A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


Weekly Report by Home Intelligence - No. 68
Copy No. 144

21st 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.

261 262 2 264 4 266 6 268 8 269 9


21st January, 1942

(Covering period from 12th January to 19th 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

There appears to be a slight decrease in public confidence this week. Satisfaction over Russia's continued progress is overshadowed by anxiety and disappointment at developments in the Far East - particularly by the increased threat to Singapore.

Other factors influencing public confidence are:

  1. Mr. Churchill's safe return, which has allayed considerable public fear.

  2. What is regarded as “almost a stalemate in Libya”; this has led to some disappointment.

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

2. The Far East

Our withdrawals in Malaya are now causing wider concern, and what is now realised as “the extreme gravity of our whole position in the Far East” seems to be giving anxiety to a far larger section of the public than were previously affected - “even to those people whose knowledge of geography is vague”. The outlook about Singapore is not regarded as hopeful and, indeed, its fall is now regarded by many to be “a foregone conclusion”, despite Mr. Churchill's expressed belief that we should be able to hold it. The storm of criticism of what is believed to be our lack of foresight is even stronger this week: “It looks as if our people in the Far East, Services and civilians alike, have been living in a fool's paradise, and anyone attempting to rouse them has been silenced”. Previous official statements showing over-confidence in the situation are again quoted with much irritation.

(1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)

3. Russia

There is, if anything, an increase of enthusiasm and admiration for the Russian successes. The dangerous position of large masses of German troops gives rise to continued optimism, and there appears to be every confidence in the ability of the Russian Command to maintain pressure on the retreating Germans. Only one R.I.O. says that “people would prefer to wait for the better weather before throwing their caps in the air”.

The suspicious circumstances of von Reichenau's death have encouraged people to hope that the German forces are in serious difficulties, although the R.I.O. Scotland mentioned a growing belief in his Region that “the best German units have been withdrawn, and are safely wintering at home”.

Some uneasiness is reported among sections of the middle classes about the possible extent of Russian influence upon the post-war social and economic structure of this country.

Soviet Trades' Union delegation : Several Regions report that the visits of the Soviet Trades' Union delegates have given opportunities for the spontaneous expression of the general enthusiasm felt for Russia as an ally, and the affection in which her people are held. Their outspoken criticisms of our production have not, however, been received entirely without resentment.

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

4. Libya

“The news of the recapture of Sollum and Halfaya has been received with pleasure, but there is a growing belief that our aim in Libya, namely, the destruction of the German forces, is proving increasingly hard to achieve”. There is some fear that Rommel “may have out-manoeuvred us, and that strong reinforcements may reach him and prolong the battle indefinitely”.

“The out-ranging and out-weighing of our 2-pounder tank guns by the German heavies” has been noted with regret and some foreboding.

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

5. America

Colonel Knox's statement that the task of the U.S. Navy was chiefly in the Atlantic has received a good reception. Many feel that his statement is true, but a minority think it was made to cover up Pacific failures; and the question, “Where is the American fleet?” is widely reported once more. There is some revival of the “all talk and no do” type of criticism, but General MacArthur's stout defence in the Philippines has won “widespread respect”, and is considered a welcome reassurance that Americans can fight. On the whole, the feeling prevails that “when America really gets going, she will pull the chestnuts out of the fire”.

Very little interest has been shown in the Pan-American Conference.

(3, 6, 7, 10, 11)

6. Hopes of Cabinet changes

Anxiety about Malaya appears to be the principle cause for a demand for wide revision of the Allies' conduct of the war. People “have a feeling that things are not right”, and eight R.I.Os report hopes or expectations of Cabinet changes. “It is desired that this shall not merely be a reshuffle but a replacement of those Ministers who are thought to lack the necessary drive, and who, it is felt, are still talking about being prepared, rather than seeing that it is an actual fact. It is felt that the war will not be brought to a successful conclusion unless radical changes are made”. There is a good deal of sympathy with Australia's demand for an Empire Cabinet.

