A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



The attached weekly report is based experimentally on a method of compilation suggested by the Director General in his Note of September 27th. Your comments are invited upon its form and general utility.

As far as possible incoming reports have been allowed to speak for themselves. These reports number over 100 and each report is based on anything from one to two thousand interviews (in the case of Postal Censorship on over 120,000 letters.)

The evaluation of these sources is based on the practical experience of the department, but a detailed statement of the value placed on each source is not provided in the present document.

References to sources are given throughout in curved brackets thus (17a), and the interpretation is given in Table A.

The number of times each topic was mentioned is indicated in squared brackets thus [27], but these figures are only significant in relation to the source.

1. - R.I.O. Northern Region a - Sept. 30
b - Oct. 1
c - Oct. 2
d - Oct. 3
e - Oct. 4
f - Oct. 5
g - Oct. 7
2. - R.I.O. North-Eastern Region
3. - R.I.O. North Midland Region
4. - R.I.O. Eastern Region
5. - R.I.O. London Region
6. - R.I.O. Southern Region
7. - R.I.O. South-Western Region
8. - R.I.O. Wales
9. - R.I.O. Midland Region
10. - R.I.O. North-Western Region
11. - R.I.O. Scotland
12. - R.I.O. Northern Ireland
13. - R.I.O. South-Eastern Region
14. - Postal Censorship reports (place of censorship stated in text)
15. - Police duty-room reports from Chief Constables.
16. - Mass Observation reports.
17. - W.H. Smith reports.
18. - Fortnightly Intelligence Report from R.I.O. Scotland.
19. - Anti-Lie Bureau reports.
20. - Reports received from Granada Cinema Managers.
21. - Reports received from Citizens' Advice Bureaux.
22. - Wartime Social Survey Reports.
23. - Reports received from primary sources.
24. - Reports received from Association of Welfare Supervisors.

It has not been found practical to include all our sources in this list, nor to use all incoming material.

8th October, 1940

364 365 2 367 4 368 5 370 7

Weekly Report by Home Intelligence .
For Internal Circulation Only .

(From 12.00 noon Monday 30th September to 12.00 noon Monday 9th October 1940.)


1. General comments [?73]

Morale in general continues good. “Londoners have been more cheerful than for many weeks, partly because the more depressed have evacuated themselves, partly because raids “are not so terrible once you have got used to them,” and partly because invasion seems to be more remote and we are hitting Berlin hard”, (16). At the same time, “sleeplessness and difficulty in “standing” raids are correlated with poor morale” (16), and “in general women are taking raids worse than men” (16).

In Yorkshire “a frequent comment is “We shall get it some day”, and people are calmly prepared for trouble” (2d). “Letters from London, Lancashire and other parts show that morale is high among the people” (14 Glasgow). At Exeter “there is some jumpiness, but no sign of defeatism” (7a), and “morale is still good” in Wales (8d). In Northern Ireland “the general tone of confidence prevails” (13c), and letters out “continue to show a smiling but grim determination to win the war” (14). In Aberdeen “which has suffered more severely from raiders in the last few weeks than any other Scottish city, the people seem to think it wrong to complain about the little they have suffered compared with London” (18). In spite of “the draining away of man-power into the Services from the Outer Isles (of Scotland) and the heavy casualties among them, there is no defeatism, but the people are dispirited and feel isolated” (18).

2. Speculation about the future (including peace aims) [?59]

Discussion of invasion is receding. It was only mentioned twice in 300 reports on prominent topics of conversation over bookstalls (17). What talk there is follows the line that “we are scotching the invasion threat” (16).

It is a notable fact that “wherever air raids have intensified, people's attitude to the future has become a short term one” (16). This applies not only to peace aims , which for the past week have hardly been mentioned at all, but also to the ultimate road to victory. There is still speculation about the unpleasantness, boredom and danger of the coming winter's black-out and bombing (14), but people seem now to be living from day to day.

