A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Wt 19398 10M 7/43 H J R & L

No. 164. 25th November. 1943

(Covering period from 16th to 23rd November, 1943)


1. General

There has been a widespread and, in some cases, considerable drop in spirits from the previous high level of last week; and less optimistic talk about an early end to the war. The fall in spirits is attributed to the loss of Leros, the situation in the Lebanon, the continued slow advance in Italy, and, to a less extent, the Russian setbacks at Zhitomir and various home front matters. The only cheering factors mentioned are Russian successes on other fronts and Thursday's raid on Berlin.

The release of Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley has caused a storm of indignation, and all but unanimous disapproval.

Home Front : There are complaints of: war weariness and tiredness (Nine Regions), accentuated by Home Guard and Civil Defence duties, the prevalence of colds and flu, and the onset of winter weather; footwear and housing difficulties; unauthorised strikes; shortage of milk and fish; and lack of supplementary industrial coupons.

Widespread anxiety about postwar prospects continues.


2. The release of Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley

The following reports were received before the Home Secretary's statement in Parliament.

Widespread indignation is reported at the release of the Mosleys. In many cases feeling appears to be intense and bitter; and what is described as a howl of rage is reported from Scotland. The subject is said to be discussed in every queue, shop and factory, by friends and strangers alike.

Disapproval of their release is reported as almost unanimous; nor is it confined to any particular section, though people in industrial areas and those with relatives in the Forces or prisoners of war are specially vocal.

The reasons given for this indignation are somewhat confused. Few people fear Sir Oswald will be a danger to the country when released, and the majority of objections are on quite other grounds. The Government is accused of letting down the Forces who are “fighting to break what Mosley stands for”, of softness, of temporising with Fascism, and of giving our Allies cause to doubt our sincerity. Comments on the case itself are extremely varied, but may be summarised as follows:

(i) “One law for the rich, another for the poor” (Eight Regions), with particular anger at what are believed to be the luxurious conditions of the Mosleys’ life in gaol.

(ii) Disbelief in the genuineness or seriousness of Sir Oswald's illness (Eight Regions). Some regard it as “a wangle” or an excuse; others doubt its being serious enough to warrant his release.

(iii) If he is really ill, why can he not be treated in the prison hospital ? (Seven Regions)

(iv) Why keep him alive, when he would be “better dead”? (Four Regions)

(v) Why was he liberated when Parliament was not in session ? (Four Regions).

(vi) Why release Lady Mosley as well? (Two Regions) Her release is an almost greater source of aggravation to some.

A small minority are willing to await the Home Secretary's statement, approve the Government's action in “allowing Mosley to fizzle out and not become a martyr by dying in prison”, and point out that “he has been charged with no crime and cannot be treated like a convict”.


3. Dodecanese Islands

Increased and widespread criticism and disappointment are reported at the fall of Leros. It is asked why we occupied it if we could not send adequate forces to hold it (All Regions). Those responsible for our strategy are blamed for the unnecessary sacrifice of men, and for the failure to provide the necessary support - particularly air support. It is thought that the island should have been evacuated. Relatives of troops are particularly concerned at this “cruel and unnecessary waste”.

There was little hope of retaining Samos (Eight Regions - No reports have been received since its evacuation was announced).

The defeats in the Dodecanese Islands are compared with those in Crete and Norway: “too little and too late all over again”.

General Maitland Wilson's statement is thought weak and unconvincing (Seven Regions), and a further official explanation is considered necessary.

There are fears of the effects on Turkey's policy (Seven Regions) and on our prestige in the Balkan States.

It is also feared that the Germans have again been underestimated; people thought their air power in the Mediterranean was broken, and are uneasy that they can still develop so much strength to attack so strongly (Seven Regions).


4. The Lebanon

Criticism of the “high-handed” French action in the Lebanor has increased, though the situation is still little understood (Regions). There is now growing disappointment in General de Gaulle (Nine Regions) and distrust of the French National Committee (Eight Regions). It is thought that if the Lebanon was promised its independence, it should get it; and it is hoped that we will take firm action.

