A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

352 354 3 355 4 356 5

Weekly Report by Home Intelligence
For internal circulation only

(From 12 noon Monday 14th October to 12 noon Monday 21st October, 1940)

NOTE : The figures in brackets refer to our sources of information. A list of these is given in the table at the end of this report.


1. General comments

Reports this week show a varying state of morale throughout the country; variations are also noticed among different groups of people in the same places. In Yorkshire, although confidence is strong, there is an “almost dangerous complacency” (local Labour leader) (2b, 14 Leeds P.C.). This is attributed to the absence of raids in the area, and the unconcern of the great mass of people with matters abroad. The propaganda for “the island fortress” has succeeded almost too well (2b). In the same area intellectual people are said to be depressed because they do not see how bombing Germany can win the war for us, if bombing London cannot win it for the Nazis (2b).

In rural districts and in country market towns, there is little talk of the war (16).

The big provincial towns, which have been bombed, continue to show determination (9c, 14 Bristol P.C.). On the South coast there is no despondency but some lowering of morale, thought to be due to the cumulative effects of warnings, raids, prolonged tension, long hours of work, the coming of winter, and more indirectly the absence of any spectacular war success (6d).

A lowering of morale is also recorded in London (23). People say that the barrage seems weaker or at least ineffectual, and, although they are alright now, in a few months time there will be little left of London or its people (5g, 16, 23). This undercurrent of despondency is recorded in many parts, for example Gillingham, Catford and Lewisham (23). The depression is often shown by an inability to see any end to the bombing of London. As already reported, local variations of feeling occur within London, and these depend on the severity of the bombing in each area. Thus Streatham, Kilburn and Paddington have been very depressed, while Fulham has been relatively cheerful (16). A growing concern about London is recorded from the provinces (6f), and people are wondering whether the “new weapons” so frequently hinted at in the Press will really reduce the damage and casualties.

2. Speculation about the future (including peace aims)

Though there have been many press mentions of peace aims (25), the public have shown little interest in the matter this week (3f, 14 Inverness P.C.). Young people, however, are said to be anxious for an outline of peace aims, and to be assured that there will be no attempt to restore the “bad old days”; “they just laugh at Halifax's Crusade stuff - especially as he proceeded to close the Burma Road” (23). As we noted last week, people in heavily bombed areas tend to look at the present and not the future - “It doesn't do to look too far forward” (16).

There is neither fear nor expectation of invasion. The demand for reprisals continues to decline (8d, 16) and Beable's “bomb Berlin” posters have aroused little interest. There are, however, strongly worded demands that we should bomb the Rumanian oil wells (3f, 6f), and it is suggested that our hesitancy is due to fear of hurting international financial interests. People wonder also why we do not bomb Italy more heavily as the Italians are considered likely to “crack” easily (8d). There is criticism of the R.A.F's failure to raid Germany in bad weather, since this does not prevent the Germans raiding us (6f).

3. Rumours

Invasion rumours seem to have ceased, but rumours of excessive air-raid damage are still very prevalent (9h, 6d). There are several suggestions that listening to the German wireless is increasing, because the B.B.C. is off the air so much nowadays (3a, 14 Inverness P.C., 16). Haw Haw rumours of places bombed or to be bombed are still common (29, Pimlico, Willesden, Welwyn, Stevenage, Canterbury etc.), but in no case do they bear any relation to the actual material broadcast from Germany. Rumours are common that certain objects, such as reservoirs, serve to guide German planes, and the public asks why barrages are not concentrated at these points (8).

4. Alleged Fifth Column Activities .

The belief that black-out infringements are due to Fifth-Columnists is still prevalent, and penalties for the careless use of torches are widely approved (2b). There are still complaints that the lighting of cars and railways is unnecessarily bright and there is even some anxiety about the modified street lighting. Many people contrast the severity shown towards householders with the apparent leniency towards motorists.

5. Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is reported from many places to which refugees have gone (6b, 14 Portsmouth P.C., Edinburgh P.C., Inverness P.C., Leeds P.C., Reading P.C., 16). The Jews are accused of booking the best places, paying excessive prices, and buying up businesses outside London.


1. Air raids

(a) General reactions . While the public continues to accept raids as something which, if they cannot be cured, must be endured, there is, particularly in London, a growing undercurrent of anxiety about the probability of continuous raids throughout the winter (16, 23).

Help for those rendered homeless through raids is still incompletely organised. The first line of air-raid services - A.R.P., A.F.S., etc. - work admirably, but the second line has not received the same consideration. “Too many agencies are concerned in re-billeting, house repairs, compensation, evacuation, pensions, etc., and there is not enough co-ordination between them. What is really required is a new service - Air-raid Welfare” (23, Prof. Julian Huxley in a special report containing practical suggestions for the inauguration of such a service).

