A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


Weekly report by Home Intelligence - No. 67
Copy No. 28

14th January, 1942

In reading this report, it is important to bear in mind that it is not meant to be a record of facts , except in so far as public opinion is itself a fact. It is a statement and reflection of the public's views and feelings about the war in general. Therefore, in matters on which public opinion is ill-informed, prejudiced or inconsistent the report does not imply any endorsement of the views which are expressed in it.

It may be convenient to remind all recipients of this report that it is a confidential document, and therefore, should not be disclosed to anyone else except by special authority of the Director of the Home Division of the Ministry of Information.

276 277 2 278 3 279 4 281 6 283 8 285 10


14th JANUARY, 1942

(Covering period from 5th January to 12th January, 1942)

NOTE : The figures in brackets refer to sources of information, a list of which was issued with all reports up to and including No. 66, 7th January, 1942.


1. General state of confidence and reaction to news

This week there has again been little change in public confidence, which remains fairly high. Russian successes continue to offset the Far Eastern situation to a considerable extent. There even appears to be a slight revival of apathy and complacency; this is attributed to the remoteness of the theatres of war. The feeling of the majority can be summed up by a writer quoted by Postal Censorship: “Things are looking brighter and more hopeful than six months ago, despite the outbreak in the Pacific”. Although serious anxiety is confined to what is described as “an intelligent minority”, there is still widespread criticism of “muddle and unpreparedness in the Far East”, while on the Home Front the whole question of industrial wages and Service pay is reported to be the cause of increasing dissatisfaction and disquiet.

(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 21 Tunbridge Wells, Special P.C.s)

2. Russia

No noticeable change is reported in public reaction to the Russian situation, which continues to be the most decisive as well as the most cheering factor in the minds of the great majority.

There appears to be considerable enthusiasm for the regime in Russia, and Postal Censorship mentions numerous letters to this effect.

What are described as “Stalin's war aims” have caused much appreciative comment on the lines of: “Thank heaven that somebody has at last had the courage to tell the Germans what punishment will be meted out to them; the Atlantic Charter was good, but this is the medicine that Germany needs”.

M. Molotov's statement : It is reported from five Regions that M. Molotov's statement on German atrocities in Russia has caused widespread interest and horror. “Generally speaking the public is not inclined to believe stories of atrocities, even of the Germans, but little doubt has been expressed about the authenticity of the Russian diplomatic note”. It is said to have resulted in “an understanding of Russia's determination to be avenged”, and there is a feeling that “our leaders have a good deal to learn from the Russians in ruthlessness”.

Some doubt is expressed by a minority, however, who believe that there may be “considerable differences of opinion, in due course, between the Russians, Americans and ourselves about the application of vengeance”. There is some fear of “being landed in the same hole that the French landed us in after the last war”.

The Russian Trades Union Delegation : Considerable satisfaction has been expressed that the delegation has been meeting the Trades Unionists, and not the Communists.

Mr. Eden's speech : Further reports confirm the favourable impression created by Mr. Eden's broadcast. It is felt that he is a “realist and a diplomat and should be given a freer hand”. His visit to Russia and his broadcast are said “in some degree to have mitigated surviving doubts of the whole-heartedness of the Government support of Russia”. These doubts, however, still persist in some quarters.

(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 21 Special P.C.)

3. The Far East

Although some reports speak of the Pacific as being too remote to be a subject of deep public concern, there is strong comment on what is considered to be “incompetence and lack of foresight on the part of the responsible authorities in the Far East”. There is now, however, some disposition to think that Air Chief-Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham has been criticised too harshly, and that, while he “made some over-optimistic statements”, he cannot be held personally responsible for the inadequacy of our defences. It is felt by some that he has acted as a scapegoat and that “those who sent him there cannot escape their share of the responsibility”. There has even been some criticism of the Prime Minister in this connection, while Lord Simon is blamed by “people with long memories, who hold him morally responsible for the whole thing on account of his attitude at the time of the Manchukuo crisis”. The more thoughtful, however, are inclined to blame the “British Government in office during the period of appeasement”.

Singapore : “While there is not generally a very vivid awareness of the position in Malaya, there is a fairly wide and growing conviction that Singapore is seriously threatened”. Many people seem to think that the Government is preparing the public for the loss of Singapore; and dissatisfaction at having been misled over the strength of the Hong Kong defences is leading them to ask, “When will Singapore go?”.

