A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


No. 14
Saturday, 1st June, 1940


The return of the B.E.F. has given great emotional relief and many observers report extreme elation succeeding the grave depression of the last few days. Reports from nearly all regions show that where men of the B.E.F. have returned home morale is stiffened.

In the present state of elation there is some danger that the general war situation is not being faced entirely realistically. There is however a strong undercurrent in conversation which shows that the evacuation must be regarded as a retreat.

The public mind is considerably occupied by practical evacuation considerations.

There is less rumour; evidence points to the anti-rumour campaign having had a successful beginning. Our special observers in the field report that interviewing has become more difficult; The police intervened on several occasions when their advice was sought on the bona fides of investigators.

There is evidence that listeners have considerably more confidence in broadcast news than they had two months ago (Listener Research survey).


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1st June, 1940.

1. Nottingham (North Midland) - Satisfaction at Home Defence Measures but public would like further details. Chatter bugs still too common. Strong steps against them asked for. Public still agitated about number of people with German connections at large who are contacting officials. Hotels and Bars unusually empty last night due to Defence barricades and questioning of motorists on outskirts of Nottingham.

2. Cardiff (Wales) - In Swansea and South West industrial areas feelings “a bit flat”, possibly due to excessive loyalist activities of “League of Swansea Loyalists” who have upset and frightened people. R.I.O. suggests visit of prominent politician to Swansea to rouse new hopes and enthusiasm. Feelings towards Italy mixed; some depressed at thought of another enemy, some pleased at our “firmer attitude”.

3. Belfast (Northern Ireland) - General opinion expects early entry of Italy into war. This has not seriously influenced morale. Attempt attributed to I.R.A. to bomb cinema in Londonderry regarded as justification for tightening home defence.

4. Manchester (North Western) - Over emotional pleasure at escape of B.E.F.. Stabilisation by a realistic ministerial broadcast is needed to crystalise the elation into resolution. Malcolm MacDonald's speech has had excellent effect in the schools. Penrith: “Some fear that lonely parts of Cumberland are good points for attack, local working class would like a much more active offensive”.

5. Bristol (South Western) - Returning troops circulate stories of our numerical inferiority in aeroplanes. Plymouth “Anxious but tough”. Penzance and West Cornwall “Uneasy about our retreat, no panic but many long faces”. Cheltenham and Gloucester “Removal of signposts has made people face possibility of invasion, demands for details of our Defence preparations”. Criticism common of local defence forces especially of twelve bore cartridges. In West Cornwall volunteers are known as the “Suicide Squad”. Penzance: “Permission to buy ammunition here is refused but six miles away it can be bought freely”. Trowbridge: “Anxiety over supposed Germany Colony at Staverton”.

6. Leeds (North Eastern) - Women wept at street corners in Leeds when returning B.E.F. marched through town. No air raids expected for a fortnight. Many have stopped carrying gas masks. Anti Alien feeling checked by authoritative police statement that all are watched. Suggested arming of police welcomed. Slightly stronger feeling that “those not on war work do no harm by taking a holiday”.

7. Edinburgh (Scotland) - Difficulties about overtime work are said to be fostered in Port of Glasgow and Greenock by people of Irish origin. Certain Trades Unions said to be encouraging men of military age to transfer to super-priority Government work. Approval at resignations of group Commandants of L.D.V. in Angus. Still some doubts about quality of L.D.V. leadership.

8. Newcastle (Northern) - Attitude of women to evacuation of children more reasonable than last September but directives still needed. Dissatisfaction among volunteers that they are not taken on at once for war work owing to lack of details at Labour Exchanges etc.

9. Reading (Southern) - Local units of R.A.F. upset at amount of adulation B.B.C. give them. Some nervousness that masses of heterogeneously clothed troops returning may contain spies and Fifth Columnists.

10. Birmingham (Midland) - Criticism of gloomy broadcasts and news of evacuation “too much harassing, too little glory”. B.E.F. men complain of excessive publicity of R.A.F. “few were over firing zone”. They fail to appreciate R.A.F. work in harassing lines of communication. Corrective publicity suggested. Absence of road signs causes little difficulty to motorists thanks to Hotel advertisements indicating ---- town 10 miles away. Chief Constable of Stoke-on-Trent criticises strongly gloomy headlines in local evening paper.

11. Cambridge (Eastern) - Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex coasts need enlightening about the evacuation policy, R.I.O. suggests statement by Regional Commissioner saying evacuation “by no means improbable” and giving directions to public if it takes place. Difficulties around Norwich and Ipswich in getting petrol makes people think fear of invasion is great, authoritative Petroleum Board statement would be welcomed. Local military defence measures have produced reassurance.

12. Tunbridge Wells (South Eastern) - Criticism of communist tradesmen for evacuating wives and children. Feeling against Germans very bitter in Maidstone because German incendiary bombs ignited oil on water in which 60 Maidstone men were swimming. Local Authorities at Dover object to Daily Mail alarmist report of unofficial evacuation. R.I.O. has issued a message to publicans at request of brewers telling them how to stop defeatist talk.

LONDON - Little change generally today though great satisfaction at return of B.E.F. without any hysteria. Confidence in Lord Gort widely expressed. A Hospital Almoner “Patients falling off - their thoughts are occupied elsewhere, those who come realise situation is grim. No defeatism”. Chelsea Works Secretary “People more cheerful; proud of our men; crowd watching B.E.F. trains on loop lines enthusiastic. Pinner C.A.B. “People anxious about future but cheerful and calm, main worries are financial”. W.V.S. and other voluntary war work going well in this district. Duff Cooper splendid”. Catford and Blackheath “People well prepared but not neighbourly enough.” Kensington “Upset at bureaucratic confusion in dealing with offers of houses for Hospitals and Convalescent Homes”



Evidence continues to accumulate showing the extent to which Haw Haw is believed to be a source of rumours. This allegation has been repeatedly investigated but has been found in almost every case to be quite untrue. There is a peculiar similarity about the remarks attributed to him; these, almost without exception, refer to knowledge of “secret” military or industrial centres which are threatened with bombing. There is, however little to suggest that these rumours have had any serious effects in the neighbourhoods to which they have been said to refer.

Though not apparently widely circulated, a London rumour alleges that hospitals reserved for the wounded of the B.E.F. are hopelessly ill-equipped and badly organised. The Ministry of Health has been informed of this matter.

There were repetitions to-day of the rumour of France's probable defection from the Allied cause and of the imminent evacuation of the entire East Coast. Nun spies, butcher boy parachutists and other hybrid phenomena were also reported, though in rather fewer numbers than of late.


1st June, 1940.

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