A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

325 326 2 327 3 329 5 330 6 331 7 332 8 333 9

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

No. 189. 18th May, 1944

(Covering period from 9th to 16th May, 1944)


1. General

Little change since last week. Despite the Italian offensive and the fall of Sebastopol, there is much talk of the lack of major action and of the monotony of the news.

Everyone's thoughts remain focused on the second front. Tension and impatience for it to start continue widespread; but comment and speculation are less. In some people, the constant strain of waiting is breeding indifference.

War weariness continues widespread, and a good deal of anxiety, restlessness and depression are reported. Many fear another blackout winter.

Home Front : Housing, prefabrication and 1AA are still widely discussed on the same lines as last week.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)

2. The second front

Reactions differ little from those reported during recent weeks. The main changes this week are:

  1. A decline in detailed discussion and, possibly, in interest - though there is no lessening of impatience for invasion to start. Some feel the press has been allowed to overdo references to being “on the eve”, so that people have been worked up to great tension more than once, with corresponding slackening off when nothing happens; many are said to be “sick to death of reading and hearing about it”. Nevertheless there is a great tendency to switch on the wireless at every opportunity to hear if it has already started.

  2. An increase in the number of those who say the second front will never take place .

  3. An increased belief that invasion will take place in the Balkans ; this is due, in some cases, to the opening of the Italian offensive.

  4. Increased speculation about possible repercussions here . In addition to the usual expectation that transport will be drastically curtailed and - to a less extent - that food supplies will be interfered with, there is increased talk of possible enemy counter measures, and some nervousness in the South.

It is variously expected that there will be (i) counter-invasion, probably by paratroops - “Will the Home Guard be any match for trained German troops?” (ii) Air raids, though probably confined to the South; (iii) Gas attacks.

Some ask for instruction to civilians as to their role when invasion starts, especially in view of possible enemy counter measures.

A few fear that Italian prisoners are given too much liberty and will help any German parachutists who may land in this country.

Rumours of patients, not well enough to be moved, being evacuated from hospital wards to make way for military casualties, have caused some resentment in the Northern Region; it is suggested that schools should be taken over for this purpose.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)

3. Italy

The new offensive has aroused some interest, satisfaction and relief, but comment is cautious. There is speculation on the connection between the new attack and the second front; many think that it is a curtain-raiser to invasion.

The difficulties of the terrain are said to be appreciated and an easy break-through is not expected (Five Regions). There is some surprise that the attack came on the main front again, and not from Anzio, in the form of a new landing, or - after the destruction of the Pescara dam - on the Adriatic coast.

It is feared casualties may be heavy, particularly in view of the long time the Germans have had to prepare their defences. From one area, there are already rumours of heavy casualties necessitating “mass cremation”.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)

4. Allied air offensive

While admiration for the colossal scale of Allied day and night bombing continues widespread, many now tend to take it for granted. Amazement that the Germans can stand up to the onslaught continues, also some doubt of its effectiveness.... “Why is it necessary to bomb the same target again and again, if we are doing as much damage as is claimed?” Some sympathy with civilians, particularly those in occupied countries, is again reported.

There is great interest in the bombing of marshalling yards and coastal defences in Northern France and Belgium, as this is felt to be an integral part of the second front, making Allied landings easier.

Some concern over losses is again reported. The new method of reporting R.A.F. activities by stating the number of main attacks and the approximate number of raiders taking part is appreciated as giving a clearer picture and enabling percentage losses to be estimated.

The work of the U.S.A.A.F. in daylight raids is praised.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)

5. Russia

The fall of Sebastopol and the clearing of the Crimea have been greeted with widespread satisfaction. Some were amazed at the speed of the action; others, however, had been expecting it for some time.

The belief that the Red Army is preparing a massive blow to coincide with the second front continues widespread; there is pleasure that troops from the Crimea and Sebastopol are now available for this.

Political : Fears of Russia's intentions and of her position in the postwar world continue (Six Regions).

