A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

471 473 3 475 5 476 6 477 7 478 8

Wt 39944. 10M 11/43. W.R.R. & S. Ltd. GP 38. (14).

No. 177. 24th February, 1944

(Covering period from 15th to 22nd February, 1944)


(No reports have been received since the Prime Minister's speech of February 22)

1. General

Spirits remain at the lower level of last week, though long-term confidence continues high. Anxiety about the Anzio bridgehead was partly allayed by the statement from 10, Downing Street (February 12), but considerable misgiving persists and there is disappointment at the general slow progress in Italy. The Italian situation continues to make people feel that invasion of the Continent may be “a tougher proposition” than they had thought, and there is an increasing suspicion that the war in Europe may not, after all, finish this year.

Satisfaction at our air offensive is coupled with anxiety at the loss of seventy-nine planes on the Leipzig raid. The Bishop of Chichester's speech continues to be almost unanimously condemned.

Home Front : There has been keen interest in the Derbyshire by-election and some pleasure at the result. Criticism of the Government continues, chiefly over postwar plans and the mining situation - both the subject of much anxious discussion. Housing and clothing are also much discussed. The White Paper on the National Health Service has not been widely commented on, as yet.

War weariness or strain are reported from seven Regions, but there has been much less talk of complacency.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 13)

2. Italy

Widespread anxiety and depression about the whole campaign, and particularly the “stalemate” on the Anzio beachhead, are again reported; though the statement from 10, Downing Street (February 12) and latest reports are said to have relieved some people. A few still fear the beachhead landings have been a failure.

Detailed criticism of the campaign has declined, but comment is largely on the following lines:

(a) The Abbey of Monte Cassino (Thirteen Regions): The destruction of the abbey has met with the emphatic approval of the vast majority, including Roman Catholics; though some call it “a regrettable necessity”. There is, however, widespread annoyance at our “hesitancy” and “reluctance” (Seven Regions); some hope “we shall not be like that” over Rome. There is also some suspicion of “over-tenderness” to the Roman Catholics and of Papal influence on Allied policy (Three Regions).

A number praise the B.B.C. treatment of the incident, and the recording of a statement by the Abbot of Downside was thought “a clever propagandist stroke”; a few think all the explanations “another example of British hypocrisy”.

(b) Russia (Eight Regions): Comparison is again made with the Russians' progress, and some wonder what they must think of us.

(c) Second front (Eight Regions): Many continue to feel the Italian campaign is not a good portent ... “How can we expect to make headway on a strongly fortified front, when we couldn't where our landing was a surprise?”

(d) Our strategy (Six Regions): A number still feel that we failed to exploit our initial advantages.

(e) The Americans are blamed by a few for our setbacks (Three Regions).

News presentation (Nine Regions): Many think news, especially the more serious, is being withheld; their anxiety is increased by this feeling of “being in the dark”. “Let us have news, good or bad, so long as it is true.”

Some blame the censorship, for “clamping down restrictions” on correspondents (Six Regions); others ask, “Why was the press allowed to mislead us?” (Four Regions), and correspondents are blamed for creating over-optimism and subsequent disappointment.

Statements by public men (Five Regions): A number comment on pronouncements which do not tally, and say these increase uncertainty. Statements by Mr. Churchill, Mr. Mackenzie King, Mr. Roosevelt and General Montgomery are given as examples of this inconsistency.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 13)

3. The second front

Continued speculation, but reduced comment - on the same lines as last week.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 13)

4. Allied air offensive

Admiration for the scale of British and U.S. raids continues; there is particular satisfaction with the recent heavy one on Berlin. The loss of seventy-nine aircraft in the raid on Leipzig was greeted with a gasp of horror.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11)

4a. The Bishop of Chichester's statement on Allied bombing policy

Widespread condemnation continues. The great majority are convinced that bombing must go on, however deplorable the necessity.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 13)

5. Raids on London and the South East

These are being closely followed outside London; great sympathy is reported from Scotland - where the raids are “bringing home the possibility of raids on Scotland”.

In London there are reports of some people being “windy”, and of others taking the raids calmly and in good heart. The former are apprehensive after each raid on Berlin; the latter “don't mind them at all as long as they know Berlin has been raided”.

While some regard the raids as inevitable in view of our own activities, there is a tendency, particularly in poorer districts, to resent the raids: “We should not have to ‘take’ them again ... the Government should do something”.

There is criticism of (a) The N.F.S. for alleged lack of efficiency ... “press reports of rapid handling of fires are inaccurate”; (b) Insufficient co-operation between the N.F.S. and Fire Guards; (c) Insufficient help given to people in salvaging their possessions.