Mr. Duff Cooper : Even though some people are saying that Mr. Duff Cooper “had not been out East long enough to be responsible for any of the present muddle”, the published reasons for his recall are still considered “unconvincing”.

(2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12)

7. The Prime Minister's return

The news of the Prime Minister's safe return was greeted with immense relief; there had been anxiety about his safety earlier in the week. Some criticism has been heard of “the risks taken in sending several of our leaders together in this long flight over the Atlantic”.

(1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12)

8. Eire

There appears to be growing impatience with the Irish Free State on the subject of the ports, and the hope is expressed that the Americans may do what we hesitate to undertake - and “enforce some kind of agreement with Mr. de Valera”.

(2, 4, 5, 8, 13)

9. R.A.F.

There is some criticism of Bomber Command for the apparent failure of the “non-stop offensive against Germany”.

People are said to be “fed-up” with the repeated bombing of Brest, which they consider as “singularly ineffective by comparison with the effect of one or two German raids on ports in this country”.

(6, 8, 11, 13)

10. Broadcasting and presentation of news

Strong protests continue to be made against the minimising of defeats in the Far East, together with the repeated mention of our minor successes; it is said that “ground lost is made to appear valueless until it is regained, when emphasis is laid on its importance”.

“A fresh wave of irritation” is reported at the realisation that “the information we have been given about Malaya, by all the news services, has been full of lies”. In one Region the decline in volume in important news has produced some feeling of “a lull before a storm”, and there is comment on the undue publicity given to Axis news. The naming of the regiments engaged in Libya was received with approval.

Newsreels and M.O.I. films : The Commando raid film is said to be still drawing large crowds in Scotland. Gaumont-British is criticised for their advertisement, said to give the impression that the pictures were a “Gaumont-British exclusive”. “Rush Hour” and “Royal Observer Corps” are commented on with approval.

B.B.C. There is still a demand for more “facts” in the news bulletins and less “frills or padding”. In one Region the remark was made “The B.B.C. treat us like children; the commentary on the Malta bombings was an insult to the public intelligence”, while regarding the Far East it was remarked: “the news service is as inefficient as the military authorities”.

People are now enjoying listening to the German broadcasts about conditions on the Russian Front “which a few months ago made our stomachs turn over”, otherwise they appear to be paying scant attention to Lord Haw Haw. Wilfred Pickles' return is welcomed, and the item “Irish Half Hour” has been warmly praised.

Programme preferences : During 1941 the Listening Barometer showed a steady increase in listening to the Forces Programme at the expense of the Home Service. In order to ascertain how far this tendency was general, Listener Research correspondents were asked, in December, 1941, to differentiate in this matter between the following categories of listeners:- men and women; middle and working class; four age groups.

296 questionaires were returned by the correspondents, from which the following trends are deduced:-

1. The Forces Programme is the young people's programme. “With each step-up in age it loses ground to the Home Service”.

2. There is no evidence that the tastes of men and women differ materially in their preferences for Home or Forces programme.

3. The Forces programme is above all the working class programme, and it is overwhelmingly preferred to the Home Service by working class listeners of all ages; It is also favoured by the majority of young middle class listeners.

Nevertheless, of the correspondents themselves, whether working or middle class, 30% prefer the Home Service, 18% the Forces, and 52% have no preference.

Sunday night postscript Listener Research have summarized thirty of their reports on Sunday night Postscripts, broadcast between May and December, 1941. These Postscripts have had an audience of between 24.4% and 50.1% of the adult population. It is seldom that less than 60% of those who hear the News listen to the Postscript; occasionally as in the case of Quentin Reynold's second Postscript, as many as 87% of the News listeners have kept their sets on for the Postscript. The index of popularity ranges between 92% 265 5for Frank Laskier and 36% for Duff Cooper. Generally speaking, Overseas speakers, particularly Americans, have been more popular than speakers from this country: “They seem better able to establish easy contact with listeners and to put over the impression of a live personality”. Speakers are usually judged on their reputation, experience, technique and particularly on their personality. Subjects are judged on interest, illumination and particularly on their stimulating qualities; Reynolds' pugnacity, for instance, evoked much greater enthusiasm than the more balanced and informed talks by Lord Cecil and Tom Jones.

