A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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No. 37 - 28th January 1943


At the request of the Home Controller, an enquiry was made into the public's ideas about the size of the First Army. Between January 21 and 26, each Intelligence Officer was asked to make contact with at least 20 members of the public and find out their ideas on the subject. It was stressed that the 20 should not be regular Intelligence contacts, who are assumed to be more intelligent than the average run of the community. So that there should be some attempt at making this small sample representative, it was laid down that the 20 should include at least 7 men and 8 women in the lower income groups (pre-war: below £4/week family income). Since the figures are small, no attempt has been made to express them in percentages.


319 people were interviewed in the 12 Regions of England, Scotland and Wales. 182 were men and 137 were women.

Their estimates were as follows:-

No idea 96
1 - 5 thousand 6
6 - 10 thousand 21
11 - 20 thousand 35
21 - 30 thousand 13
31 - 40 thousand 6
41 - 50 thousand 18
51 - 60 thousand 10
61 - 70 thousand 6
71 - 80 thousand 11
81 - 90 thousand 5
91 - 100 thousand 27
101 - 120 thousand 5
121 - 150 thousand 10
151 - 200 thousand 15
201 - 300 thousand 16
301 - 500 thousand 8
501,000 to 1 million 6
over 1 million 7

It will be seen that the two largest groups of estimates are 11-20,000 and 91-100,000. There are also substantial numbers who give figures between 41 and 60,000, and between 151 and 300,000. The lowest single estimate was 2,000 and the highest 2,000,000.

The great majority of people said they did not know, or that they had not the faintest idea. If pressed, most were ready to make what they frankly admitted was a guess. In different Regions, amount of pressure exerted appears to have varied, with a similar variation in the number of positive answers. Thus, in one Region, 21 out of 29 would not make estimates, while in another 20 out of 20 were persuaded to do so. There were no other obvious Regional differences in the results.

Women appear to have found it harder to offer even a guess than men. Some made remarks such as:-

“Enough, or we would have sent more”

“Pretty colossal, but figures mean nothing to me”

“There are still a lot of soldiers round here”

“I don't know, but I wish they would send more and get it done with”

“Some millions; simply terrific, but I don't know how big an army is”

But men's and women's guesses were equally widespread.

The sample was too small to attempt a breakdown by income groups or age, but no startling differences were apparent.


1. A few people had no idea at all as to where the First Army was.

“Never heard of the First Army - only the Fifty-first Army”. Rather more people did not know that the First and the Eighth Armies were separate.

A great number showed confusion as to whether or no the First Army included the Americans and French in North Africa. This confusion accounted for some but not by any means all of the higher estimates.

2. One or two people thought that “an Army” was synonymous with “the Army”. There was considerable vagueness over the size of a division. Some people made estimates of the First Army in terms of divisions; these varied from 2 to 16.

3. A few people made elaborate calculations, but arrived at varying results:-

“850 naval vessels, so about 100,000 men”

“850 vessels went, so about 80,000 men”

“16 Divisions with about 15,000 in each”

“250 troop ships went out, we were told, and they will have carried 2,000 each, so that makes 500,000”

“We have been told there are 70,000 Germans in Tunisia, and we presumably are not so strong - say 50,000”

“32,000 - that will be the number the troop ships carried”

“About ten battalions - about 10,000”

4. Many people offered comments, some remarkable, in making their estimates:-

“20,000, but we are only kidding them”

“15,000, a big army”

“There must be a million in the 3 Armies in North Africa, but I could not hazard any other guess”

“150,000 - a smaller number would not be worth sending”

“Very small - about 6,500”

“Not as many as they make out”.

5. A few people refused to give estimates on security grounds!

“We are [Text Missing]told not to talk: I won't tell you - the Police know”

“You had better ask at the Post Office. I don't know and I would not tell you if I did”.

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