A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


No. 13
Friday, 31st May, 1940


Morale has, if anything, improved since yesterday. This is mainly due to relatively optimistic press reports about the B.E.F. (News Chronicle: “Thousands of B.E.F. Men Successfully Withdrawn from Trap”. Express: “Tens of Thousands Safely Home Already”. Mirror: “Navy Fight for B.E.F. - Thousands Home”) Only the Herald is relatively pessimistic. It is also due to the fact that the public has largely recovered from the original shock of the news.

There is a general calmness, allied with a new feeling of determination. “The mistakes of the past can now be remedied and we can start all over again.” Observers report a general resolution to throw all reserves of strength into the war effort at home, although misgivings are expressed about the comprehensiveness of our war effort.

A general realisation of the possibilities of invasion has come to the countryside with the barricading of roads, removing of signposts etc.

Anger at Leopold's betrayal is on the whole declining. and on the whole has found much more active expression in the press than in the conversation of ordinary people. Suspicion and mistrust has shifted from Leopold to “high quarters”, and our observers report some further anti-Chamberlain feeling (already remarked by R.I.O. in Reading yesterday). There is also some evidence that suspicion is beginning to attach itself to “Royalty”. The Duke of Windsor is frequently mentioned and note should be taken of the persistent rumours about members of the Royal Family being in Canada.

There is a tendency to criticise local arrangements for Home Defence, and in particular to accuse Home Defence personnel of being “too old”.


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31.5.40 .

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Doubt as to whether 7 day week will really increase production reported. Many think Navy will be able to deal with defence of our coastal towns. Nottingham Education Committee report worry over attitude of teachers to war.

Cardiff (Wales) Return of soldiers from France is converting impersonal attitude of population to one of anger and hatred. Doubt about wisdom of showing generally to women and children pictures of the “German way” of dealing with ambulances and hospitals. B.B.C. News thought to have increased recently in dignity and character. Industrial response to continuous work is excellent. Men agreed to shelve grievances. Port Talbot concerned about lack of visible anti-aircraft defence.

BELFAST (Northern Ireland) Energy of Northern Government in dealing with Home Defence welcomed and public uneasiness allayed. No undue alarm at threats of invasion.

MANCHESTER (North Western) Criticism of lack of equipment for B.E.F. strong. Local feeling that Italy will be frightened off by U.S. and U.S.S.R.

BRISTOL (South Western) Criticism of B.E.F. equipment strong and general worry about stores, etc. left behind is causing speculation. No anger against Belgian people but reaction against Leopold growing. Some discontent at sudden preparations for invasion as these are taken as a sign of muddling unpreparedness after 8 months of war.

LEEDS (North Eastern) More concern about B.E.F. than about general war progress. Much local anger against several Public Health officials for better rationing offences. Labour Exchanges report many cases of men in good jobs seeking war work at financial loss. Anti-Communist Economic League's meeting at Keighley well received.

EDINBURGH (Scotland) No resentment at lack of French counter attack. Little anxiety about Italy. Glasgow people ask why Unity Mitford is not interned. Talk on B.B.C. at 7.55 this morning criticised as unduly depressing when News following turned out not to be so bad.

NEWCASTLE (Northern) Evening paper reports of Gram Swing's broadcast about Italy caused great excitement in Newcastle, partially relieved later by London statements. Bank Managers appreciate broadcast statement about deposits, as some people had withdrawn these. Excitement at Scarborough following order to fishermen to join their drifters and sail for an unknown destination.

READING (Southern) A round robin from prominent Oxford people suggests B.B.C. News Bulletins be reduced to 2 per day. They feel serious loss of concentration and nervous energy in public from listening to repetition of same news. They also suggest evening papers be limited to one edition for same reason. Portsmouth criticises publication of inaccurate and unauthentic foreign news- e.g. casulaties in bombing of Rotterdam. Demand for stronger protection of aerodromes etc. Great criticism of B.B.C. appeal for 12 bore shot guns “Why not import many sub-machine guns from America?” From Parkeston Quay comes note “a good supply of public shelters lessens fear and improves morale.