One future event is widely desired - reprisals . “The desire is much stronger than anything shown in the newspapers” (16). It is the third commonest subject discussed at bookstalls (17), the only commoner subjects being the London raids and R.A.F. exploits. This feeling also comes out strongly in the postal censorship: “Fury against the Germans is strongly expressed, and there are many demands for either indiscriminate bombing or invasion of that country” (14). At the same time, Regional Information Officers record little on the subject - suggesting that the feeling is common mainly among the lower levels of the people, while thinking people are satisfied with the official policy. The strength of the feeling must however be recognised.

3. Alarmist and despondent talk [?503]

The alarmist stories of damage to London spread by refugees are declining. “At first, they were led to do this so as to excuse and justify their flight from London, as the papers were speaking each day of their marvellous courage in staying put. But as the number of refugees swelled - it is now practically impossible to get a room anywhere within 70 miles of London - the need for self-justification vanished, and alarmist stories have become much less conspicuous” (16). Wild talk of devastation by refugees is still reported from Yeovil (7c) and Leeds (2d).

4. Rumours [?153]

Rumour has been “at a moderate level this week, tending to decrease towards the end of the week” (16). At only two out of 50 bookstalls has an increase been noted (17). Exaggerated versions of raid damage (apart from those spread by refugees) still circulate (7d, 18). The striking rumours have been:-

  1. that Reginald Foort, Charlie King, Charlie Kunz, or some other popular musician, has been interned for signalling to the enemy through the medium of broadcast dance tunes. This rumour appears to be based directly on the theme of the George Formby film “Let George do it” generally released this week (16, 19).

  2. that the Germans have been dropping a poisoned cobweb substance from planes (19). This rumour is rapidly dying.

  3. that invasion has been attempted and failed (16). This also is declining, though it is “still surprisingly wide-spread in the Northern region” (1e), and is mentioned in Surrey (15).

  4. Haw Haw rumours of places bombed or to be bombed (19).

  5. That a “high official has said the war will probably be over by Christmas” (16).

5. Anti-Semitism [?17]

At the beginning of the bombing of London, anti-Semitism was seen both in the East End, particularly in certain shelters, and in areas receiving evacuees. The postal censorship at Reading records it in Oxford. “The Jews are well up in the front of the evacuees as usual” (14). More detailed studies showed that the feeling was out of all proportion to the Jews arousing it (16), and it is no longer on the increase (16). Further, there was no marked difference in behaviour between Jews and cockneys; the Jews were, however, more conspicuous for obvious reasons (16). It is reported that “in London bad bombing is sometimes followed by an increase in anti-Semitism - for example in the Kilburn area at the end of last week” (16).


1. Air raids .

(a) General reactions [?721]

Raids continue to be faced bravely. They are the main subjects of comment both in postal intercepts (14) and in bookstall conversations (17). The typical picture is shown in a report from Maidstone: “The effects of Friday's very bitter raid when 366 many were killed and more rendered homeless makes me say morale here is very high despite signs of physical exhaustion. Neighbourly generosity has been much in evidence” (20). “The degree of nervous shock among those rendered homeless is extremely small. Many overcome the blow apparently by telling exciting tales of what happened and of their escape. Those who are depressed are so largely because of loved ones killed or injured” (16). “Often Union Jacks, pictures of the King and Queen, heather, and horseshoes are put up on damaged property” (16).

The overdrawn picture of “stricken London” painted by the papers has now been partially corrected, as a result of the recent tour of London by provincial journalists, but not before the overdrawn picture had had one beneficial effect. The provinces had been prepared for the very worst and their attitude may be summed up in the phrase “if London can take it, so can we”. From Dundee comes the sentiment - “if only they would give us a turn, they might give London a night's rest” (18).

“A new and interesting tendency is that, in heavily raided areas, feelings have tended to become much more localised. Whereas two weeks ago, a raid on London upset the whole of London, to-day Streatham or Stepney scarcely worry at all if there have been a great many bombs dropped on Shoreditch or Lewisham” (16). Further, “two or three calm nights in one area send morale right up in that area” (16).

