A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


No. 22
Tuesday, 11th June 1940 .


The grave events of the past 24 hours have occurred so rapidly that not all of them have influenced public feeling. The evacuation of Narvik and the British Naval losses associated with this have passed almost unnoticed in the stronger reactions aroused by Italy's entry into the war and the evacuation of Paris by Government Departments.

Nowhere has the entry of Italy created any surprise. Among the majority of the population the feelings are militant anger, disgust, bitterness and even relief. Contempt for the Italian fighting qualities is very common and many people hope that the Allies will take the offensive against their new enemy rather than wait for Mussolini to attack. The more thoughtful people are more doubtful. They see the intervention of Italy as an added difficulty and describe the view that Italy is a new liability to Germany as “wishful thinking”. Further, many of them personally like Italy and the Italians. The public do not expect set-backs in military or naval actions against Italy. If these are to be anticipated it is essential that they should be prepared for them.

Two views are apparent among the public about the evacuation of the Government staffs from Paris. Some people remember their precautionary evacuation in the last war, others point out that evacuation of a Government has in the past few weeks often proved to be a preliminary to military collapse. There is no anti-French feeling reported, but rather a wave of sympathy for the people who have received a stab in the back in addition to having to fight “the Battle of France”.

The evacuation of Narvik is not treated as a serious matter by the public. They feel that it was of little use anyway. On the other hand, several reports point out that Admiralty communiqués suggested Admiralty ignorance at the details of the British losses and some people are disturbed that the German news “got in first”. They are also surprised at the reappearance of the Gneisenau.

The great majority of the public welcomed Duff Cooper's speech and appreciated his “dressing down” of Italy. A small and intellectual minority were very critical of the big drums. Many people stayed up to listen to Roosevelt hoping that his “important announcement” would be a declaration of war. Their feelings when this did not come were those of mild disappointment as they appear to have known that their hopes were really wishes.




11.6.40 .

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Duff Cooper received with great enthusiasm “the plainest and bravest speaker we have”. Satisfaction at dressing down of Mussolini. Considerable evacuation of well-to-do children so that mothers may take jobs.

CARDIFF (Wales) D.C's speech widely commended. Severe criticism of 6 p.m. news. Very strong anti-Italian feeling. Many windows broken in South Wales valleys. Welcome of evacuees continues very good. Mr. Hibberd is much missed by public.

BELFAST (Northern Ireland) D.C's speech “courageous” but did not wholly dispel anxiety. Roosevelt did not make deep impression. Some anti-Italian demonstrations in Belfast. British Legion organising plans for tracing rumours to source and notifying police. General enthusiasm for National Savings Week.

MANCHESTER (North Western) Surprising numbers stayed up for Roosevelt. General comment “there was little he could do”.

BRISTOL (South Western) Roosevelt said “all that was possible”. Italian cafe smashed at Exeter. Weymouth and Dorchester very depressed about British Naval losses.

LEEDS (North Eastern) Commonest emotion at the moment is sympathy for France. In Leeds disgust at dilatory way L.D.V. is being armed. Some anti-Chamberlain feeling.

EDINBURGH (Scotland) D.C's speech “magnificent”. Only critics were “a few frosted academics who do not like beating the big drum”. Looting of Italian shops due rather to hooliganism than to anti-Italian feeling. This will have to be watched for fear of its repetition in air raids. A big wave of sympathy for France, with some comparisons of our lack of preparedness.

NEWCASTLE (Northern) D.C. especially popular among working-classes. He is developing a “fan” following. Roosevelt listened to by many; they liked his speech but were disappointed at no declaration of war. Two centres report voluntary evacuation of wealthier classes. Ice-cream shops wrecked at Ashington and Middlesborough.

READING (Southern) Hope widely expressed that Allies will take the initiative against Italy. Some worry at efficacy of R.A.F. due to falling off of number of enemy air losses reported. Furious dissatisfaction of men in one Aircraft firm owing to their being kept on short time from lack of raw materials. The men telegraphed Lord Beaverbrook a fortnight ago and their telegram has not been answered. P.P.U. activities considerably less. C.O's continue unpopular.

BIRMINGHAM (Midland) D.C's speech made profound impression, but people demand early positive action against Italy to take their measure and to prevent them getting their tails up.

CAMBRIDGE (Eastern) Mystification and anxiety at lateness of Admiralty news of naval disasters at Narvik, particularly as Admiralty itself appeared to have been in the dark.

TUNBRIDGE WELLS (South Eastern) Roosevelt “a fine piece of oratory but what did it all amount to”. Disappointment at nothing more than a promise. D.C's speech “most impressive and forceful statement he has made yet”. Only criticism is it belittled significance of Italy rather too much. On the whole the effect was extremely reassuring. Voluntary evacuation from Ramsgate, Thanet, Dover and Folkestone now practically complete. Only essential workers remain.

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Main subjects of public interest are Italy (see general report) and evacuation. People disturbed by mysterious Admiralty reports of Naval Battle and losses and annoyed that German bulletin was out first. D.C's speech in the main warmly approved; critics however were equally warm. Mothers were only concerned about evacuation. Large volumes of correspondence containing accounts of defeatist talk “we'll be as well off under Hitler” have been received by the Daily Mail from all parts of England. The letter-writers express indignation at the commonness of these remarks. In Soho demonstrations were on a very small scale only though there were many public sight-seers. Police kept the crowds well under control though there were some broken windows. Evacuation - In Gillingham, Chatham, Gravesend and Rochester parents are refusing to allow their children to go to Wales for fear they should be compulsorily evacuated to Canada and the Dominions from there. In Richmond there have been a number of enquiries about the possibility of evacuation of children and adolescents to Canada and the Dominions. There is more evidence that compulsory evacuation would be accepted by many people in good grace. Paddington, Islington, Finsbury, Westminster and North Kensington report that public would welcome a country Nursery School scheme for children under five. Housing Estate Managers support this view and are extremely anxious as large numbers of young children on many estates may be a cause for parental panic in air raids. Motorists in Chatham area report extreme difficulty in finding the way as the public are patriotically obstructive.

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