Scorched earth policy : There are still said to be “misgivings on the part of the public as to whether a scorched earth policy has been wholeheartedly carried out in British possessions occupied by Japan”. “Private financial interests” are thought to be standing in the way of the “100% destruction policy as adopted by Russia”.

General Wavell : The appointment of General Wavell to the Joint Allied Command continues to meet with strong approval. Satisfaction is also reported that the Command has not been entrusted to an American. There is some grumbling, however, that “we had to take another tremendous whacking before they brought a good man in”.

Mr. Duff Cooper : There is much speculation about Mr. Duff Cooper's recall, and some people are inclined to “blame him for the disasters in Malaya”. The announcement of the “winding up of his mission”, is said to have been received with a good deal of scepticism.

India : Among a small minority there is said to be “increased concern about our relations with India, which are felt to be of growing importance at this time”, and “for the first time during the war” the public is reported to be taking an interest in Indian affairs. Evidence is recorded of “a wish for a settlement of the question of Dominion status for India, which is relatively strong amongst the industrial population”. “Abysmal ignorance of Indian politics, religion and social customs is reported to exist among the public as a whole.

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

4. Libya

Little doubt is reported about the final outcome of the Libyan campaign, but the difficulties involved do not appear to be understood. “The expectations of the early annihilation of Rommel's forces have given way to speculation as to why the process is taking so long”; and how he has managed to get away. There is some realisation that bad weather has interfered with the movement of our mechanised forces, but it is suggested that the public inclines to “attribute the present hold-up to the skill of the Germans”. Anxiety is expressed by a small minority that “we might go too far and lay the way open to an airborne invasion of Cyrenaica behind our lines”. It is felt that the Germans may be massing planes and troops in Sicily for this purpose.

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

5. President Roosevelt's Speech

Special reports from R.I.Os show that in ten out of twelve Regions the President's speech to Congress on January 6th received a very favourable response, although in most cases (eight out of twelve) there was a minority feeling of doubt about the production figures, or of impatience with “more words from America”. In the North Midland Region, one of the two where the least praise was recorded, the attitude was summed up in the comment: “The U.S. is still talking big but acting small”, and there was “a desire for performance, in the not too distant future”. In Scotland, satisfaction was outweighed by scepticism as to whether America could increase her armament output so swiftly, and the whole speech seems to have been received “apathetically, or with considerable jeering”. Throughout the country as a whole, however, there appears to be a strong feeling that “between them, the President and the Prime Minister can manage anything”.

Points chiefly commented on were (a) the vast production programme, (b) the despatch of American forces, (c) the speech as propaganda to the enemy.

The colossal scale of the President's figures was said to produce “an almost stunned effect” on some sections of the public, and their disclosure was taken as encouraging evidence that the enemy could not produce to the same extent.

The proposed despatch of American forces was the subject of general, though not unanimous, satisfaction. Great curiosity is expressed as to whether the A.E.F. is intended to participate in an invasion of Europe, or merely to man the bases in Britain, either as increased protection against a German invasion or in order to release British and Empire troops to fight elsewhere. The last theory has caused some caustic comments, but the formation of an A.E.F. is generally hailed as indicating the welcome intention of invading Europe.

Five R.I.Os comment on the value of the speech as propaganda to the enemy. It is considered that the figures should have a depressing effect on German morale, and should be a source of hope to people in occupied countries as well as an incentive to workers in the U.S.A.

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

6. Defence of airfields .

Considerable interest has been aroused by the discussion in the House of arrangements for the defence of aerodromes, as there is an extensive feeling - which in some cases is reported to be very strong indeed - that “this important issue has been neglected”. Grave concern is reported over the loss of our airfields in Malaya. Official explanations have produced a measure of satisfaction, but disquiet continues, particularly in regard to conditions in this country. “Widespread and bitter comment” has been expressed at the fact that four small boys should be able to enter aerodromes unobserved and damage planes; and it is remarked that “the whole discipline of the troops guarding the airfields at the present time is such that almost anything could happen”.

The announcement that a regiment is to be formed for the defence of aerodromes has, on the whole, been greeted with satisfaction, “though it is considered rather late in the day”. There is reported, however, to be a good deal of criticism on the grounds that (a) “the lack of liaison between the Services may be just as bad under the new scheme as under the old”, and (b) that General Liardet is 60, “the age at which it is thought necessary to retire Sir John Dill”.