Landmines are “still much discussed and exaggerations of their effects are common” (16, 22). The following is typical: “Here at Greenford the “Load of Hay” Inn was demolished by a landmine. Another totally demolished 6 houses just off Western Avenue. But as I write, this cinema (the Granada) is still quite full, so the people here do not seem unduly disturbed. A few have left the town, but refugees from other districts have made up their number” (20). “Landmines are said to have been dropped round Willesden, and last week some people coming out of a cinema thought one was a parachutist, and rushed towards it with dire results” (21). The report goes on to ask for a public announcement, but there are apparently security reasons preventing this, and the knowledge of mines has been widely spread by police and wardens so that such a mistake is unlikely to recur. At the same time, the absence of mention of the mines in the press and on the radio is said to be “reawakening a general suspicion about air raid and other news” (16).

(b) Attitude to Aerial Defence [?13]

The presence or absence of an A.A. barrage and obvious fighter defences contributes much to the attitude to bombing adopted by the public. A report from Luton says: “It is the dropping of bombs without any retaliation by gunfire which is getting on people's nerves; one woman down from London told me she felt far safer in London with the guns going off than she does here “hearing German planes come and go as they please” (4a). Again from Bristol: “A large scale air-battle over Bristol had a remarkably stimulating effect on the thousands who watched the enemy planes being routed by our fighters” (7a). From Edinburgh comes the following report: “Edinburgh has had raids by single bombers during the last two nights, and many are still unaware of the difficulties in dealing with night raiders. The absence of A.A. fire is commented on with indignation. Parents are alarmed at what they consider to be a failure to sound warnings in time (the night before last there was no warning, and last night the warning followed a few minutes after a bomb). It might be wise to make a special explanatory statement on the comparative absence of A.A. fire and fighters to the Scottish public, which has so far suffered comparatively little” (11a).

The increasing barrage in London is universally welcomed, and some actually complained of insomnia on Sunday night when both barrage and bombs were missing (23).

(c) Sleep [?1131]

Detailed studies on sleep in air raids have been made by the War-time Social Survey (22) and Mass Observation (16). Their conclusions may be summarised thus:-

“From September 12th to October 3rd, the number of people who got no sleep at all has fallen from 31% to 3%. Approximately 2/3 of Londoners are now probably getting more than 4 hours sleep, while 1/3 are getting less than 4 hours sleep. In the poorer areas, for example Shoreditch, the figures are less satisfactory - 1/2 getting less than 4 hours sleep, and only 21% getting more than 6 hours sleep. The factors which enable people to get more than 6 hours sleep are first a sense of security, and secondly proper beds or mattresses and bedding. These two are of approximately equal importance. Assuming 71/2 hours to be the minimum period of combined sleep and rest which is compatible with health over a long period, 71% of the people of Shoreditch are getting too little of both. Misplaced chivalry is causing children (who sleep anywhere) and women (who can sleep during the day) to be given the best places for sleeping, while men (who have to work during the day) are still often left standing or sitting all night.”

(d) Shelters [?1200]

A detailed study on shelters has been made by Mass Observation (16). A few of the main points which emerge are as follows:-

“In early days of intensive bombing of London, the number of people going to outside shelters or Anderson shelters increased. It has now decreased again, and on September 26th, 71% slept in their own homes, 25% in their own shelters, and 4% * in public shelters. The majority of those who stayed at home slept either on their ground floors or in their basements. (A repeat investigation on September 26th gave a similar result.) Anderson shelters were popular mainly because of their nearness to home, and their homeliness. Brick shelters are still much the most unpopular type, though in the East End their popularity is on the increase - perhaps because they are relatively substantial compared with the homes of the people themselves. The objections to brick shelters are mainly on the grounds that they are no better than ordinary houses. Trench shelters are popular, mainly because they are “underground” and therefore, people think, safer. Tubes are considered completely safe. The absence of sound is welcomed. Those who do not use them give as their reasons, fear of panic and fear of being buried. The most popular reason for staying at home was that “you were not safe anywhere.” People who use shelters at night tend to do so regularly and to use the same one. They take some bedding with them, but little food, and little to occupy their time.

(e) Ear plugs [?240]

Only 10% of those who have bought or made ear plugs use them (16). They are usually given up because the person feels shut off from the world, or because of physical discomfort. Those who use them regularly are enthusiastic. In view of the free distribution of plugs now in progress, it would seem that the public needs urging to give the plugs a fair trial if (but only if) sleep is not obtained without them.