(1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 21 Bristol, Mamchester P.C.s, 24)

11. Rumours

During the visit of the Soviet Trades' Union delegates there was the usual tendency to attribute an air raid warning to German knowledge of the presence of distinguished visitors. Workers on the Tyne declare that whenever an advertisement beginning “Nash” has appeared in the personal column of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle there is an air raid seven days afterwards.

It is rumoured that troops and equipment are being moved from the East Coast to the South, thus leaving the East coast unprotected.

A story is going about that girls leaving a Borstal Institute are directed into the A.T.S.

Before Mr. Churchill's return there were rumours that he had been lost in an aeroplane accident, and alternatively, that he was enjoying a holiday in the Bahamas.

Japanese troops were said to have already invaded Northern Australia.

Income Tax authorities were reported to have lost their books and to be making assessments by guesswork.

In Northern Ireland a report was circulated that American troops were to be landed there immediately, and that pressmen hurried to the scene to describe the landing.

The rumour that Germany has bought the whole of Portugal's sardine-catch for the year is again reported.

(1, 3, 5, 7, 10)


12. Industry

Again this week, criticisms of the industrial front are not numerous, but the feeling is still strongly expressed that “industry is not yet mobilised for total war”, and there is a “wish for a further tightening up of control, both of managements and of labour”. There is criticism of “the hesitancy with which Government Departments are thought to tackle the problems that arise”. People feel that “too much is left to the managements to rectify, and that the will to rectify is not always present”.

Concern at periods of enforced idleness is still expressed by workers in war industry and tales continue to circulate of workers being told to go slow: it is felt that the reasons for hold-ups are not yet understood. “Suspicion is still cast on the financial systems under which some of the factories operate”, and the “cost plus 10% system of contracting is thought to be widely used”, according to one R.I.O., in spite of official statements to the contrary.

Reserved occupations : There is some ill-feeling because of what is considered to be the “large number of men between 20 and 30 who are exempt”, and who are retained in civilian employment where it is thought that they could easily be replaced by older men. Some depression is reported among men in the 40 to 51 age groups at the extension of conscription, owing to their “heavy responsibilities, both in home life and in business”.

Women's call-up : The following points are mentioned this week:-

  1. Service men's wives : The dissatisfaction of a section of the public (noted previously in these reports) at the exemption of the childless wives of Service men does not appear to have been silenced by the explanation that they can be directed into industry near their homes. It is felt that the real “culprits” are the “camp-follower wives” who have no homes and can travel round the country, thereby evading direction. The feeling among the men is said to be that if their women were compelled to join the Services, “it would be as bad as Nazism, against which we are fighting, because the only thing worth while is to have a home”.

  2. Employers' difficulties : Strong feeling is reported on the part of employers that “their new female staff, engaged to replace male labour should not be called up, after time and skill have been spent in training them”. They are anxious to “have some assurance as to how many of the staff will be permitted to stay, so that they can plan for the future”.

  3. Older women : Older women again complain of the difficulty of getting suitable jobs near home, and, in some cases, of the discouraging attitude of Labour Exchanges to their enquiries.

  4. Labour Exchanges : The R.I.O. Wales, reports a great improvement in the attitude of interviewers, who are now said to be treating the girls “very sympathetically” in that area.

  5. Transfer of labour : “Alleged cases of workers being sent from their homes to work in a distant town, while workers from that town are being sent to the other”, are reported to be causing “a good deal of bitterness”.

  6. Marriages to avoid conscription : These continue to be alleged, and some clergymen report an increase of marriages of young women since conscription was announced.

