A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

142 143 2 144 3


No. 38. 3rd March 1943


At the request of Exhibitions and Displays Division, the following reports have been prepared on (1) “R.A.F. Exhibition showing bomb damage on Germany”, shown from 18th to 27th February at Hastings, and (2) “Nazi Atrocity Exhibition”, shown from 12th to 20th February, at Doncaster.

I. R.A.F. Exhibition showing bomb damage inflicted on Germany

The Exhibition was held on the first floor of Woolworth's Stores, Hastings, adjoining the Restaurant. On Tuesday 23rd. February (six days after the Exhibition had opened), it was estimated that approximately 72 people visited the Exhibition between 10.30 a.m. and 11.0 a.m. and approximately 110 people between 4.15 p.m. and 4.45 p.m. The attendance on a Saturday was estimated to be about four times as great as on weekdays. The majority were women, and among the male visitors were seen many servicemen.

General reactions : The general reactions of the visitors can be summed up as follows:-

  1. A general feeling “of grim satisfaction” with the devastation shown in the photographs. “They certainly have done a good job, and bombed the vital places!” “This will certainly shorten the war.”

  2. A “deep feeling of patriotism, and pride of achievement” . “It certainly shows what our boys are doing!” “Now I know what good work my husband is doing!”

  3. Admiration for our airmen . “It's marvellous what those boys are doing for us, bombing those places night after night.” It is reported that very few visitors passed the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund Box at the door without adding their contribution.

  4. Amazement at the extent of the damage done . “What devastation! And I thought that the raids on my home town of Liverpool were bad enough!” “We think that we are hard done by here, but by Gum!...........”

Special reactions are reported as follows:-

  1. The visitors were chiefly impressed by the pictures of the damage done to Cologne, Rostock and the Renault works.

  2. Requests were made for photographs of Berlin, and people were anxious to compare the extent of the bomb damage in the German capital, with the damage done to London.

  3. Requests were frequently made for action photographs showing searchlight and “flak”, and great interest was shown in the pictures of a Hamburg raid in progress, and those showing flares dropping on Genoa.

Sympathy for the German people : No comments were reported about the damage done to dwellings and worker's homes, and this was partly attributed to the way in which the R.A.F. Guides focused attention on the military objectives. Nor were expressions of sympathy or regret for the German people reported. On the other hand, several visitors who were familiar with the bombed towns expressed regret at the destruction of historic buildings.

The photography : The photographs were considered excellent, and great satisfaction was derived from seeing the extent of the damage done. “It does people good to see these pictures - you don't realise it when you read about it in the papers”.... “It makes you feel happier now that you can see it with your own eyes.”

Tremendous interest was also taken in the technical aspect of the photography, and requests were made to see the cameras used during the raids.

The R.A.F. Guides were very popular, though it is reported that women were sometimes diffident about forming a group to be shown round by a man, and the suggestion was made that W.A.A.F. Guides might help to encourage female visitors.

It was also noticeable that the Guides “tended to flag towards the end of the day”, and the suggestion was made that an increase in personnel would enable them to have rest periods at intervals.

2. Nazi atrocity Exhibition

In the small County Borough of Doncaster, the Exhibition was said to be an “outstanding event”, and to be the centre of interest during the week it was open. There was reported to be a steady flow of visitors, who were deeply interested in the exhibition, and such comments were heard as “Doncaster wants waking up, and needs more of this sort of thing!”

The Atrocity pictures

Reports suggest that the majority of people came to be informed, and not to satisfy any morbid curiosity in the atrocity pictures. At any rate the useful information given in the exhibition was closely studied by most visitors. Evidence suggests, however, that some of the young people “thoroughly enjoyed the gruesome details”, without realising their full significance.

The general effect of the atrocity pictures was (a) “to bring home to the public a realisation of what Fascism means”, and (b) “to give them an appetite for more knowledge of its full implications”. The majority felt that the horror element was under-emphasised, rather than exaggerated, and an old soldier was heard to say “People should see some of the horrors we saw - that would make them wake up”.

The pictures which attracted most attention - in what was soon known as “the Chamber of Horrors” - were those showing half starved Greek children, and a picture described as “a pit full of half naked women obviously raped”. One woman was seen crying as she left this section. On the other hand some scepticism is reported from a minority of people, and the authenticity of several pictures was doubted, particularly a photograph showing bomb damage at Kursk - “which could have been anything”.

Photographs of the Nazi Leaders

Interest was aroused by photographs of the Nazi leaders, which were felt to show up the “beastliness” of those inspiring the Nazi Regime.

Suggestions for the Exhibition

While the layout and clarity of the Exhibition were praised, members of the public suggested that:-

  1. The Exhibition could have been open longer - “it is something which needs digesting”.

  2. More might have been made of the Youth Section, “which only gave a very vague impression of regimentation”.

  3. “More might have been made of the signs of mass neurosis on the faces of the German women.”

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