(1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12)

7. Length of the War

A good deal of speculation on the length of the war is recorded, and three R.I.Os mention a slightly increased tendency to believe that it will be over this year, attributing this optimism to Russian successes. (“If they go on as they are now, the war might be over by June”.) There appears, however, to be some discrimination between the war in Europe and the conflict in the Pacific which, it is thought, will “drag on into 1943”. It seems to be the opinion of most people that even though it brought in America as a belligerent, the entry of Japan will have the effect of lengthening the war. According to one Postal Censorship report 155 writers “suppose that the entry of Japan means a few more years on to the struggle”, while on the other hand only 70 writers feel that “now America can pull her full weight”, victory will be won at an earlier date.

(1, 8, 9, 21, Manchester, York, Bristol, Special P.C.s)

8. Broadcasting and presentation of news

The public is said to be “very tired” of references to “withdrawals to new defensive positions” and to resent “the attempt to make a fairly rapid retreat in Malaya look like a success”. The belief that the announcement of the sinking of H.M.S. Neptune “was held up for weeks” has given rise to renewed complaints that the public are not told “the unvarnished truth immediately”.

Newsreels : The newsreel of the Vaagso raid has been greeted with considerable enthusiasm and applause, and so has that of tanks entrained for transport to Russia, which is thought to have “done more to convince the public of the substantial nature of our aid to Russia than any statements in the Press”.

The B.B.C. : The Overseas News Service continues to be praised and the “threatening note” in Colonel Britton's 11 p.m. broadcast is said to be much appreciated. The Brains Trust, on the other hand, is subjected to more criticism and it is felt that it has become “too flippant and careless in dealing with questions”.

A Listener Research Report reveals that an overwhelming majority of the public welcomed the appointment of Wilfred Pickles as a News Reader. 65% of Correspondents reported that reactions to this appointment were predominantly favourable, as compared with 12% who reported that they were predominantly unfavourable. This verdict is in striking contrast to that of spontaneous letters: according to the latter, the ratio of disapproval to approval of Wilfred Pickles as a News Reader was three to two. This contrast is attributed to the fact that the Local Correspondents who form the channel through which public opinion has been obtained, are selected as representative of the varying regions and classes in the community, whereas spontaneous letter writers are a “self-selected” sample. Another reason advanced as to why spontaneous letters on such a question can be dangerously misleading as an index of public opinion is that disapproval is a much more powerful stimulant to letter writing than approval.

(1, 2, 5, 7, 10)

9. The R.A.F.

“Doubtful speculation” is reported as to why Germany has not been bombed more often. “Satisfaction at the bombing of Brest is noticeably less than when a German port is bombed”.

The dropping of American leaflets over France has aroused little interest or approval; it is described as a waste of paper, and “more bombs on Germany would be preferred”.

(6, 8, 10)

10. Expectation of invasion and air raids

Although “invasion as a topic of talk is dying down”, two R.I.Os suggest that the public is uncertain how to act in the event of invasion taking place. It is thought that “the time has come for another ‘stay-put’ campaign”, and for emphasising the importance of with-holding information from the enemy.

Anticipation of air-raids in this country is reported to be very slight, and there is some feeling that there will be “no large scale bombing from either side, as this has proved to be too expensive for the results achieved”.

(6, 7, 8, 21 Manchester P.C.)

11. Irish ports

Postal Censorship reports a marked change in the attitude of Eire towards the war since the entry of America. Eight hundred out of nine hundred and fifty letters, in the outgoing mail from the Irish Free State, now predict a successful outcome for the Allies. “Nearly all writers feel that Eire is bound to be affected, both in respect of her bases and also through her imports, by American belligerency. The most general opinion is that America will take over the Irish bases, whether by arrangement or by force is not stated, and there is no indication as to whether resistance would be offered in the latter eventuality.” This is contrasted with the prevalent former attitude which could be summed up as: “Whoever comes, we fight.” Of the many letters mentioning defence measures against invasion, it is said that “the invader envisaged is always Germany, and the bombs which are feared are German bombs. It does not seem from recent letters that invasion of Eire by Great Britain is feared.” A typical extract is “De Valera believes that our unfortunate country is not yet out of the wood, and is urging young men to join the Local Defence Force. Of course there is really nothing to fight with but their fists, and you cannot stop a tank with the mitt.”

12. Subversive activities

Jehovah's Witnesses : Concern has been expressed in the Southern Region over the activities of the paid propagandists of this organisation. They are apparently making house-to-house calls, inviting people to listen to new gramophone records, which turn out to be violently pacifist, and are combining this with the making of damaging statements about our war leaders.

