A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Saturday, 18th May, 1940.

During the course of this afternoon a brief survey of public opinion was made in London and in the regions (with the exception of Newcastle where the telephone was out of order).

The opinions expressed from the Regions were, of course, those of single individuals, and may therefore be biased in certain respects. But the consensus of opinions gathered both outside and inside London shows marked unanimity upon the major points.

The facts which most clearly emerge are that people are rather more depressed than frightened by the trend of events and that there seems to be confidence in the ultimate victory of the Allies. Nevertheless the gravity of the situation is generally realised.

There is a strong and widely expressed desire for definite instructions to be issued by the Government about what people could or should do to help the country and themselves at the present time. The feeling is that they would like to be disciplined, and would be glad to be given some precise duty or occupation to carry out.

The following is a brief summary of Regional opinion:


Morale is on the whole fairly good, chiefly because everyone is working full-time. The new phase of the war and the realisation of facts hitherto unfaced has stiffened resistance.

No rumours are reported.

The campaign of open-air meetings put into effect by the Ministry is having a good response, and there have been no interruptions.


This morning there was optimism over the news, but there was some tension in Clacton and Ipswich over the re-evacuation order. There was also apprehension in Cambridge about troop movements, which were said to be for the purpose of combating a parachute raid. In the Chelmsford area there were rumours of parachute troops having landed, and from the same place it was said that there had been bombing at Harwich. Similar rumours and apprehensions were reported from the Kings Lynn area.

People would like more explanation on the radio about the military situation. “Onlooker” is considered too ‘fatherly’.


People are more depressed than frightened, though fear seems to be growing. The opinion is generally expressed that it would be a good thing on this account if the Prime Minister were to broadcast in a day or two.

No rumours are reported from this Region.


Although there seems to be a good deal of depression, people seem to be less frightened than angry. The way in which the news is announced by the B.B.C. is considered to account for some unnecessary alarm, and it is suggested that a reassuring personality such as Mr. Duff Cooper or Mr. Eden should give a short talk every evening during , but not after the news.

A rumour which is given general currency is that there is a large Fifth Column nucleus of German tourists in Eire.


People are more bewildered and worried than they were yesterday, and would welcome instructions about what to do or how to act, providing these were of a definite nature. The point is made that Government speakers on the wireless would have a greater response if their appeals were directed to backing up the Services rather than the Government, which is much less of a reality to most people than the Navy, the Army or the Air Force.


The public is not so much frightened as depressed. Today for the first time the news seems to be bringing home to a good many people the real gravity of the situation. The majority in this area ignored the Government's appeal to treat Whitsun Bank Holiday as an ordinary day.

The public would definitely welcome some sort of instructions about what they are expected to do in the present state of crisis. They would, in fact, like to be disciplined .

Rumours in this area are confined to exaggerated apprehensions about refugees arriving in great numbers.


Public morale has been shaken by recent events, particularly in Bristol. In Gloucestershire the news has awakened people; everywhere there is determination to win and a realisation that our backs are against the wall.

There are many evidences of rumours in this region. At Gloucester aviation works it is rumoured that all men up to 36 are to be mobilised at once.. At Exeter there has been a large water main burst and rumour has it that sabotage is responsible. Many rumours of air-raids occur from time to time; one has is that all areas on the South East coast will be raided to drive people over to the South West where they can be bombed collectively. At Gloucester people are saying we are not making enough aeroplanes as there is not enough material at the two aeroplane factories there to provide full-time work.

People would prefer to know all the news, even if it is bad, and criticise the B.B.C. news bulletins as having too little detail in them. They want German claims denied immediately. Exeter says: “Bad news should be dressed up”. Plymouth, Exeter, Bristol and other towns are asking when the casualty lists are coming out. They suspect the numbers are so large that the Government dare not divulge them. Questions are also asked about how soon the Local Defence Volunteer Corps can act and why more enemy aliens are not interned.


People do not seem to be frightened but are certainly more depressed than yesterday. General Gamelin's message has helped to account for this. Nevertheless confidence is expressed everywhere in an Allied victory. Most people seem to be prepared for the news to be temporarily worse during the coming weeks.

There was a persistent rumour on Thursday last that Italy had entered the war on the side of Germany.


The public are undoubtedly more depressed than yesterday, but at the same time express confidence. The main sentiment seems to be that though we always lose the first battle, we always win the last one. (This point was stressed also by Mass Observation's survey made in London during the early afternoon). Most people seem to be prepared for worse news to come but expect that this will be only temporary.

Observations made today in London largely confirm the trends of opinion expressed in the Regions. The views or working-class people seemed to be on the whole rather more optimistic than those of other classes. Though there is definite apprehension everywhere, and though the seriousness of the situation seems to be fully appreciated, there is also a feeling of confidence.


18th May, 1940.

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