A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Home Intelligence

Replies have now been received from all Regions (except Cambridge and Scotland) to our enquiry of 19th December about dry battery shortages. R.I.Os were asked to report on the extent of such shortages, particularly in towns and in the less remote areas.

1. General Comments

Shortages of both wireless and torch batteries have frequently been mentioned in the Home Intelligence Weekly Report during the past seventeen weeks, and eight regions continue to report it as varying from “really serious” to “definite”.

A Police Duty Room Report (21st December) from Berkshire mentions the concern caused to people who, owing to lack of batteries, would be unable to receive radio instructions in case of an emergency. This point is also raised by the R.I.O. North Midland Region, where it is said to be causing “much despondency and some fear”. Here it is estimated that 50% of people with battery sets cannot use them for lack of batteries.

2. Reports of acute shortages

Northern Region : The shortage of high tension batteries in Berwick is said to be “really serious”, and to be “acute” in Barnard Castle, Darlington, Haverton, Middlesborough, Redcar, South Shields, Sunderland, West Auckland, West Hartlepool.
Midland Region : “A very serious shortage” is reported throughout the whole Region, the high tension position being “extremely bad”. Even large shops apparently have no stocks, and there are waiting lists everywhere; the public often has to wait two months”.
S. Western Region : Dry batteries for wireless are “either unobtainable or in extremely short supply in cities and in large and small towns throughout this Region”. In Barnstaple they are said to be unobtainable and almost so in Bristol, Penzance, Plymouth, Swindon and Trowbridge.
N. Western Region : “Incomplete investigations” suggest a “severe shortage in both urban and suburban areas”.

Shortages are also reported, but to a lesser degree in:

London Region : Thirty-eight out of forty-one boroughs where enquiries were made.
Southern Region : Andover, Banbury, Reading, Southampton and Winchester.
South Western Region : Chippenham.
Wales Bangor, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Caernarvon, Ferndale (a mining community), Llangollen, Newtown, Pontypridd (small sizes), Rhyl.

3. Shortages of Special Types .

(a) 120 volts. Four Regions report a particular shortage of this type. In Tyneside a contact has tried for six weeks to obtain one, and at Tow Law a dealer who had fair supplies otherwise, had no 120 volts.

The position was stated to be “still difficult” in the North Eastern Region, and “particularly acute” in Stoke Newington (London).

In the North Midlands Region the manager of the Notts Radio Supply Co. is reported as saying that “the main demand was for 120 volts ‘Winner’ batteries. He has 400 retailers waiting for deliveries and could dispose of 25,000 immediately if he could get them”.

(b) ‘Specials’ for portables .

A shortage is reported in Ilford (London).

(c) Bicycle Lamps .

A shortage of these in industrial areas is said to exist in the North Western Region; it is suggested that “a supply of these might favourably effect war workers' transport problems”.

(d) Grid Bias batteries .

Two contacts in this Region report a shortage of these.

(e) Motor car batteries .

The shortage of these is said to be “a serious problem” in North Ireland, but is thought due rather to limitation of supplies than to a hold up in the supply position to this Region.

4. Torch batteries

The chief shortage appears to be in No. 8 and other small sizes. The Northern and North Western Regions report a general shortage, but especially of No. 8. In Cardiff (especially 8), Fishguard, Goodwich and Pontypridd there is a shortage of small sizes and in the last two, pencil-torch sizes are unobtainable. There appears to be a shortage of No. 8 in many other parts of Wales.

The Southern Region reports a good supply of large, and some small sizes but a general shortage of medium sizes. In the North Eastern Region, the two small sizes are obtainable but the larger very difficult to get.

“No shortage” is reported from Sunderland, and in Liverpool and Manchester the torch battery position is said to be much more satisfactory than in most smaller towns.

5. Quotas and deliveries .

Six Regions report shortages or lack of stocks in the shops, and very small supplies arriving.

The irregularity of supplies in Liverpool is said to cause queues, especially as people come from outside areas, such as North Wales, to buy.

In Northern Ireland, small shops going out of business are reported to have thrown a heavy demand on bigger firms, whose war time allocation is based on pre-war consumption.

The manager of the Notts Radio Supply Co. gives the following figures to illustrate unsatisfactory deliveries:-

Quota Delivery
August 10 gross 72
September 20 gross 216
October 20 gross 108
November 20 gross 60

Figures for December are not yet complete but there is said to be no sign of improvement.

6. Good or improved conditions

A general improvement is reported from the North Eastern Region, and in the South Western Region at Henley, High Wycombe, Harlowe, Maidenhead, and Oxford, also in Bury and Royton in the North Western, and in Cheam, Dagenham and Sutton in London, and at Ilford as regards larger batteries.

In Northern Ireland the supply position is said to be “as well as can be expected”; it is thought that the shortage is exaggerated by retailers. The manager of the largest suppliers in Belfast stated that light batteries were being supplied by his firm in slightly larger quantities than in peacetime, and that the output of high tension batteries is about as high as in peace time.

Special Comments

It is alleged in the North Western Region that the Services obtain and waste supplies of higher priced American batteries.

It is also suggested that “‘Ring’ manufacturers have fixed their prices for wireless batteries at an unremunerative level and are now unwilling to produce”. Prices charged by independent firms are thought to be too high.

Suggestions of black markets in torch batteries come from Enfield (London) and from the North Western Region. In the Midlands “a good deal of under the counter work is suspected.”

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