A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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(Submitted Saturday 16th November, 1940)

Observers sent to Coventry on Fri. Nov. 15th reported:

1) The shock effect was greater in Coventry than in the East End or any other bombed area previously studied. This was partly due to the concentrated nature of the damage and to extreme dislocation of services, partly to the small size of the town which meant that many people were directly or indirectly involved. The considerable proportion of imported labour and the fact that Coventry was economically flourishing contributed to this effect.

2) During Friday there was great depression, a widespread feeling of impotence and many open signs of hysteria. “This is the end of Coventry” expressed the general feeling. Many people tried to leave the city before darkness fell. A quiet night followed by a fine morning changed the atmosphere for the better.

3) There was very little grumbling even about the inadequacies of shelters and in the town itself observers found no anti-war feeling. There was little recrimination or blame.

4) There was admiration for the Civil Defence services. A.A. defences were considered good, although inadequate and there was a strong rumour of severe shortage of ammunition.

5) There were many strongly exaggerated rumours about casualties and damage which quickly spread to the surrounding countryside. They were increased by the lack of press and radio news. Many radio sets were put out of commission and there was inadequate distribution of newspapers.

6) The belief that this was a reprisal raid was general and as a result there was no demand for reprisals on our part, instead a fear of them was expressed. At the same time, after the first shock had worn off, there was evidence of a feeling which has been growing generally, of revenge and ruthlessness after the war..

Arising out of these observations certain action points emerged. They would seem of general application in countering shock and aiding recovery in heavily bombed towns. The rehabilitation of a bombed town is partly dependent upon the speed with which civilian morale can be restored. Whereas the methods for dealing with the immediate material consequences of the raid are efficient and speedy the apparatus for dealing with the human problems raised is undeveloped, and there is an inadequate organisation for attending to the problem of ‘civilian morale’.

1) Mobile canteens, army kitchens and communal feeding . Arrangements should be made well beforehand for tackling the immediate necessities of food and hot drinks for the civilian population. The effect of well-stocked, well-placed canteens is spectacular.

2) Transport. Free transport for those who need it, either for work or evacuation, is essential.

3) News . To counter rumour and release people from personal preoccupations, every effort should be made to supply news, either by assisting newspaper deliveries, setting up loudspeaker vans or by special bulletins.

4) Information . Loudspeaker vans providing information and advice about casualties, Rest Centres, canteens etc. should move through the town.

5) Solidarity with the Government and Local Officials . The appearance of the King, the Bishop, the Mayor, the Home Secretary etc. strengthens morale and counters the feeling of helplessness. In speeches and talks emphasis should be put on the future, on rebuilding, replanning etc.

6) Care of the Homeless and Evacuation . Arrangements for the care of the homeless should be well publicised beforehand so that there is a minimum of confusion and ignorance during the time of crisis. Peripheral Rest Centres are a great advantage. Stores of clothing, especially boots, and warm blankets are invaluable. Centralised offices for assistance reduce criticism. Social workers skilled in directing evacuation should speedily be brought into the town in order to control the movement of evacuees and refugees. Attempts should be made to persuade those whose evacuation is not desired to remain and every encouragement given to them by means of transport and feeding facilities.

7) Minor Damage . Many people move away because of the discomfort of broken windows. The depression caused by minor damage could be mitigated by self help schemes prepared beforehand.

8) Perspective . For the country as a whole an account as factual as security permits should be given. The publicising of over estimations of morale cause suspicion and are contradicted by the reports of refugees.

Facts should be placed in perspective but, for the sake of morale in the bombed town, damage and casualties should not be unduly minimised.

Home Intelligence .

19th November, 1940 .

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