BIRMINGHAM (Midland) Strong requests for cancelling of horse and greyhound racing and football, especially from Worcester local racing centre.

Kidderminster reports concern at German technicians in Sugar Beet factories and careless talk common about R.A.F. depot at Hartlebury. Request for more news about French war effort.

CAMBRIDGE (Eastern) West Norfolk concerned about alleged Fascist activities. Harwich, Clacton and Felixstowe are very worried about talk of civilian evacuation. If this is going to be done it is hoped that as much notice as possible will be given and announcement made reassuringly. Some people at Clacton are already moving their possessions. Some concern in St. Albans that Manager of North Metropolitan Electric Supply Co. is a German.

TUNBRIDGE WELLS (South Eastern) Bognor and Chichester continue active as holiday centres. East Kent less complacent. Horsham continues “smug”. Old ladies in Lewes are arranging for free baths for soldiers as a war service.

READING - additional note: Guildford: surprise at arrest of Borough Surveyor. His German wife is popular reason given. Some suspect him as source of Haw Haw rumours, about Guildford Cathedral and Camps.

LONDON Police report states people accept censorship now as necessary to the successful prosecution of the war. They would welcome an earlier release of news items. Last night's talk on evacuation not properly understood by working women. Should be in simpler language. Fulham suggests definite orders would be a relief, as women doubt the point of German attack and think children may be as safe here as anywhere else. Further evidence that low income class resents the sending of aliens to “comparative safety and leisure in the Isle of Man while our children, aged and infirm remain in this country.” Much Fifth Column feeling in Croydon and Purley. Most aliens accept new restrictions with good grace. Intelligent criticism of R.A.F. exploits too often repeated in the B.B.C. programmes. Working class appreciate them, however, and say “they give us something to hold on to”. All Housing Managers report people chiefly troubled by high prices. Camden Town women say B.B.C. Cooking courses likely to be too expensive and so do not listen to them. Meat rations not fully purchased in several poor districts. Euston Commissioner for Crown Lands office reports not sufficient shelters for her tenants Has own scheme for supplementing A.R.P. service among tenants does not fear panic. Greenwich, Fulham and Deptford women would be glad to take in refugees, especially unaccompanied children. Taxi men and other manual workers' trades declare they are behind the present Government. “We may have to fight Churchill after; but he's the man for us now”. Appreciate Bevin and Morrison in Government. All want some proof that E.P.B. really means to take over property and will not shelter the rich. Labour Exchanges report conditions normal; no excitement, no grievances. Voluntary basis of service still in operation.

CARDIFF (Postscript) The appointment of Lord Tredegar, whose Fascist sympathies are well known as Commander of the paratroops at Newport (Mon.) is causing great anxiety.




31st May, 1940.

Although the most prevalent of these is concerned with the imminent intervention of Italy in the war, and in many cases of them actually having joined the side of Germany already, there is very little evidence to suggest that this is anything more than an utterance of a possibility which is in many peoples' minds. The only suggestion which has so far been put forward for this news being authentic is the rather confused reference said to have been made to this subject on Saturday night in Raymond Gram Swing's broadcast from America. From the general prevalence of this rumour it seems that if in fact, Italy does go to war against us, this will cause no surprise; it is to be hoped therefore that the currency of this story may perhaps act as a buffer against the inevitable shock which the public will get if this does happen.

The invasion of Eire is also rumoured in a large number of places. This story seems to be gaining ground so rapidly that it seems desirable that some kind of announcement should be made about the preparations of the Government of Eire and of our Home Defences to withstand any such attack.

There has been no repetition today of the tension in Anglo-French relations which has featured consistently among the rumours of the last few days. The absence of this is due no doubt to the high tributes paid by the Press yesterday and today to the fighting qualities of the French Army in Flanders.

The usual number of rumours attributed to Haw Haw have appeared today, together with tales of nuns, parachutists and so on.

Among others which are less usual are stories that people in Margate and Ramsgate are taken to the Police Station if they are found to be without their Identity Cards, and that the Russians have invaded Germany.

These are the most credible of a large variety of wholly implausible stories.


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