Publicity : Three Regions, including London, report a feeling that the raids are being played down, and that casualties and damage are greater than announced. The expression “scalded cat raids” is said to annoy Londoners.

(3. 5. 5SE. 11. 13)

6. Russia

Military : Admiration for Russian successes - particularly the “liquidation” of the trapped German divisions - is again general. Some doubts as to the accuracy of Russian communiques and figures of German losses continue, however (Three Regions).

Political : Fears of Russia's postwar position and of her dictating the peace settlement are slightly increased this week (Eleven Regions). There is again some comment that the recent constitutional changes were meant either to help “pack” the peace conference or to help the “assimilation” of neighbouring states (Two Regions each).

Russo-Polish dispute : Comment is once more on a diminished scale, but concern continues. Sympathy is divided on familiar lines.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 13)

7. Finland

Expectation of Finland suing for peace is fairly widespread (Seven Regions), though interest seems to be limited. People are described as “rather uncomfortable” about her.

Some suspect the Russian peace terms may prove to be too severe. Others feel that the Russians will not “make the same mistakes in Finland that we are making in Italy”.

(2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 10. 11)

8. The West Derbyshire by-election

There has been a good deal of interest in the West Derbyshire by-election, and the result - which has caused some pleasure (Four Regions) - is attributed to:

  1. People in a democracy wanting to feel they are free to vote as they wish (Eleven Regions).

  2. People blaming the Government for (i) Not hurrying on with postwar plans (Seven Regions); (ii) The housing and mining positions (Two Regions each).

  3. The choice of Conservative candidate (Three Regions).

(1. 2. 3. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11)

9. Far East

Increased interest in American and Australian activities in the Far East is reported. The American landing in the Marshall Islands and the attack on Truk, following so soon after the revelation of the Japanese atrocities, gave great pleasure; further news is eagerly awaited. Some people wonder whether the war with Japan will drag on after Germany's defeat, or whether the odds will be too great and Japan will stop fighting.

Burma (Three Regions): Slightly more interest is reported and people would like more news of this campaign.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 10. 11. 13)

10. Japanese atrocities

Comment is less this week but anxiety and distress, particularly among relatives of prisoners, continue. People are strong in their hatred of the Japanese and in their determination that they “need expect no mercy”. Doubts as to the advisability of making the disclosures, and speculation as to the reason, are again reported.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 7. 8. 9)

11. Spain

The desire for firmer action against Spain continues to be reported. There is bitter comment about her neutrality.

(1. 3. 7. 8. 9)

12. White Paper on National Health Service

Preliminary reactions have been received from nine Regions. The general public are said to welcome the proposals and to comment favourably, though as yet there has been little discussion. The ability to choose one's own doctor is regarded as particularly satisfactory (Two Regions), though some middle-class people in London think their relationship with their doctor will not be so “intimate” under the proposed National Health Service.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 8. 10. 11)

13. Broadcasting and news presentation

Comment this week is chiefly on the presentation of news from Italy (See section 2). Apart from this there is little discussion. Criticism continues of repetition in news bulletins (Two Regions), and doubts of the veracity of news published by the press are reported (Two Regions).

Entertainment programmes (Three Regions): Criticism continues.

Praise for : the Postscript by a Dutch Officer, February 13 (Four Regions); Major Lewis Hastings' war commentary, February 17; ITMA; broadcast plays (Two Regions each).

Brains Trust (Three Regions): Opinion continues to be divided.

(1. 2. 3. 5. 5SE. 6. 8. 9)



14. Miners and mining

The whole mining situation continues to cause great anxiety, and many people are “fed up with the coal muddle”, or completely cynical about it. Comment centres round the following:

The Government , and in particular the Ministry of Fuel and Power, are strongly criticised for their handling of the coal situation both now and in the past, and for lack of foresight and firmness. The Government is particularly blamed for having taken experienced men from the pits in the first place. It is widely felt that their return is the only solution, though some favour nationalisation.

The miners are widely criticised for their “grasping and unpatriotic attitude” in using the war situation to “force a decision in their favour”. Criticism is particularly strong from the relatives of those in the Forces, also from farmers and agricultural workers, who think the miners get greater consideration than they do. A considerable minority, however, and especially working-class opinion, sympathise with the miners, maintaining they “wouldn't strike without good reason”, and “have been badly treated for years”.

The Porter Award : The ordinary public cannot understand why production goes down when wages go up. On the other hand, those people who, though not miners themselves, are connected with the industry or interested in it, think the Award can only have the effect of still further reducing output, as not offering sufficient stimulus to the piece-worker.