The Prime Minister's statement on war supplies to Russia has been welcomed.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)

6. Empire Conference

Interest and comment continue on the same lines as last week. Hope for good results, however, has been increased by “the splendid spirit of goodwill and co-operation” shown in the various speeches of the Dominion Premiers; those of Mr. Curtin and Mr. Mackenzie King are each praised in reports from seven Regions and that of Mr. Fraser in reports from two. A speech from General Smuts is hoped for.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)

7. Far East

Interest in the Far Eastern war generally is again limited, except among relatives of men serving there. This lack of interest - and also some bewilderment, particularly about the position in Burma - are thought due to the “meagre” news from this theatre of war. Remarks continue to the effect that we are not told the truth and that official news is contradictory.

Burma (Twelve Regions): “Puzzlement” continues. Some feel more confident, believing our position has improved (Seven Regions); others are dismayed at “our fluctuating fortunes”, and feel “misgivings” and disappointment at the evacuation of Buthidaung (Seven Regions).

Pacific (Five Regions): Comment has greatly decreased, though satisfaction with American successes in New Guinea continues. (No mention is made of Australian activity in this area.)

China (Six Regions): During the past two weeks slight interest has been reported, and some anxiety about reports of dissension between Chiang Kai-Shek and the Communists. People are anxious that we should send increased supplies to China, however, and there is some anxiety at recent Chinese reverses (Two Regions each).

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)

8. British prisoners of war

Anxiety about prisoners of war in Japanese hands continues (Three Regions).

People with men in German hands are said not to have received mail lately as regularly as in the past. Some interest is taken in the story of the Germans employing our men in mines; it is asked whether we could not use German prisoners in this way.

(1. 3. 4. 7. 9. 11)

9. Neutral countries

Spain : Though approval for the agreement continues, there is considerable criticism, both on the grounds that we are still not being firm enough (Six Regions) and that the agreement is long overdue (Three Regions). Supplies to Spain, it is thought, should have been completely stopped; we are accused of still being “too appeasing”.

There is also considerable distrust of Spain, and it is feared she will not fulfil the agreement.

Portugal , it is hoped, will also reduce supplies to Germany (Three Regions). People cannot understand why “a so-called ally” should support the enemy.

(1. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 10. 12. 13)

10. U.S.A.

Resentment continues at the suggestion that the U.S.A. should retain the naval bases leased by Great Britain. It is feared America may dominate world economic affairs after the war, particularly with regard to aviation.... “Concessions should not be made on these points”.

(1. 2. 3)

11. Broadcasting and presentation of news

Though some satisfaction is reported, there are again complaints of repetition (Five Regions), particularly of air offensive matters; padding (Three Regions) both in the press and on the radio; and the lack of, or suppression of news (Three Regions) ... “If the B.B.C. has no news, why pack out bulletins with items of little interest?”

Tehran Conference : Condemnation is reported of last Sunday's papers for quoting passages from an article in the Saturday Evening Post alleging that President Roosevelt had to “moderate the asperities” between Marshal Stalin and Mr. Churchill. The publication of the story here is considered out of place and in bad taste.

General Forces Programme (Seven Regions): Criticism continues.

Praise for : Mr. Curtin, May 7; Mr. Mackenzie King, May 11 (Six Regions each); Plays (Four Regions); ITMA (Three Regions); “The Anvil”, “Brains Trust”, American and War Commentaries, symphony concerts and light music (Two Regions each).

Demand for more good music and plays of the lighter type. Good talks are welcomed.

Public attitude to the radio in times of strain

A B.B.C. Listener Research Report recalls the reaction of the public to broadcasting during the invasion of Norway, the Low Countries and France. At that time a number of letters appeared in the press criticising the B.B.C. for continuing to broadcast variety programmes. To discover how widespread this attitude was, a random sample of over 2,000 listeners were asked: “On days when the news is grave do you think the B.B.C. should cut down variety programmes?”


Yes 21%
No 61%
No opinion 18%

Further study showed that those who thought variety should be cut were those listeners who care least for variety at any time - largely the same class as those from whom letters to the press and B.B.C. come most readily.

