupied at a desk like structure that ran in a huge half-circle on which sat small glass thin flat screens. Turning towards Captain Mitchell I asked

"What are they" pointing towards them.

"Computer monitors" he replied.

"Computer monitors?" I queried. "What do you mean?"

He thought for a moment, hesitating with his words before replying

"To put it simply, it’s like a typewriter. Whereas you would place paper through a baton to type upon, the paper has now become the screen and what you type lies within the memory of the computer."

"Computer?".

He pointed towards a small box.

Amazed I asked, "How do the words get typed onto the screen?

"From a key-board" he replied.

He moved forward and picked up a clear flat typewriter style keyboard and handed it to me. It felt light in my hands. I turned it over. There were no wires, nothing to connect it to the screen "But how do the words get to the screen?"

"Infra-red" He replied, smiling.

Yet, another unknown word. There were a thousand questions I wanted to ask but words failed me.

I looked up at the images flashing across the enormous cinema like screens.

"What do you see?" he asked

I turned my eyes away and looked at Captain Mitchell.

"It’s similar to news footage but …". I stopped, unsure of my words, before continuing.

"It’s like watching a film in a cinema, but these images are different. They are so clear and defined." I hesitated again and pointed toward one screen.

"Is that a film of a war?".

He nodded. I opened my mouth to speak but no words came. Confusedly I looked at the screen, I knew that what I was seeing was like no war I had ever seen before and I felt sickened. He touched my arm gently.

"Don’t try and understand, just look. Tell me what you see."

The words tumbled from my mouth, as I described what I could see on the screens in front and above me. When I reached the lower eighth screen, he urged me to look again at the first where the images had changed. Four times I described what I was watching – 32 screens in all. I did not have time to pause or to probe each screen for its deepest meaning. Their pageant of portrayals moved on.

"What is this" I asked, "a game?"

I felt his hand grip my shoulder gently.

"It’s no game, but the truth".

I turned toward him, confused and upset.

"The truth, the truth of what?" I asked

"The truth of life, the truth of men’s actions".

I shook my head in confusion. I turned back towards the screens

"I don’t understand you, I don’t understand all this"

"What you see may and could happen", he replied. "Some of it will happen".

I broke in angrily.

"I don’t understand what you are saying, what do you mean? How can what I am seeing happen?".

He sighed and looked at me with sadness

"Everything depicted upon the screens are pictures of events in the future. Some will happen in your lifetime, some will happen in your children’s lifetime and some in their children’s lifetime".

I looked towards the screens trying to understand what he was telling me. I wanted to cry out in my confusion, I wanted to deny what was being seen. Again, I felt his hand squeeze my shoulder gently.

"I don’t understand … what you are saying doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense. None of this makes sense. It just doesn’t add up."

"I know. It’s hard for you to understand but you have to let your thoughts sink slowly and deeply below the surface of things and you’ll begin to understand. May be then in time you’ll understand their significance."

I felt confused. Tears welled up and slipped down my face – what had I seen but death in the untrodden future of man. My mind was full of ancient doubts and fears. I felt lonely and far away from the warmth of life. Desolate I turned away. I didn’t want him to see me crying. He handed me a handkerchief to mop my face.

"When I was in college" I said, "we were shown a banned film produced by the BBC about nuclear warfare and the ramifications following the detonation – they asked us what we thought after seeing the film – is this what this is about? The same sort of thing?".

Captain Mitchell looked at me and shook his head.

"Strictly speaking no, but in a way I wish it was. For what you see before you is the truth"

I looked at the screens again revealing the uncharted ill winds of time before turning back towards him.

"I didn’t see … I mean there’s no atomic war, no nuclear war portrayed. I… "

Again I felt his hand squeeze my shoulder gently.