  7. Day nurseries : The shortage of day nurseries continues to be reported, and it is not always understood why a stronger line is not taken in the requisitioning of buildings for this purpose. In one case, however, when a Parish Hall was requisitioned, there were protests on the grounds that it was the only building in the village where social events could be arranged for war workers.

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

13. Youth registration

Although varied reactions are reported, the public appears on the whole to be favourably disposed to the idea of the registration of young people. There appears, however, to be some disquiet about the lack of information on the Government's proposals, and people are asking “whether the interview will be compulsory, in view of the stressing of the voluntary character if the scheme”.

There is satisfaction that the “children should have something to do with their evenings”, and it is hoped that the scheme will “draw in the youngsters who are just wasting their time and drifting”. It is even thought that it may help towards “lessening juvenile delinquency, chiefly because of the discipline involved”.

Boys are said to be very keen on the A.T.C., and some are switching to it from the Home Guard, “in which they feel they do not learn anything interesting”. In some quarters the “undesirability of drafting children into the Home Guard is stressed, as they would be in close contact with much older men”.

(5, 8, 10)

14. Income tax

Dismay and bad feeling about the payment of income tax are reported from three Regions, particularly among first payers. According to another report, the workers accept the requirement to pay income tax quite calmly, but “are scared as to where it will end”. In Scotland, where the workers, though puzzled, are said not to be grumbling unduly, this is thought to be accounted for by a “delay in the issue of assessment notices, so that the workers in many important establishments have not yet begun paying”. Postal Censorship, however, quotes a writer as being “representative of 50% of the comments”, who says, “income tax is somewhat strangling at the moment, but that is nothing compared with the prospects of Hitler's New Order, so we pay up cheerfully”.

In some cases bad feeling about the payment of income tax is apparently affecting willingness to work. It is reported that “the workers just clock-off if things don't happen to be going very well with their work, the view being taken that most of what they would have earned would be lost to them in income tax anyway”. Postal Censorship also quotes a writer who says, “the income tax is awful. Everyone is on about it. I'm going to do less hours, it's not worth it, having to pay it all away”. An employer writes:

“We are very short of staff, owing to the fact that as many as 20 girls stay out a day, so that they won't have to pay the income tax”. The case is mentioned of a workman asking for a rise on receipt of his assessment, “every time I get an increase on income tax, I look for a rise, so that the firm pays it”.

Doubts continue to be expressed as to whether post-war credit will actually materialise.

(2, 3, 5, 11, 12, 21 Special Bristol P.C's.)

15. Service pay and allowances

Strong feeling continues to be reported at the disparity in pay between soldiers and civilians, even taking into account the soldiers keep and allowances. “Fantastic tales” are reported of the high wages paid to munition workers, builder's labourers and dockers (instances are quoted where dockers are said to earn £80 per week for special jobs), and bitter comparisons are made between these amounts, and what a soldier receives. Comparison is also made between the higher pay of Dominion and Colonial troops, and that of our own soldiers. There is dissatisfaction at the “long time that elapses between the application for a Supplementary Grant and its payment" - this is sometimes said to be months. In this connection, “mothers with sons in the Forces are felt to have a very raw deal”.

The rates for pensions of Service casualties are said to be causing disquiet among dependants.

(2, 3, 5, 9, 11, 32)

16. Food

The general situation remains satisfactory, and Postal Censorship reports many letters to the effect that “if you can't get one thing there is always something else”. Only a small minority has been upset by the ration cuts; for the most part gratitude has been expressed that the extra had been given while possible.

Points rationing : There is continued praise and desire for further extension. It is suggested that the large packs and the large choice of foods tend to cause waste.

Milk : Criticism and mild complaints are again more apparent, but it is hoped that the shortage is only seasonal. The wish is expressed that the children's “school” milk could be added to the family's ration in the holidays. Elderly people living alone are said to suffer under the 2-pint a week ration. Too much milk is thought to be consumed at office teas, canteens and clubs at the expense of the children's ration. In Aldershot 268 gallons a week were said to be used by office tea clubs.