It would appear, therefore, that most of the people who like variety programmes would wish to see them continued at times when the news is serious. If the B.B.C. is criticised during the coming offensive, as it was in the summer of 1940, these findings appear to have some significance.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)



12. Prefabrication

Keen interest continues and there is a great demand for a prefabricated house to be erected in other parts of the country as well as in London - even to the extent of wanting one set up in every provincial town - to show people what they are like. “Descriptions and sketches don't satisfy curiosity.” Londoners continue to complain of being unable to get tickets and also want more houses to be on view.

The idea of prefabrication continues to be regarded with considerable reserve, but is accepted by the majority as a temporary expedient to meet an imperative need.... “Anything is better than sharing a home”. Objections are mainly based on (i) the fear that the houses will not be get rid of for years and will deteriorate into slums, and (ii) the belief that temporary housing is a waste of time and money, and that the Government would do better to concentrate more on the usual permanent structures. A few suspect that “some interests will be making a good thing out of it”, a member of the Government being mentioned in one Regional report.

A minority are said not to take prefabricated houses seriously, but to treat them as a joke or something to be exhibited only.

The house itself continues to inspire more criticism than approval.

Criticism is chiefly of:

  1. The outside appearance (Five Regions), variously regarded as “too box-like”, “too squat”, “like a cow shed” ... “a pigsty” ... a converted air-raid shelter”, etc.

  2. The lack of a back door (Four Regions). “They would be death-traps if they caught fire.”

  3. The lack of laundry facilities (Two Regions), “essential to young mothers, for whom the houses are supposed to be built”.

  4. Low ceilings , conducive to stuffiness; rooms opening out of each other , making for lack of privacy; the bathroom being next to the kitchen ; lack of a shed (One Region each). There is also some fear that only utility furniture will be suitable, and that the houses may be hot in summer and cold in winter.

Approval for the up-to-date fittings in the kitchen and for the fact that, though small, the houses are well-planned and likely to be easily worked. “Better than the ones they're building for agricultural labourers.”

The Tarran house : Some like the idea better than that of the Portal house, and in Hull interest remains keen.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13)

13. Increases in Service pay and allowances

While satisfaction continues at the increases, they are also criticised as “still not big enough” (Ten Regions). Particular dissatisfaction is reported about:

  1. The “niggardly” treatment of widows and orphans “who should be treated the same as the families of servicemen still alive” (Seven Regions). Feeling is said to be very bitter.

  2. The failure to increase basic pay (Five Regions).

  3. The consequent reduction in War Service Grants (Three Regions).

According to a Special Postal Censorship report , 174 comments on this subject (received between 27th April and 7th May) come from writers personally affected by the new rates. Their reactions may be summarised as follows:

(a) Servicemen's wives with children

58 are delighted.

32 feel the increases will be cancelled out in cases where War Service Grants are consequently reduced.

(b) Servicemen's wives without children

52 resent the fact that while they do not benefit, wives with children are to receive an extra 10/-.

(c) Servicemen's mothers

5 think “it's rotten” that “they don't get a cent”.

(d) Servicemen's widows with children

4 complain that their allowance is less than that of wives with children.

(e) Relatives of servicemen

23 criticise the new arrangements: “a damn disgrace when there are so many earning big money”.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 17 Special)

14. The forecast of a rise in the cost of living

Anxiety and comment continue on the lines reported last week.

(1. 2. 4. 5. 9)

15. Price control

Second-hand furniture (Seven Regions): People are pleased at the decision to peg prices. However, complaints about extortionate prices reported during recent weeks still continue.

There is some hope that price control will be extended to include, particularly, second-hand prams; mention is made of one fetching as much as £40. Utility prams are said to be “no use for rough country roads”.

Elastic (Three Regions): “It's better to pay 1/- a yard for elastic you can get, than rejoice in the price of 1d a yard when you can't get it.” There is, however, some appreciation.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 10. 11. 12. 13)

16. Defence Regulation 1AA

Again this week satisfaction among the general public is reported, a few thinking the regulation long overdue. Some, however, feel it should only have been introduced after discussion in the House; others, that it is a “deplorable necessity”.

Hostility and indignation are again reported among workers, Trade Unionists and left-wing people (Nine Regions), and it is thought that there will be trouble when attempts are made to impose the regulation.

