A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Tuesday, 28th May, 1940


At the time of writing (4.15 p.m.) our reports do not show the full impact of the Belgian news, although we have enough information to show that public opinion is stunned, bewildered, anxious and recriminatory.

Before the news seeped through there was a definite increase in gloom and depression over yesterday. This was partly accounted for by last night's broadcast news which hinted at “increasing gravity”, “German brutality”, etc., but provided no background information. The effect of this was to produce mystification and a feeling of sinister portent.

The news this morning remained, for most people, a rumour. Even this afternoon reports from the provinces show that the news is still held by some as a rumour. These morning rumours caused many workpeople to stop work and seek confirmation, and many telephone calls were received at this office.

The early afternoon brought forth a deepening anxiety and the first question on all lips has become: What is the fate of the B.E.F.? For the moment this has obscured invasion fear which was becoming prevalent yesterday. The second reaction is an inquiry about the state of home defence and the third dominant feeling is bitter recrimination directed against King Leopold.

At the same time reports show, in spite of extreme anxiety, no panic, and if anything an increased determination. All observers agree that people have had the greatest shock of the war but that the atmosphere is not defeatist and that people are still saying widely that we shall pull through in the end. This stock formula provides a persistent background for morale over the last fortnight. There is some danger of taking it at its face value.

Attention is drawn to the following points:

1. Newspaper placards were prohibited yesterday. Last night and this morning, however, pencilled placards and chalked blackboards have been freely displayed and the headlines on them have been of the same order as before.

2. There is evidence that many rumours come from the Belgian and Dutch refugees arriving in London.

Observations in reception areas show that, while inhabitants are perplexed that refugees have been sent to vulnerable areas, the effect of refugee stories has on the whole been good (i.e. has stiffened morale).

3. Many complaints are received about B.B.C. news bulletins. Objection is taken to the way in which individual exploits of R.A.F. pilots occupy most of the news time. It is understood that objection is also felt by R.A.F. personnel.

4. A gas mask count has been taken at two places in London consistently since September, 1939. The figures show the following percentages -

Date Carrying masks
September 4 70%
October 30 59%
November 9 34%
February 5 6%
March 31 1%
May 10 13%
11 14%
12 20%
16 13%
17 9%
26 20%
27 20%
28 20%

No absolute validity is claimed for these figures. Their value is comparative.


28th May, 1940



NEWCASTLE (Northern) Some grumbling in middle class at Hexham that French have let us down. In Newcastle writing on pavement in chalk “We shall soon be there” in German reported. Increased anxiety about Home Defence. General public increasingly keen on spy hunting. Among suspects are Chief Constable of Hartlepool, a Professor of French at Newcastle, and local R.I.O.

LEEDS (North Eastern) Good response to overtime demand but a desire for orders rather than requests. A demand for more round-up of Fifth Columnists, some criticism of British Secret Service. Local R.I.O. suspected of being a spy.

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Perplexity after last night's News Bulletin. Some relief that it was Belgians and not French who surrendered. Considerable criticism of newsreel horrors, refugees etc. People felt this would make public rather choose Hitlerism than war.

CAMBRIDGE (Eastern) Public now demanding full news of happenings in Belgium after their patience and hints of gloom.

READING (Southern) News of Belgium desertion spread quickly by word of mouth. As yet little bitterness against Belgium. Increased questioning about state of our defences (guarding of aerodromes, tunnels, bridges, etc. isolated petrol pumps) German Army communiqués attracting more attention as their accuracy and moderation are realised in comparison with German air and naval claims.

BRISTOL (South Western) Reaction to special editions announcing Belgium news anxious, stunned, but no panic and no lack of determination. Some feeling against Belgian refugees reported.

CARDIFF (Wales) Married women feeling strain most, strong feeling against I.R.A. and Communists following finding of parachute in Dublin. “Keep calm and carry on” posters are being distributed.

BIRMINGHAM (Midland) Ordinary people still believe our Islands impregnable. Already a whispering campaign against Belgium “They must have let us down”. Resentment that B.B.C. made no statement at 8 when they must have known. Duff Cooper's speech was welcomed. Local feeling in favour of stopping racing. None in favour of stopping Variety.

MANCHESTER (North Western) A lead from Prime Minister is anxiously awaited and also news of possibility of saving B.E.F.

EDINBURGH (Scotland) People expecting catastrophic news though there is no defeatism. Local anxiety among women about erection of numerous gas detectors without explanation. Demand for information about Britain's defences.

TUNBRIDGE WELLS (South Eastern) Isle of Thanet very worried at fall of Belgium. Voluntary evacuation occurring. Bridges to mainland said to be mined. Hundreds sleeping in tunnel shelters in last few nights. Evacuation also occurring at Deal; no panic anywhere.

BELFAST (Northern Ireland) News of Leopold's order spread like wildfire. Official silence widely criticised, complaints that too much manpower has been used up on non-essential civilian work. Food rationing reductions accepted without complaint.



Though fewer rumours have been reported to-day, in view of the large number which have come in to us during the last few days, it cannot be assumed that they have decreased. In the early part of the day the Belgian surrender was thought in many places to be a rumour, and was consequently accepted with some reserve.

To-day's rumours are in much the same vein as usual. Some are of a military character, and the origin of this type is generally said to be “someone who has returned from France.” While none in this category are of much importance, some have been passed on to M.I.7a.

There is still a strong belief that Haw Haw is a source of rumours, more particularly those in which localities are mentioned by name; as, for instance, a story that the Standard Works at Coventry are to be bombed. Although we have no confirmation of Haw Haw having said this, he is widely believed as the source of the story.

Stories about nuns and parachutists are little in evidence to-day, but there are others no less fantastic from various parts of the country. In spite of reactions to Belgium's surrender, the character of rumours has not noticeably changed. Many are of the deliberately alarmist sort, though these do not arise out of the new situation, and are for the most part clearly the fictions of a lively imagination.

28th May, 1940.

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