(f) Evacuation and the return of evacuees [?625]

A preliminary report of a detailed study by Mass Observation (16) made in 50 towns and hamlets around London, with special reference to Oxford and Burford reveals the following points:-

“The evacuees have been much more warmly received this time (as compared with a year ago). Not only were the hosts more sympathetic, but the evacuees were glad to be out of the heavily raided areas. Nevertheless there is friction between adults. There is much profiteering, especially in hotels and boarding houses. There is much less talk of the dirtiness of the evacuees. Indeed, in some places, they are very favourably compared with the last lot (though in fact there is little difference). The Billeting Officers are much less criticised this time than last time. The present relatively satisfactory situation needs watching, and above all careful arrangements are needed in each home as that the evacuees and hosts do not “get on each others nerves” as time goes on.

There is a steady trickle of people returning to London, including the East End. The reasons given are:- dislike of being away from home and familiar surroundings, the decline in raids in London, the barrage makes it easier to stick London, difficulty in getting good billets, and difficulties with hosts. Those returning are mostly young people, but not children.”

A study by the Social Survey (22) shows that the elderly and infirm need (and want) special consideration in raids and evacuation.

(g) Need for Information Bureaux [?23]

Reports from social workers and intelligent observers in heavily raided areas stress the need for centralised bureaux to supply information and help to the homeless after air raids. A typical report says “There is difficulty here in obtaining the information needed by those who have lost their homes through bombing. Here in Maidstone one woman with several children was rendered homeless and destitute. She went to the Town Hall and was told that nothing could be done for her unless she went to the Ministry of Labour. These offices were closed during the raid, so in desperation she sought the help of the Kent Messenger newspaper; they promptly contacted the W.V.S. which rapidly came to the rescue ... if our morale is to remain high, the Authorities must act more quickly in giving help and information should a similar disaster hit the town.” (20). The report goes on to suggest an M.O.I. instructional film. The Maidstone woman's experience could be multiplied (and lengthened) endlessly by reports from the East End of London (16, 22). A careful study by the War-time Survey (22) in Shoreditch confirms the great need for more simple information as to what to do in specific difficulties. Information Bureaux have already been set up at some Town Halls in London boroughs, and the Citizen's Advice Bureaux continue to do valuable service, but more centres still appear needed.


1. Dakar and de Gaulle [?373]

The provinces, as reflected by reports from Regional Information Officers and Local Information Committees, indicate a violent reaction to the Dakar incident. A typical report comes in telegraphese from the Bury Information Committee: “Local opinion gravely disturbed by events. Another victory for evacuation. Another muddle, lowering still further our prestige. Whatever explanations may be forthcoming, DAKAR should have been taken. 369 The “kid gloves” are still on and people here are very much rattled and disgusted by this latest failure . Ethical distinction between Frenchmen and Free Frenchmen must not be allowed to interfere with War Effort . To win this war we must take the gloves off and fight . “Those who are not for us are against us.” Remember this and apply it.” (10a). The same types of report come from the Nottingham and Chesterfield Information Committees (3c), and the latter adds “it has been noticed that news of a success is attributed to military and naval sources, while news of a failure is attributed to the Ministry of Information,” thus once again demonstrating the Ministry's value as a scapegoat for the public. From Wales comes the report that the public remembers the stress placed on the importance of the capture of Dakar before it was attempted, and it is hoped that we will not neglect to take strong measures when the appropriate time comes (8b).

By contrast, London's public, fully occupied by their nightly blitzkrieg, have shown little interest in the whole matter. The same is true of the vast mass of largely inarticulate people throughout the country, as reflected by the postal censorship and Mass Observation. The week's postal censorship says “almost no mention of the Dakar incident, or of General de Gaulle” (14). “To the majority, Dakar is only a place somewhere in Africa which they have heard of now for the first time, so that it is of little real significance to most people ... Most working-class people regard de Gaulle as a Frenchman who is therefore of less importance than English personalities ... Women show a high degree of ignorance of the whole subject; a typical comment is “Oh, the Frenchmen, where is he now? He failed, didn't he?”” (16). From Reading, it is reported that “Dakar seems to interest the white collar man rather than the worker” (6b). Dakar is only mentioned twice as a subject of conversation at bookstalls (17).