Criticism, similar to last week's, is chiefly on the grounds that:

  1. The Government had ample powers already (Three Regions).

  2. The Regulation “savours of dictatorship” (Three Regions).

  3. It offers scope for victimisation by “the bosses” (Two Regions).

  4. It affects only workers and not employers (Two Regions).

    Miners in the Northern Region feel that they are being treated like naughty boys and “strongly resent being blamed for stabbing the fighting man in the back while the real culprits - the owners and management - go free”.

  5. The history of industry in this war does not warrant it; the fault lies with the Government for not “showing up” the Trotskyites earlier ; it endangers the position of the shop stewards (from shop stewards themselves) (One Region each).

The Bevin - Bevan controversy (Seven Regions): Though interest is reported, comment is desultory; opinions are about equally divided.

People feel variously that:

  1. The incident has not enhanced the public's estimate of the Labour Party (Two Regions).

  2. Mr. Bevan was right in trying to “safeguard liberty” (Two Regions) because “the T.U.C. leaders are now so bound up with the Government that to stop work is the only means the men have of bringing grievances to light”.

  3. The “lack of discipline” in the Labour ranks is unfortunate (One Region).

Strikes (Eight Regions): Comment is much decreased, but continues on familiar lines.

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12)

17. Fuel

Complaints continue of shortage of coal (Four Regions); bad distribution and delayed deliveries (Three Regions); inadequate coal allowance and poor quality coal (Two Regions each).

Pleasure is reported at the increased coal allowance for May and June and the opportunity thus given to “stock up” for the winter (Three Regions). However, “maddened amusement” is the reaction of some in the north, whose retailers tell them they cannot possibly supply them with 15 cwt.; some say they can only manage 10 cwt.

Heating ban (Six Regions): Despite pleasure among office workers in the London and Southern Regions at the lifting of the ban, widespread indignation at the way it has been operated is again reported. In the Midland Region, the ban is said to cause the “most consistent complaint of Government policy”; and scathing comment is reported from the Northern Region.... “when there is a cold snap in the South the Ministry of Fuel and Power can move in 24 hours, but it takes them ten days when we in the North are cold”.... “Does the Ministry realise that most of Northumberland is farther north than parts of South West Scotland, and that in any event the North East coast is the coldest part of the country?”

Sickness and loss of efficiency are again alleged (Four Regions) and people continue to suggest that the ban should be controlled by the temperature rather than the date.

(1. 2. 3. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 12)

18. Industry

Stories continue of shortened hours, abolition of overtime and weekend work (Four Regions each); idle time in factories, unemployment and overstaffing (Three Regions each); discharge of workers from heavy industries and munition factories (Two Regions); slackness among workers (One Region).

There are reports from four Regions of workers thinking that production is no longer a matter of extreme urgency; chief reason for this assumption seems to be the reduced hours. Some interpret reduced production as meaning the war will be over during the summer and are said to be postponing their holidays until then, so that they can go where they like.

(1. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 12)

19. Pay-as-you-earn

Comment is on lines similar to last week's: complaints continue of the amounts being deducted, of tax being paid for the first time, and of employers' difficulties. However, there is considerable appreciation of the way the scheme is working, and there are fewer complaints this week that the scheme is not being understood.

Refusal to work overtime (Five Regions), and absenteeism (Three Regions), continue to be reported. In the Midland Region some women workers are saying “they will only work for six months in order that the tax deducted will have to be paid back”.

There are some doubts of the validity of postwar credits (Three Regions).

(1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 7. 9. 10. 11. 12. 17 Special Postal Censorship)

20. Food

Pork (Four Regions): Complaints of too much pork, and of its quality and price, “which should be more in line with mutton and beef”, are reported. In the North Eastern Region, however, the change to pork from eternal mutton has been a welcome relief.

Currants and dates (Three Regions): The announcement of supplies of currants and dates has given rise to some criticism in places where they are not yet obtainable (Northern Region and Wales). In the South East, however, there is pleasure over their release.

(1. 2. 5. 6. 8. 12)

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