"No, but what you have seen of the future reveals that such power can be used in ways that can kill. As yet, unseen memorials will arise to the thousands, may be millions who die. There will be no nuclear war as you imagine, which will destroy the earth - that threat does not exist – other things may do that before ultimate peace on earth is reached. It does not mean to say that a detonation does not occur". He pointed to one screen. "See, one small regionalised detonation will kill many and the earth within that region will be death, people will die".

I looked into his face and saw the truth of his words and I felt a coldness run through me.

"The people dying, those I saw, some falling over, swaying, others grunting, laying abed unable to talk. They are sick very sick. Who are they, are they a result of war?" His reply was slow and filled with compassion,

"They are just people … ordinary men, women and childen who never needed to die but who will die. People who will die because people disregarded what was happening because other needs at the time took precedence. Part of it was ignorance. They made all the wrong decisions for all the wrong reasons. Many will die, thousands will die, hundreds of thousands will die throughout the years – they will be a lasting memorial to those who come after and a warning for the future".

His voice faded into silence as he watched the screen.

"Everything you see here does not need to happen, it may not eventuate. Because there is a choice."

"Are you telling me that this is all about choices? I broke in

He looked at me sadly.

"Even you will have to make choices" he said as he pointed to the first screen, "you will become a part of what’s happening on that screen and from your experience you will learn and understand".

I turned towards him not understanding. He took my arm gently and moved me back into the lift. The doors slid shut with a quiet hiss.

"Soon it will start for you. You’ll see it eventuate, become a part of it and live through it. For you that is the start from whence walls will tumble and men will flood to the four corners of the earth. You are the witness. For all that has been shown will be seen through your eyes and those that come after you"

The doors slid open and we moved into the glassed room. I moved towards the windows but he stopped me

"No, you have seen what you need to see".

Another door slid open and we moved down the stairs into the brightly lit corridor.

"You will travel and will eventually move on from this country to settle at the end of the earth. Already you know the one who will make you more than your Christian name already is and your first grandchild will be named after this one’s birthplace – it is as has been portrayed".

Mystified I followed him, little understanding then the meaning of his words. As we continued to walk, he spoke and I listened to his voice and words. Understanding little. We walked for what seemed hours slowly and as fast as his leg would allow him through the quiet corridors. We returned to the war rooms and he moved once again into Churchill’s office. I moved forward and sat again in Churchill’s chair attempting to understand all that he had told me. I glanced at him; he was bending low rubbing his knee. He looked up and smiled, brushing his dark hair from his forehead.

"All that walking has made it ache".

I looked towards the table contemplating its objects.

"Well, there you are, we’ve been looking for you for ages. Where have you been?"

I looked up sharply at Miss P’s voice.

"Where’s Captain Mitchell?

Her companion Harry joined her.

"Captain Mitchell? "

I looked at them both. "

Yes, Captain Mitchell, he was just here." I said

"There’s no Captain Mitchell here." Harry responded.

I looked at them confused.

"Yes he was, he took me to see the rest of the rooms".

"What rooms, these are the only rooms. Are you having us on?".

They looked bewildered.

"Look I’ll show you".

I moved forward as they stepped aside and followed me out of the room. I turned into the corridor, turned right, the way I had come with Captain Mitchell and came to a brick wall. Perplexed I turned and moved back into Churchill’s room. I looked around gathered my bearings and retraced my steps. Again the brick wall. I knew that this was the way I had walked but the corridor had disappeared and the brick wall remained.

I turned towards Miss P and Harry who were watching me with some concern.

"This wasn’t here, the passageway was open, we walked through and all the lights came on as we walked …". My voice petered out.

Miss P’s companion Harry, gave a nervous laugh.

"No Missy you’re wrong. That wall has always been here, as far back as I can remember, there’s nothing but earth and stone behind it."

"But I’m telling you it wasn’t here".

I stopped - I could see the concern and confusion on their faces. I looked at Miss P and said

"Captain Mitchell said he knew you. He had a limp, he was tall, mid thirties, had dark hair and …"

Miss P gasped and paled. She took a step backward.

