A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Sunday, 19th May and Monday, 20th May


There has been an increase of optimism since Friday and Saturday. The public is still somewhat depressed but there are no signs that determination is shaken. Information goes to show that opinion is labile, any straws of good news are seized and the press of Sunday and today has on the whole been less gloomy than on Saturday. The impression is gained that there is as yet no fundamental realisation that the fight is for life, although many people have envisaged the possibilities of invasion. “We shall be able to take it as a common expression. Still the phrase is heard on all sides “We shall win the last battle”.

Reports show that many women are frightened and that there is a general desire for more concrete proposals and indeed orders about what the public should do. There is a good deal of criticism in this connection on two points:

  1. the machinery for registering mechanics at aircraft factories and Labour Exchanges was not ready when the applications began to be made.

  2. that the Local Defence Volunteer Corps has not become organised beyond the receiving of applications.

There is also criticism from two or three regions that Government factories are not working at full pressure because material is not available.

Village and country morale continues to be higher than urban morale chiefly because there is less realisation of the dangers.


1. Mr. Duff Cooper. Very well received. Detailed criticisms were made but overwhelmingly people thought the two broadcasts were ‘a very good idea’, ‘first rate’, ‘shows we're being taken notice of’, ‘just what we want’. These comments are in general line with interviews on another subject which show that opinion is anxious for an interpretation of news.

2. The Prime Minister. All comments are favourable. ‘a good fighting speech’, ‘makes you feel we're taken into his confidence’, ‘he's not hiding things’. There does not seem to be, however, any general realisation that the Prime Minister's speech had any extremely grave import.


The number of rumours has increased considerably since Friday although they are still not as widespread as in September. Several need contradiction, e.g. that Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose have gone to Canada, that parachutists have landed in specified areas, that Italy bombed Paris last night.

There are several scares about Fifth Column agents, particularly in relation to vulnerable points for sabotage. Churchill went to France to cheer Reynaud who is in tears. Italy is already marching through Switzerland. The incendiary bombs dropped near Canterbury were aimed at a secret factory in the woods. Haw Haw is sending secret messages to the Fifth Column by code words in wireless talks.


The appointment is taken on trust and generally welcomed. Nowhere does it seem to be felt that the appointment indicated bad leadership. The only criticism is on account of Weygand's age.



‘Profound disappointment’. ‘We're always too late’. Violent realisation that the Maginot Line did not, in fact, extend to the Channel. Churchill's speech received more seriously than elsewhere. Appeal to “faith in God” considered to be ominous.

Tunbridge Wells.

Medway towns fully recognise their peril. Resigned. On the whole opinion ‘encouraged and more determined’.


Growing resentment against Italians. ‘If Italy became an enemy resentment would turn to action’. Churchill's frankness about the possibility of being raided appreciated. ‘All are glad Bevin is in the Government’. ‘A mood of belligerency and resolve’. Special reports indicate that ‘subversive elements’ and pacifist statements are on the decline and this is coupled with a new sense of responsibility among the middle classes and the intelligentsis. Surveys of working-class opinion in the East End seem to indicate that there is a good deal less realisation of the danger among working-class people. A Lambeth pub-keeper with an extensive clientele reports that ‘tails are up’. ‘They'll never get here but if they do we'll show them’.

Another pub-keeper with a more educated clientele sends in a special report in which he describes general criticism: ‘They've been too dull and slow’ (referring to the late Government). He reports a fighting spirit but emphasises that there is no talk of defeat; what they want is retaliation.


General satisfaction with the new Government. The special edition of a local newspaper announcing on Saturday ‘Maginot Line broken’ had a very bad effect. Very bitter feeling about C.Os. and strong antipathy to female aliens. ‘Shut up the lot’.


1. Mr. Duff Cooper's broadcasts should be continued. It is considered the duty of a Minister of Information to interpret the news or deliberately to delegate that responsibility to someone else.

2. The Princesses should appear in public with careful publicity attached.

3. The public should be told that the situation in Eire is not being ignored. (There is a general feeling that Fifth Column in Eire is a great danger).

4. C.Os. may increasingly become the object of antagonism which may develop in an ugly way. The public should be told that C.Os. do not make good soldiers and are therefore not wanted in the Army. Their small and decreasing number should be emphasised.

5. There is a general feeling of alarm that Fifth Column members may become armed through the L.D.V.C.

6. The balloon barrage was apparently ineffective over Hamburg and Bremen. What is the moral for our own defences?

7. There is perpetual criticism in general and in detail about B.B.C. news broadcasts. In particular it is felt that minor new stories about small groups of Messerschmitts etcetera follow inappropriately after important statements on the greatest battle in the history of the world, etc. Many reports criticise the way in which the programmes were interrupted for Roosevelt's speech. The announcement created considerable alarm. (There is some danger of Wolf, Wolf here).

8. The opinion has been expressed in various quarters that some fundamental statement on a post-war social policy coming from ‘the new Government’ would have an effect in rallying the extreme Left-Wing section of youth organisations (16-20). Youth is ‘waiting for a sign’ and there are indications that young people will continue to withhold co-operation until they get some assurance that the future is being thought about in a constructive way. Reports show that young people are not content with ‘We are fighting for our lives; nothing else matters’. Eden is still an acceptable figure among many youth organisations and observations on his broadcast showed that it was very well received. Failing the Prime Minister he would be a welcome substitute for such a statement.


20th May, 1940

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