In Birmingham they are said to be spreading pacifism under religious guise and “are to be seen mixing with soldiers.”

(6, 9)

13. Rumours

Stories concerning H.M.S. Barham persist. The latest is to the effect that three hundred and fifty men were lost when she was “cut in half at Tobruk in November”.

Six battleships are reported to have been “lost recently”, and two destroyers to have been severely damaged as a result of enemy air activity at Plymouth. (Plymouth is also said to have had a daylight raid on January 10th.)

Reports of “Christmas Eve raids by British forces on French territory” are believed to have been omitted from official news because of heavy casualties inflicted by the enemy.

An impending invasion of Eire has been deduced - apparently from attention paid by us to Brest, and by the enemy to Merseyside.

There are reports of a German Commands raid in Cornwall.

It is said to be “particularly easy” to get into Catterick camp in Yorkshire. Stories are current of private individuals without passes driving into aerodromes, “and getting by the guard with a friendly wave”.

In Norwich the impression is prevalent that men of the 6th battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment have been lost en route for the Far East.

It is rumoured that until recently there was a German Gestapo Headquarters at Oxford. In support of this story it is pointed out that “foreigners would not be conspicuous there among such an odd population”, and that Oxford has never been bombed despite the obvious target presented by the Cowley works.

It is reported that Hull air-raid victims were “collected in dust carts for mass disposal”.

(4, 5, 7)


14. Industry

Complaints about mismanagement, and working conditions generally, are fewer than usual this week, and for once the emphasis is on slacking among the workers, which arouses great indignation and disquiet wherever it is reported. In connection with certain factories, Postal Censorship confirms the view given by other contacts by quoting operatives who say: “I never came across such slackness. Men are fighting for their lives, and we can't even help by making them the tools to use. Inspectors go round the Works, but as soon as they put a foot inside, word gets about and everyone jumps to it, but when they turn their back, well -!”

Income Tax : There still appears to be a certain amount of resentment felt about Income Tax amongst factory workers, resulting in slacking, refusals to work overtime and absenteeism. In addition, some people are reported to have ceased working altogether, and double assessment is regarded as having a most discouraging effect on potential married women workers. The following extracts from letters are typical: “My daughter does not work in the day now. She has too much Income Tax to pay, and a lot of married women won't go to work because they have to pay it back in tax”. “John has retired from work, it was no good for him to keep working and paying such a lot of Income Tax”.

The Income Tax poster has aroused great interest wherever it has been shown, and is even spoken of as a “best-seller”. It seems, however, that a number of works have not received it, or, if they have, it has not been exhibited. It has also been suggested that managements should ask Income Tax Inspectors to visit factories to answer queries. The R.I.O. North Western Region reports that John Hilton's continuation broadcast does not appear to have been as successful as his first one, and from another Region comes the comment that John Hilton “is looked upon by quite a few as Public Hoodwinker No. 1.”

Women's call-up : There is far less comment on this subject this week. A strong demand, however, continues for more day nurseries, and adequate shopping and transport facilities to enable more married women with children to take up war work.

There appears to be an impression that “many girls manage to choose their own jobs to avoid conscription, while waiting for the National Service Registration to take effect”, owing to the long delays before call-up. There is said to be some circumvention of the 44 hour week by Voluntary Workers who take days off “because they are ill”. It is suggested that a doctor's certificate should be produced after two days, as in the case of paid workers.

Transport : Complaints of difficulties met by workers who have to travel have revived since the holiday period. It is reported from the Midland Region that discontent is being voiced by many factory workers at empty buses returning to Birmingham after depositing workers at certain factories, or leaving Birmingham to bring the workers home. The drivers refuse to give lifts to other workers who lose valuable hours of work or rest owing to inadequate transport.

(1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 21 Special)

15. Women's Services

Feeling still appears to run high on the exemption of married women, and it continues to be commonly believed that “many young girls are marrying almost complete strangers in order to escape the call-up.” Servicemen, however, seem to be as much against their own womenfolk going into the Services as ever, “and are very vocal about it”.

The A.T.S. : There appears to be less resistance on the part of the girls to joining the A.T.S. and gossip about immorality in this Service seems to have declined. Nevertheless, the feeling persists that the other women's Services have attracted a better class of recruit and that “the riff-raff go to the A.T.S. Scabies, impetigo and dirty heads are rumoured as rife in some camps”.