"What’s that? Captain Mitchell did you say. Captain Mitchell died in the war. He was in Churchill’s plane when it crashed". Her voice tapered off. I looked at her shocked …

My voice shaking I said

"You’re wrong, it … it can’t be. I spoke to him, he was here".

We looked at each other.

"I was with him for a couple of hours, he was as real to me as I am to you. Believe me, I’m not…"

Harry broke in

"A couple of hours, you’ve only been alone may be fifteen, twenty minutes."

I glanced at the watch on my hand – he was right.

Trying to make sense of what had happened I looked at him and said

"I was sitting in Churchill’s chair when he walked in and introduced himself to me." I could hear the relief in Harry’s voice

"Well there you are, you must have fallen asleep and you dreamt it".

"But how did she know Captain Mitchell? Miss P asked

Harry shrugged,

"Don’t know, may be his name is around here somewhere, may be she read it somewhere."

Miss P looked slightly relieved – it seemed to make sense and she desperately wanted it to make sense.

He ushered me away from the wall

"Gosh, you look as if you’ve seen a ghost – quick cup of tea for you. Better not mention this to anyone, might think you’re a little – well you know and it wouldn’t look good for me if they knew you’d been sitting in Churchill’s chair. Okay?"

I nodded agreement.

For another year or two I continued working in the Office – nothing was mentioned about the incident between Miss P and myself. What happened faded into memory. It was real, yet so unreal and I pushed it away. Within a few months I had met and fallen for the man that I was to marry. Within a year my surname became White. Was this a coincidence – had I become more than my Christian name?

Shortly after, during a duty weekend, I walked through the "Hole in the Wall" and in my explorations looked down into Downing Street and over Horse Guards Parade. A few months after marriage, I left government service and for a year or so worked in a Merchant Bank in the City of London. Once my husband had qualified we moved to live and work overseas in Iran where the first screen, as I had been told, became reality. The revolutionary wheels at first turned slowly before gathering pace and speed. Once they had started rolling they couldn’t be stopped. Their reverberations were felt across the world and later, as the third screen revealed, led to bloody battles between Iran and Iraq. We left Iran on Khomeni’s return to the country and found ourselves living and working for three years in the tranquillity of the Seychelles. Having seen and known danger, the calm of Seychelles hid the terrors that lurked on the distant horizon. On our return from overseas and with little to tie us to the UK we decided to emigrate and found ourselves travelling to our nominated home-place– Australia. Was this another coincidence?

Today as I sit here and record this story, it suddenly hits me, I am soon to be a grandmother and my son and his girlfriend have already named their child ‘Devon Mitchell White’. Was this yet another coincidence? Devon, being the birthplace of my husband. Mitchell, I tell myself, is just a coincidence being the surname of my son’s girlfriend but a coldness runs through me as I type these words.

There are times when I look back and wonder. I try to understand what occurred. Was it a dream? Had the Chair somehow transported me across time? Had Churchill been transported into the future? Had I slipped into another dimension or through a portal in time? If I did what does it all mean? Questions I cannot answer. There are so many questions I ask myself today and can find no answers.

Time moves slowly on. Events gather pace. We are now in the new Millenium and in the 30 years since I trod the passageway from that room, four screens have eventuated. We are, I believe, currently on the fifth and sixth. The fifth screen depicted the disease that has begun to kill the young and old in the UK. The sixth depicted the stirring of conflict in the Middle East. Today, the Middle East is teetering on the edge of the unknown. The darkness encroaches that few will be able to escape. I have the feeling that we move even closer to the seventh screen. God help us all!

All I can do is watch and wait. Trying not to believe but believing anyway. The secrets of the screens are held within myself. There is much more I could write, but how could I explain to you some of the things I have seen? Some of the things I experienced in that room? I can’t. I can’t make anyone believe or understand for how could I? It is my story, a story that you, I and this computer will ever know …

 

Ó S.White – November 2000

 

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