Fruit and vegetables : It is suggested that the “under fives” are benefiting unduly in the matter of oranges, fruit juices etc., at the expense of the school children, and that oranges might be distributed in schools.

Farmers and small holders are worried over the Government's failure to buy their potato crops, which are going bad. The quota of cattle food is said to be augmented by potatoes, for which the farmers must pay a higher price than they get when sell them. Onions are also said to be rotting before they can be distributed.

British Restaurants and feeding centres : Postal Censorship shows continued praise. Overcrowding is said to make it hard for workmen who can only afford 1/- to get a mid-day meal, and it is alleged that many people use the centre who could well afford to go elsewhere. Certain local authorities are said to be unwilling to open more British Restaurants because of the opposition of local caterers.

It is suggested that the School Feeding Scheme should be extended to release mothers for war work. In one Borough, for example, ten elementary schools with 3500 children are unprovided for.

Sale of condemned meat : It is suggested at Aldershot that meat condemned by the Ministry of Food is bought by contractors, so that the fat, rendered down, may be used for fish frying.

Preferential treatment : Bournemouth grocers complain of certain chain stores securing early deliveries of “Points” goods, and thus getting an unfair advantage. The official statement that chain stores are not selling food they did not stock before is disbelieved in some quarters, and the allegation has been made that Woolworth now sell branded goods for 6d which were previously unobtainable.

Stolen lorries : Concern is expressed at the amount of food stolen, together with lorries and equipment. It is felt that while the drivers eat and sleep, armed guards should be provided for these vehicles.

(1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 21 Bristol, Manchester P.C's 24)

17. Salvage

Metal : “The Government's failure to salvage material from bombed buildings”, and the “continued presence of scrap iron dumps” are reported to be irritating the public. The taking of private railings, while public railings are allowed to remain, is also the subject of much criticism. The requisitioning of railings protecting vegetable gardens is causing apprehension in semi-rural areas.

Waste of paper : Many people are of the opinion that “despite the frequent Government appeals for the salvage of paper very little enthusiasm will be forthcoming until the Government Departments set a better example”. In Tottenham, where there is a large salvage centre, and collections of waste paper were made even before the war, there has been considerable study of the problem of utilising waste. It has been found that though every facility is given to keep the salvageable goods apart from the refuse, there is little co-operation from the public. Despite many ‘drives’, one of which was in progress at the time when the observations were made, nine out of ten people fail to keep their clean waste paper separate from their refuse. In the case of kitchen waste for pig food, co-operation is much higher, and little or none is put in with the other rubbish. It is felt that “people still do not realise the necessity and urgency for salvage and they will not realise it until it is made an offence at law to put clean paper in with the refuse. Ordinary publicity methods have ceased to have an appreciable effect”.

(2, 3, 7, 11, 32)

18. Constant topics and complaints

Transport : There are again complaints of lack of priority passes for workers , and maladjustment of such bus services as there are to the needs of the workers.

Shopping difficulties for women, factory operatives are incensed by early closing, and lunch-hour closing; and it is said that comparatively few factories are yet giving their workers adequate shopping facilities.

Lack of day nurseries and of feeding facilities for older children at school is still thought to deter many would-be workers, and accounts for some absenteeism. More communal restaurants are desired. High wages for juveniles are again deplored.

Waste of petrol by the Services , and misuse of supplementary allowances by civilians cause bitter criticism.

Shortage of wireless batteries and valves is said to be “as serious as ever”. Other shortages reported are of: Crockery and hardware, paraffin, soap powder, razor blades, women's toilet articles, children's boots and shoes; matches, tobacco and cigarettes, petrol lighters and flints; thermos flasks; toys; hotwater bottles, corsets, elastic and everything else made of rubber, bicycles, typewriters, clocks and various tools. Eggs, milk, cereals, dried and fresh fruit, fish and confectionery.

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

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