(3, 5, 8, 10, 21 Special)

16. Service and civilian pay

Bitter comment is reported on the disparity in pay between soldiers and civilians. According to a Postal Censorship report “the workers are paid fabulously high wages, and get all the breaks - even at the expense of the boys in the Services, who, besides having to give their lives when the time comes, are far from being sufficiently paid for the risks involved”.

Feeling continues to be strong about the “inadequacy” of the allowances to Servicemen's dependants, and their pensions are said to be considered “so niggardly as to be an insult”.

(2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 21 Special, 32)

17. Food

Satisfaction with the general situation continues. The cuts in rations are apparently accepted philosophically as inevitable, and there is relief that they are not more drastic. It appears that parents are still not availing themselves adequately of the issue of free cod-liver oil and fruit juices for their children.

Points rationing continues to be widely approved and the extension to tinned fruit and vegetables is welcomed, as ensuring fairer distribution.

Extension of rationing and further control of prices is still advocated. Resentment is expressed in several Regions at the unfair advantage enjoyed by wealthier people able to supplement their home rations by restaurant meals. “Residence and spending power should not govern the scale on which one is fed in war time”.

Milk . Complaints this week are conspicuous by their absence.

Meat . Opinions appear to be divided on the compulsory corned beef ration. Complaints are made of the bad quality of certain imported beef, and it is asked why countries of export should be allowed the use of limited shipping space to dispose of stuff which they would not dare to sell ordinarily.

Waste . R.A.F. men, both at Reigate and Whitley Bay, say there is great waste of cereals at breakfast, owing to these being served with hot milk and sugar. The majority of the men do not touch them and they are then thrown into the swill bucket.

Preferential Treatment . Resentment is again reported, and is said to “persist”, over alleged preferential treatment for Lewis, of Birmingham, in spite of assurances by the Food Office that none is given to this firm.

(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 20)

18. Clothes Rationing

Quarry workers contend that their work is no less destructive of clothing than that of miners, and are “agitating for the same concessions”. Limestone quarry workers point out that lime rots boots and certain materials, and that they cannot work half naked, like miners.

Delay in the replacement of lost coupons causes hardship - workers often having difficulty in contacting J.P.s to get their forms signed.

(3, 5)

19. Constant Topics and complaints

The shopping problem is “still acute”, and the demand for improved facilities increases. Lunch-hour and early closing is particularly resented.

Transport difficulties continue, and the need for priority bus tickets for war workers is widely stressed. Pantomime matinees and shop sales are blamed for excessive crowding of vehicles in the late afternoon and early evening. Civil defence and other war workers are also affected by lack of late evening transport. Reports from rural areas in Deven, Somerset and Gloucestershire indicate increasing difficulties experienced by farmers and other country folk in getting around by bus. The distribution of bus services is criticised, and certain five-minute services between South Devon towns, by which few war workers are thought to travel, are said to be “keenly resented”.

The demand for more British Restaurants and other communal feeding centres persists, although “unsatisfactory cooking” in many existing canteens is also mentioned.

Complaint is renewed of waste of paper by commercial firms “touting for trade”.

Fresh complaints have been received of waste of petrol by the military. Many individual instances are quoted, such as the employment of a heavy army lorry for posting letters and fetching newspapers in a South-West coastal town; and cases similar to that of two sergeants, stranded after a local dance, who telephoned their camp and were fetched by lorry. Criticism has also been directed against civilian use of petrol for short “pleasure trips”, such as “a nightly journey of less than a mile to get a drink”. It is still thought that “far too many people are getting supplementary petrol rations”.

Comment is frequent regarding “excessive” wages paid to juveniles . The increased number of young girls frequenting licensed premises is attributed partly to high wages and partly to rationing which curtails alternative expenditure.

Scepticism concerning the compulsory savings scheme is widespread.

A recent air raid in Newcastle has given renewed strength to complaints about the light from the headlamps of cars .

Six R.I.Os continue to deplore the shortage of wireless and torch batteries .

In connection with the match shortage , reports come from several districts that at night people burn gas-jets, night-lights, etc. “in order to have some means of getting a light in the morning”. Fires are said to have been caused in this way.

Other shortages are of: Fruit, milk, eggs, fresh fish, cigarettes and tobacco, wines, beer and spirits, thermos flasks, lighters and flints, crockery, kitchen equipment, starch and children's boots and Wellingtons.

Complaint is made of the high prices of: Green vegetables (sprouts and cauliflowers in particular), fruit - pears at 4/6 1b. are instanced - and babies' clothes.

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

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