Miners criticise the Award chiefly, it is said, for (i) failing to give a rise in piece-rates, - as a result, “unskilled workers will benefit more than skilled” - and (ii) making insufficient differentiation between surface and underground workers, “having regard to the risks run by the latter”.

B.B.C. and press publicity are blamed (Two Regions), both for confusing the men and “putting wrong ideas into their heads”, and for “eliciting sympathy with the miners by stating the wages of the lowest paid” - “All the facts about all the earnings should be made public.”

The ballot for the mines continues to cause comment: most of this is adverse, on the familiar grounds that it is simply putting square pegs in round holes, - “lads without a pit background can never become good pitmen” - and that the war will be over before they are of any use. Relatives of eligible boys continue hostile to the scheme, middle-class mothers, and parents who have made sacrifices in school fees, being especially indignant. Some anxiety is expressed, too, on the grounds that there is no guarantee that after the war the boys will be free to return to their intended careers.

Some cynical or envious comment is reported from miners at all that is being done for the trainees in the way of medical examination and hostels.

Billeting the Bevin boys : Some difficulty in finding billets is again reported, and it is asked why boys are in some cases sent far afield to train when there are training centres near their homes.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11)

15. Domestic fuel

Continued complaints of bad distribution and slow deliveries, of the inadequate allowance and of the poor quality and high price of coal.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 9. 10)

16. Postwar

Lord Portal's statement in the House of Lords on housing (February 8) has aroused little comment this week. It is thought to be a step in the right direction, but “action is required”. There is some doubt about the wisdom of building temporary houses.

Reconstruction plans generally are discussed on familiar lines, with interest and anxiety. There is some wish for Lord Woolton's powers and duties to be more clearly defined.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 13)

17. Housing

Widespread complaints of the “desperate” shortage continue. Immediate action is asked for.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 9. 10. 11)

18. “Pay-as-you-earn” income tax

Many people continue to welcome the scheme. The very helpful talks given to workpeople by Income Tax Officials are much praised, but the need for further explanation is emphasised. In Scotland some firms are arranging special interviews to explain the coding system to their workers, and this is much appreciated.

Some grumbling is reported from employers - including farmers - about the extra work entailed by the scheme.

Other comments are:

  1. The concessions with regard to bonuses are appreciated (Two Regions).

  2. Superannuation and contributory pensions should not be included in tax returns (One Region).

  3. It is felt that the awkward period at the changeover will be made more acceptable because of the debt forgiveness that will occur (One Region).

Post War Credits (Three Regions): Some lack of understanding and scepticism about repayments are reported. Some workers wonder whether these credits will be subject to some kind of means test, or whether the amount they are excused paying during the change-over period will be deducted from their credits (One Region each).

(1. 3. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 11)

19. Clothing

Coupons (Nine Regions): Widespread complaints continue of the difficulty of supplying personal needs, clothing growing children, and replacing household goods on the present coupon allowance.

Shoes and shoe repairs (Eight Regions): Poor quality, particularly of children's shoes, and “endless repair difficulties”.

Men's suits (Seven Regions): Satisfaction with the removal of austerity regulations continues; in one Region it is said that “traders who were formerly concerned about stocks appear satisfied with Government action”.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10)

20. Food

Oranges : Complaints of unfair distribution have increased this week (Ten Regions), though much satisfaction continues to be expressed by those who have received oranges (Six Regions). Complaints are chiefly of inequalities due to:

  1. Traders not marking books (Four Regions).

  2. Books being marked in pencil (Two Regions) so that markings could easily be rubbed out.

  3. Rural areas being penalised by oranges being on sale only in towns (Three Regions).

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11)


21. Anti-Semitism

During the past eighteen weeks intermittent criticism has continued. In two Regions, anti-Semitism is said to be particularly apparent among workers.

Much criticism is not specific; otherwise it is mainly on the following lines:

  1. Black market : Many believe that Jews are largely responsible for black market offences; this belief is said to be encouraged by Jewish names seen in the press in this connection (Four Regions, North Midland repeatedly).

  2. Industry and Business : There is some feeling that the Jews “have a finger in every pie”, and are trying to monopolise industry and business (Five Regions).

  3. Postwar : Some belief that the Jews will make money at other people's expense in the postwar period (Three Regions).

  4. Waste of petrol; escaping the Services, Home Guard, and Civil Defence (Two Regions each); buying up property at exorbitant prices (One Region).

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 5SE. 6. 7. 8. 10)

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