There is some fear that the situation in Lebanon is a portent of the future difficulties we will have with France when she is liberated (Five Regions).

( 17 five provincial P.Cs.)

5. Italy

Military : Less interest, but otherwise little change. There are again comments that bad weather in Russia seems to have much less effect than in Italy. There is some fear that our original plan of campaign has misfired, and that this is in part due to poor supreme generalship.

Political : Less comment, but criticism continues.

( 17 two provincial P.Cs.)

6. Russia

The Russian setback at Zhitomir has caused surprise, and has detracted from news of gains elsewhere. It has also made some people realise that the Germans can still produce plenty of men and material, and is thought to have had a salutary effect on over-optimists. Nevertheless the majority remain full of confidence and admiration.

( 17 five provincial P.Cs.)

7. Poland

Continued minority uneasiness over Russia's intentions about Poland. The remark made by the Russian Ambassador to Mexico, that the Russians were not 90 miles from the Polish frontier - but over 200 - has caused some discussion: people wonder if the remark was made with the approval of Moscow.


8. Allied air offensive

Little comment has yet been received on the last two attacks on Berlin, but the renewal of heavy raids, particularly on Berlin and Ludwigshafen (November 18) has given much satisfaction (Seven Regions). Our smaller losses are also noted with pleasure.

There is praise for the U.S.A.A.F. raids on Norwegian targets and for the way their crews have pressed home daylight attacks.

From one Region, there are reports of some grudging admiration of the way the Germans are standing up to our bombing: “Germany can certainly take it.”


9. Cabinet Changes, and Postwar problems

Pleasure at Lord Woolton's appointment and regret at his leaving the Ministry of Food continue to be general.

Despite his appointment, however, anxiety and scepticism about the Government's postwar policy are still very widespread; feeling follows closely the full review given two weeks ago (Report No.162 Section 14), with particular stress on unemployment and demobilisation, housing, social security, and postwar controls.

( 17 eight provincial P.Cs.)

10. The Prime Minister's Mansion House speech (9th November 1943)

Comment mainly follows last week's lines. The quiet confidence and realism of the speech are appreciated, although some are cast down at the reference to hard times ahead - particularly those with relatives in the Forces. Some confess to feelings of dismay when Mr. Churchill emphasised that he was no Socialist: “Does this mean no clear-cut Government policy, and a return to Party politics?”

( 17 passim)

11. Next move

Not much talk, but continued disappointment that it is taking so long to come, and impatience to give more direct aid to the Russians and the Yugo-slavs.


12. Raids on this country

Although no great concern is reported, the recent raids on London have made some people realise the possibility of attacks in other areas and the need to be prepared. In London, morale is thought not to be as high as in 1940/1.

Raids on Plymouth and the South West were looked on as an unwelcome proof that Germany still has power to strike. Morale in Plymouth itself is said to have been better than ever before; though rumours of excessive damage and casualties were fairly common in the South West. Anxiety about defence against sneak raids is reported from one or two south-western coastal places.


13. Germany's secret weapon

Mild speculation about a new enemy secret weapon comes from six Regions; reports from four of which mention slight uneasines (not London or the South East). Gas warfare, new bombs, bacteria or ‘‘some vague evil” are thought possible.


14. Far East

Interest in operations in the Pacific continues slight. Hope of a large scale offensive from India are again reported.


15. Famine in Bengal

Comment follows familiar lines and continues to dwindle.


16. Broadcasting and presentation of news

Apart from local criticism of press publicity about American battle training areas, and some feeling that optimism was falsely aroused over Leros, there has been little comment on news presentation. People would welcome a simple explanation of the background to the Lebanon crisis.

The Brains’ Trust is still criticised (Five Regions), though the December 16 broadcast was considered the best for a long while.