The public reaction to the Dakar incident demonstrates certain important general principles. There is not one public opinion but several, and the cleavage is now much less on political lines than formerly. On the one hand, we have those who are acutely involved in war events, who are therefore little concerned with more remote happenings (in this case the Londoners). On the other hand, we have the vocal more intelligent sections of the provincial public (reflected by the reports from Regional Information Officers and Local Information Committees), and the great inarticulate mass whose thoughts and words only become apparent through the work of the postal censorship and Mass Observation. There is yet another cleavage - between men and women.

2. Cabinet Changes [?369]

The Cabinet changes have aroused “little spontaneous interest” (16), though what interest there is shows satisfaction. “The general opinion is that it is a good thing to have Morrison at the Home Office. Not much regret at Chamberlain's resignation. There is much discussion on Anderson's transfer. Has he been promoted or demoted?” (24, Wolsey, factory, Leicester). In Manchester “the first reaction to the Cabinet changes is good. Public have lost confidence in Anderson and welcome Morrison. Duncan also popular. Most doubt about promotion of Sir Kingsley Wood” (10d). Wales is hopeful that Halifax “who has been living in a fool's paradise for years” will soon join Chamberlain (8d). Some regret at Chamberlain's departure is reported only from Trowbridge (7e) and Birmingham (9e). Bristol is naturally “delighted at the inclusion of Bevin in the War Cabinet” (7e), as he is a Bristol man. Cambridge notes “there is some increase in party consciousness as a result of the new appointments, and if Mr. Churchill takes over the leadership of the Conservative party this is likely to be further accentuated” (4f).

3. Sinking of Sea-vacuee Ship [?52]

This news was received “with a gasp of horror, particularly by women. It has appreciably strengthened hatred of the Germans” (16). In Scotland there was “a wave of horror and indignation, but surprisingly little comment after the first shock”(18). “Blame was sometimes attached to parents who let their children go” (16). A typical series of comments are reported from Leeds: “Why don't they print the passenger list? Why were there so few children aboard? Why were there so few passengers in so large a boat? It looks as if there must have been cargo aboard. Why are they letting rich people get out of the country?” (2b). The feeling about the matter has now died down, and up to the present no public reaction to the closure of the sea-vacuee scheme has been reported.

4. Japan and the Axis [?12]

“Absorption with home affairs, plus the difficulty many people have in understanding abstract foreign affairs, has resulted in the Axis-Japan pact having very little effect. It does not seem to change existing conditions at all” (16). Regional Information Officers confirm this statement. The public has failed to connect the pact with the United States embargo on exports of scrap metal to Japan. From Reading comes the following report: “People think Japan will not force the pace until compelled to do so by American pressure. An early announcement that the Burma Road will be reopened and that China will be given all the assistance we can spare is hoped for. Any further attempt at appeasement would certainly meet with a very hostile reception” (6f).

The Brenner meeting has created neither interest, alarm, nor despondency.

5. News Presentation [?67]

“There are persistent complaints that the news is too scanty and too general. Although it is generally regarded as accurate, it is criticised because it sometimes suppresses or tones down bad news, and does not tell us enough.” There is a strong demand for the naming of places raided in daylight and for exact figures of casualties, so as to discount rumours” (18). “There is some feeling in Leeds about the fact that official communiques no longer give the number of air raid casualties” (3d). The Chief Constable of Kent states: “Censorship continues to be accepted as necessary, but when the name of a place bombed is mentioned in the news it reduces speculation and anxiety, whereas a vague reference naturally leads to large numbers of unnecessary enquiries by relatives and friends.” (15).

As a result of intensive study of public reactions over the past 3 months, it is reported that “the prestige of the press, which has been steadily falling for a long time, has steadied up in the past week or two. This is partly because it has not been running any campaign alleged to be on the behalf of the public though actually not in sympathy with their actual feelings; partly because it actually has represented public feeling over shelters and care of the homeless; and partly because the general tone of the news has been good (the public often tend to blame the press for bad news).” (16).

[3] 4% is approximately equivalent to 250,000 people.

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