The expense of burying several members of one family is a very real problem in poor districts, despite the waiving of clergy's fees, etc. As a result, some relatives are refusing to claim bodies, whose burial thus becomes the responsibility of local authorities. The natural distress of relatives in these circumstances is increased by the fact that such burials are often made without coffins. Local Information Committees in London report “that public feeling would be greatly relieved if Local Authorities were empowered to make grants in certain cases to those who wish to bury their own dead” (5e).

(b) Sleep . The improvement noted last week in the amount of sleep people are getting continues. But it is noticeable that few women who might do so make any attempt to sleep during the day (22).

(c) Shelters . Shelter conditions are still a major problem, and although things are getting better, there are still many shelters, particularly in the London area, with unsatisfactory sanitary arrangements and general conditions (5e, 16, 23).

The strain of queuing up for shelters, particularly in wet weather, is noted in several areas, and people hope that it will be possible to allocate space to “regulars” where this is practicable (5d, 16).

There is great difficulty in keeping track of people who live in shelters, and the N.C.S.S. is having much trouble in including these people in the register of evacuated persons which they are compiling. This register is nevertheless “gathering momentum” gradually. “On this point poster publicity in shelters would be invaluable” (5d).

Interest in deep shelters has declined this week. There are, however, demands for them in certain quarters (3c), mainly in Scotland, though the agitation here “seems to be conducted by comparatively small groups” (18, 31). The heating and damp-proofing of Anderson shelters is still much discussed. Complaints about lack of shelters is reported from Milford Haven (14 Wales P.C.), St. Ives and Penzance (14 Bristol P.C.), Derby (3f) and in Ulster schools (13).

(d) Civil Defence Services . Reports show that Air-raid Wardens are beginning to feel the strain of their duties, although they themselves complain little. But the effect of long periods of duty is showing itself in “quarrelling and occasional violent scenes” (16, 23). It has also been pointed out that, although the rest of their equipment is free, no allowance is made for shoe leather, the expense of which is considerable. “In the poorer parts of Bristol, Wardens find the strain on their shoes something real” (23).

2. Evacuation

Planned and voluntary evacuation still continues on a large scale. As the number of evacuees grows, difficulties of smooth organisation increase and, “This week the result seems to be more chaotic than ever, especially in S.E. England. A striking trend seems to be increased ill-feeling towards the upper classes “who are accused of being the first to leave bombed districts, of taking the best places in reception areas, and of refusing to accommodate poorer evacuees” (16).

Other areas report “mixed feelings” towards evacuees (14 Wales P.C., 14 Bristol P.C.3f). Complaints come from both sides, and while “overcharging for billets” is one source of friction, the refusal of evacuees “to help in the house” is another (14 Bristol, P.C.).

Overcrowding is still a big difficulty. It is reported from a large number of places, especially the Home Counties (4c, 6b, 8, 16, 23, 31).

There are complaints from the London Area about the working of the Government scheme of private assisted evacuation, as many old and infirm people are precluded from it by their inability to look for their own billets. This acts as a deterrent to families who refuse to leave dependent relatives behind. Another brake on the process is the lack of hostels in London where the working members of a family may live (5e).

Many unmarried women clerks and shop assistants are leaving their jobs, and are arriving as evacuees in the Eastern region. Some are reported as saying untruthfully, that they have been bombed out of their homes or businesses, and are therefore given free accommodation by the billeting officer. They cannot all be absorbed into local trade, and apply for Unemployment Benefit, or for help from the U.A.B. or P.A.C. (4c).

3. Health

Considerable anxiety has been shown both in the medical and lay press about the possibility of serious epidemics in shelters. “Unless effective measures are promptly taken, we foresee that with the approach of winter contagious and infectious diseases may well prove more devastating than the blitzkrieg” (British Medical Journal). Illnesses attributed by the public to “time spent in shelters” are reported from several areas; those mentioned include paratyphoid, typhoid, scarlet fever, and throat troubles (14 Manchester P.C.). Other diseases which the medical press indicate as dangerous are influenza, pneumonia, diphtheria, poliomyelitis, dysentery, and cerebro-spinal fever. Experts point out that the whole population can easily be immunised against diphtheria and the typhoid group; further, the treatment of sore throats, influenza, pneumonia and cerebro-spinal fever is likely to be much more satisfactory than it used to be, thanks to the new drug, M. & B.693, but institutional care, presumably outside London, will certainly be needed for all severe cases. A serious effect on morale may be produced when deep shelterers discover that they are in greater danger from disease than from bombs, since it is likely that the people who use deep shelters and tubes are those with the poorest morale. The remedies for the situation which have been advocated in the Press are as follows:

  1. Compulsory evacuation of all children, non-essential women, and old people. Prof. M. Greenwood in the Times stresses particularly the value of dispersal. This must be associated with communal feeding and hostel arrangements for those who remain,

  2. Compulsory immunisation against diphtheria and typhoid.

  3. Relief in the country for London's workers and A.R.P. workers at the rate of 2 days and 3 nights per fortnight, as a minimum. (This is strongly stressed in Prof. Huxley's report.)