Broadcast Plays are said to be liked, and more are asked for (Thre Regions). “The Barretts of Wimpole. Street”, and “Appointment with Fear” were specially appreciated, though some are said to dislike the latter type of play.

General :Appreciation of the Radio Doctor; Lord Winster's war commentary, November 11, (Three Regions each); and The Fifth Freedom and Marching On (Two Regions each).




17. Housing

Housing continues, a major problem: for many, the situation is described as “absolutely desperate”. Russia's 10,000 houses since Stalingrad are contrasted with the situation in Britain.

( 17)

18. Strikes

Comment has increased slightly, disgust and resentment being the reaction of the great majority (Nine Regions). Among the few in industrial areas who feel sympathy for strikers, some nevertheless condemn strikes in wartime (Three Regions).

Many feel it is “high time the Government stepped in and took firm action” (Five Regions).

Apart from familiar suggestions as to the cause of strikes, the following are also made:

(a) That the strikers are incited by enemy agents (Two Regions)

(b) That strikes are encouraged by industrialists :

(i) As they are “raking off” too much to want the war to end yet.

(ii) So that they can say after the war that the workers sabotaged the war effort.

(iii) To slow down aid to Russia.

Strikes in the coal mines (Five Regions): There is slightly more sympathy for the coal miners than for other strikers, though they too are criticised by the majority.

( 17)

19. Domestic fuel

During the past two weeks there has been a fair amount of comment about the fuel campaign (Eight Regions).

It seems that although people generally feel they are not wasteful, they are not so fuel-conscious as last year, because of:

(a) The lack of a “serious attempt to get under the public's skin” over fuel-economy... “Ordinary warnings are like water off a duck's back” (Four Regions).

(a) Mismanagement and stoppages in the coal-mining industry (Three Regions).

Supplies of coal (Seven Regions): Some people wonder how they will get through the winter on the present allowance, especially if supplies are irregular. Particular anxiety is felt by people with small storage space who were unable to get in supplies during the summer (Three Regions); by people with large houses; those who have to keep fires going all day because of shift-workers; and those who live in outlying districts (One Region each).

The poor quality of coal - “all dust” - is commented upon (Three Regions).

Major Lloyd George's statement, 9 November (Six Regions). Many people feel resentful of his reproaches because he omitted all referencee to strikers, who, it is thought, are more blameworthy than consumers (Three Regions).

A few felt the Minister was “trying to turn his failure on to the public” (Two Regions).

0 Some comment that housewives who now work are unable to look after coal fires, and therefore cannot help but use gas and electricity more than previously.

In one Region the statement is said to have had some effect.

( 17 one provincial P.C.)

20. Clothing

Comment continues on lines similar to last week's. Particular concern is felt about:

(a) Footwear difficulties, especially where there are children. It is feared their health will suffer; country children's need for rubber boots is stressed.

(b) Insufficiency of coupons, especially for replacing household goods.

(c) The lack of information about the expected issue of industrial coupons.

( 17 eight provincial P.Cs.)

21. Home Guard, fire-watching and Civil Defence

Fire-watching duties : Lack of enthusiasm is reported, and some feeling that duties could be relaxed, particularly in less vulnerable areas, without impairing general efficiency. There is criticism of the number of lectures workers are asked to attend, and of the “Prussian attitude” in the wording of many fireguard orders. On the other hand, a considerable minority are alarmed at the prospect of any relaxation of duty.

Home Guard : Complaints are made of “incessant drill and ceremonial parades”. It is thought that tiredness is very evident and that once Home Guards are trained, drill and parades might be further reduced. One Regional report mentions comment that there are two separate Home Guard organisations - the men who voluntarily gave themselves to the service of their country, and the superimposed body of paid officers whose “overbearing attitude is at times extremely irksome”.

Sir Walter Citrine's speech at Manchester , November 6: Comment is rather less, but follows the lines reported last week.

Unification of services is suggested in two reports as a solution of manpower difficulties and in the interests of economy. It is thought that much could be saved by designating areas as “dangerous”, “liable to attack”, and “comparatively safe”, and arranging duties by merging the three Services.