  4. In shelters a minimum of 600 cubic feet of air per sleeper, and proper ventilation.

  5. Proper sanitary arrangements in shelters.

  6. Medical inspection of entrants to shelters, and the isolation of those with temperatures, bad throats, and rashes.

Another shelter danger which is causing public anxiety is the presence of many chronic tuberculosis cases in public shelters. Such cases are often ambulatory and are therefore discharged from hospital when other patients are evacuated (5e). Expert opinion says the close contact between such patients and young children is the most important cause of miliary tuberculosis, a universally fatal disease in children.

4. Civilians and the Services . A good many complaints have been made because the rations allowed to soldiers are so large compared with those of the civilians on whom they are billeted. (1a, 3f, 5e, 23).


1. Official Communiqués

There have been many complaints about the delay of the Admiralty in announcing the Mediterranean successes, and in contradicting Nazi claims (1c, 3f, 9c, 16). There is also some bewilderment about the alleged naval battle off the Isle of Wight, which was announced by the Germans and reported in the London papers, but neither confirmed nor denied officially (12, 16).

Criticism and concern about official news of aerial warfare and bombing is reported. The fact that German losses are now approximating to those of the British has been realised by the public and they are asking for an explanation; this they would like to come from Joubert or Sinclair (3f, 3l).

There are still many comments of the vague announcements of the effects of bombing (9h). These excite both exaggeration and anxiety. It is described as illogical that Buckingham Palace should be named the day it is bombed, while University College has to remain anonymous for a fortnight (23). In some places, where the local press announces that raids have produced little damage, anxiety is expressed because people fear that this will be a sign for the Germans to pay them another visit (15).

2. General de Gaulle .

The feeling about General de Gaulle and the Free Frenchmen is still unenthusiastic. The strong reaction to Dakar has died down (16), but some people are surprised and upset as they now think that the fault lay with the British Navy (3f).

3. Princess Elizabeth's speech

About two-thirds of people with whom this has been discussed had heard the speech. The main reaction was mild praise. The outstanding comments were first that the speech had been written for her and was not at all like a child talking, and secondly that her voice was very similar to that of her mother. Her excellent delivery was praised, but the stilted language she used was criticised as stereotyped (16, 23).

4. Attitude to political leaders .

A considerable decrease has been noticed in the amount of talk about Mr. Churchill. At one Postal Censorship Centre he is mentioned only one tenth as much as formerly, though, with one exception, all the remarks were favourable (14 Inverness P.C.). The Censor comments that “whereas in June people seemed to feel that only Churchill stood between them and disaster, now the ordinary people of England have shown that they too could play just as stubborn and important a part. His tremendous popularity seems also to have been a little reduced by Dakar and its not altogether satisfactory explanation.”

There is a growing feeling against Lord Halifax; this has appeared without any fanning by the press (14 Inverness P.C., Edinburgh P.C., Manchester P.C., Leeds P.C.). He is regarded as “not strong enough for the job”, “only fit to be a bishop”, “an obstacle to improved relations with Russia”, and “the cause of our feeble policy in the Balkans, Near East and Far East.”

5. The Near East and the Far East

The mass of people are said to be worrying little about events in these areas, but the “white-collared classes” and the more intellectual people are becoming increasingly perplexed (8, 16). People want to know whether they may look forward to a successful issue in Egypt, or whether they must expect another Somaliland (6b, 8). Some people hope we shall soon bomb the Rumanian oil wells and take aggressive measures against Syria (1a, 3f, 6f). The sale of oil by British, Dutch and American firms to the Japanese is also criticised (6f).

6. Broadcasting

Evening listening has certainly decreased, but the extent of this decrease is not yet known. The causes given by listeners are: poor reception; fear that the radio may hide the sirens, and the sounds of planes, bombs, and guns; the need for constant alertness; late arrival at home; earlier bedtime; and lack of radio in shelters. Many people misunderstand why the B.B.C. fades or goes off the air during raids (29).

There are still complaints that fresh items of news do not get first place in news bulletins (8), and it is suggested that Sunday bulletins might be more comprehensive and not shorter than those on weekdays, as people have more leisure on Sundays (8).

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