( 17)

22. Food

General satisfaction - but some tendency to blame lowered powers of resistance onto deficiencies of wartime diet. Continued complaints of insufficient milk (Seven Regions) and fish (Five Regions).

Christmas food occupies an increasing place in people's thoughts “Seven Regions).

There is anxiety, particularly in the smaller towns, about turkey and chicken supplies (Four Regions). People fear that these will go to hotels and restaurants, which can afford to buy in quantity, and to the wealthy and influential.

People variously yearn for an extra allowance of cooking fat, suet, sugar and sweets, and for mincemeat and oranges. It is thought that concessions would give a fillip to spirits. Disgust and envy are reported from one Region at the published menu for U.S. troops.

Jam (Six Regions). Approval for the “sugar or jam” scheme, but complaints of lack of variety and prevalence of plum. Some suspect the good varieties are kept under the counter.

( 17 thirteen provincial P.Cs.)

23. Special Regional matters

Evacuation for American battle schools (South Eastern and Southern Regions and Scotland). In the South West, the people concerned are “being very good about it”, but there is widespread and strong condemnation of press publicity; indeed recent raids in the South West are attributed to it. Rumours and fears that many other areas are to be evacuated are also thought to have been stimulated by the Press announcements. In the North East, the Press is also criticised for being indiscreet in this connection.

In the Southern Region, it is asked why the Americans could not use moors instead of good agricultural land. In the Newbury area, rumours of impending evacuation for the same purpose are leading to strong comments that it is not really necessary.

The effects of evacuation plans in rural areas in Northern Scotland are described in a special report from the Scottish Intelligence Officer. The farmers, smallholders and other people concerned are taking it very well. A typical remark is: “If it will end the war even a few days sooner, or save men's lives, we are willing to leave our homes”.

No grousing has been heard though there have been many questions, mainly about compensation, addressed to the Information Centres and to the speakers at public meetings held to explain the reasons for the move.

Scottish-Polish Relations (Scotland)

In spite of the development of Scottish-Polish cultural projects, there is said to be obvious tension and a good deal of ill feeling about the Poles at present stationed in Scotland. In the Borders it is claimed that the Poles are inefficient in the military sense - that they recently failed ignominously in a tank test and have been ordered to do this training again. Housewives in Border towns complain too of the difficulty of getting clothes dry-cleaned: “Polish uniforms have priority, and we never can get our own things done”. Recently some workers in a printing works were angry at having to show their processes to a visiting party of Poles, and expressed their anger furiously. The Poles are said to be voicing strong anti-Russian sentiments - by calling the Moscow agreement “another Munich” and to be expressing great bitterness at suggestions that the Russians should be allowed to retain their 1941 boundaries. In the face of the present popularity of Russia these sentiments are ill-received, especially among Scottish workers.

Shortage of bedding (Northern Region)

The shortage of sheets and blankets is said to be a growing problem in the Northern Region, and the plight of the working- classes increasingly more difficult. “At the beginning of the war, the bedding of the majority was, as a result of the depression of extremely poor quality - if it existed at all. The position is steadily deteriorating and complaints are reported from most of the working-class areas in the Region about the impossibility of buying sheets and blankets.”

Short supply of unrationed goods (Northern Region)

People in the Northern Region are frequently reported to consider themselves unfairly treated over supplies of unrationed goods in short supply. In the late summer there were many grumbles over lack of fruit. Tynemouth and North Shields are convinced that their corner of the Region is given a particularly raw deal, and Sunderland people maintain that their city has had a very poor choice of extra jams by comparison with other towns.

The “usherette murder” (South Eastern District)

Strong public feeling is reported from Folkestone at the acquittal of the soldier alleged to be responsible for the murder of the local cinema usherette. Many townspeople believe the soldier concerned to be a sexual maniac and fear that now he has been set free there is a danger of the crime being repeated. Some advocate an alteration of the law so that “a person, obviously guilty according to the evidence, does not escape justice on a technical point of law”.

The ban on visitors (South Eastern District)

Folkestone people are said to be anxious that the ban should be lifted for a fortnight in order that people may visit their friends and relations in the town. Failing the complete lifting of the ban, it is wished that permits might be granted to “sweethearts, many of whom will not otherwise have a chance of seeing their girls or men in the Services before they are drafted overseas”.

(1.2.5SE.6.7.11. 14 Northern, Scotland. 15)


24. American troops in this country

During the past four weeks there has been some increase of comment - particularly of favourable comment - on American troops.

Recently arrived troops are described as a “pleasant surprise” - quiet, courteous and friendly. People are thought also to be more tolerant, and more willing to be favourably impressed: unfriendliness towards American troops is criticised, and exploitation by retailers, landladies, and taxi drivers strongly condemned.

At the same time familiar complaints have continued. These are of their:

(a) Behaviour with women, particularly young girls (Seven Regions), the association of coloured troops and young girls causing special concern. Late leave passes are criticised, and stricter control over the troops thought necessary. At the same time, there are complaints of girls “besieging” the troops - both white and coloured.

Among women there is some fear of being molested by American troops in the blackout (Four Regions). “Sexual crimes” by Americans are quoted; and there is also anxiety because it is thought that British administration has no control over them.

In one area, decent American troops are described as “fed up with the sexual exploits of their colleagues”.

(b) Heavy drinking (Four Regions).

(c) “Slovenly” appearance (Four Regions).

(d) “Overbearing and braggart manner” (Four Regions).

(e) High spending power (Three Regions).

(f) Attitude towards their coloured troops (Two Regions).

(g) Carelessness with the blackout and with torches (Two Regions).

(h) Wasting petrol on pleasure trips; speeding; crowding local people off buses; their medals; and careless talk (One Region each).

Billeting : Complaints of having to billet American troops are reported from the South West and Wales. Criticism chiefly is that “it must be absolutely necessary” - “no empty reserved buildings should remain available”.

The unfriendly attitude of British Servicemen towards American troops is mentioned in reports from five Regions. A special report from the Midland Region illustrates what is believed to be the British Serviceman's attitude:

(a) The Americans have too much money.

(b) They have no respect for British girls. “They think they can buy them body and soul, if they take them into a pub and buy them a drink.”

(c) They carry themselves badly: “Doesn't look like a soldier”... “wants his hair cut” etc. Their attitude to British officers and to their own junior officers also comes in for criticism.

(d) “Dunkirk” stories still linger.

( 17)

25. National Savings

There has been little comment about National Savings in the past four months.

Enthusiasm seems greater for small local savings groups than for big, nation-wide campaigns, and there is some comment (Three Regions) on the popularity and success of street schemes and of enthusiasm among group workers.

A number of people, however, question the use of saving (Five Regions). They feel that after the war savings may be found not so safe as some had supposed.

Campaigns in general . Opinion is divided as to their effectiveness. Some appreciate the publicity; others “deplore its fatuous tone”. Some feel campaigns increase interest in savings; others that the expense is not justified because much of the money “saved” is really only transferred, and therefore does not represent an extra saving. They feel “consistent” saving is of greater value.

Boredom with the Sunday night recital of War Savings is reported from three Regions, though a few find it “most interesting”.

Campaigns in particular . During the last five months, there has been comment on the following campaigns:

(a) The “Squander Bug” (Five Regions). It is regarded by many as “unnecessarily unpleasant” and is thought to have become “tiresome”. Some feel that, in the fifth year of war, the public needs few injunctions of this type; others suggest that careless spending advertisements should be replaced by careful spending hints.

(b) The “Raise the Standard” campaign (Five Regions). This is thought by the majority to be dull and to lack the “potency” of “Wings for Victory”. Consequently, even collectors are said to feel little enthusiasm about it.


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