A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


No. 53
Daily Report on MORALE
Thursday, 18th July, 1940

There is little change in morale.

(1) The public has still not reacted strongly to the War Zone Emergency Courts. It is not a topic of general conversation and outside London and certain areas in the defence zones people are disinterested on the grounds that they are unlikely to be affected by the courts. Many people have had their attention drawn to the problem by accounts of agitation in the House and by press headlines. There is more response than yesterday but one is impressed by the delayed reaction. On the other hand professional opinion is strongly affected and left-wing and working-class circles express concern.

A field study showed that although people said they understood the proposed new machinery in fact they did not do so. Approximately one-third of those questioned expressed vague approval, one-third detached disapproval, a statistical minority were strongly antagonistic and the rest held no opinion.

It was evident that there is a good deal of popular confusion about recent legislation. Many thought that the new courts were to try those accused of defeatist talk and rumour. Overheard conversations record a number of cynical and semi-humorous references to “jugging for grousing”: most of the comments, however, show that war legislation is regarded as unpleasant but inevitable.

(2) There are a number of rumours about the coming “peace offensive”.

(3) There is still a good deal of soreness about the “aluminium muddle”.

(4) The urban public is beginning to regard a food shortage and possibly a famine as a danger as great as that of invasion.

(5) Middle-class women responding to Bevin's appeal have been very disappointed to find that machinery does not yet exist for absorbing weekend labour.

There will be no report on Friday, 19th July.




18.7.40 .

Reports from most regions agree that the majority of the public neither understands nor is greatly interested in the new “War Zone Courts” Bill. The need for a simple explanation is voiced from Scotland, Reading and Tunbridge Wells. Little comment is aroused in Ireland, in view of the examples of I.R.A. activities which point to the need for wide powers. While it is generally agreed that special courts with such powers are needed in the war zone, anxiety about the scope of the Bill is reported among the “educated classes” and the more thoughtful workers, in many areas. From Scotland, Leeds, Newcastle and Bristol comes criticism that the power of life and death should be placed in the hands of one person, without appeal. Reading reports it is felt that “the proposed law smacks too strongly of Fascism”. Cambridge reports some fear that it will be hard to get rid of this measure when times are less critical. West Country legal circles consider the Bill places too much power in the hands of the military. Professional classes in Nottingham are stated to regard it as “rather hysterical”, and the absence of a court of appeal is talked of as “shocking” and “a copy of the worst practices of the Nazis”. Educated circles in Cardiff express satisfaction that Members of the House are safe-guarding public interests.

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Letters from towns alleged to have suffered air raid damage confirm the truth of many such rumours, and increase suspicion of the official version. Members of the armed forces are said to be a chief source of rumour. Indifference to the war noticeable in the mining area.

CARDIFF (Wales) Great concern is felt that we have succumbed to Japanese pressure, which may harm our relations with Russia and America. Resentment is expressed at drastic action taken against apparently trivial rumour offences.

MANCHESTER (North Western) Housewives pleased with new scheme for butter and margarine.

BRISTOL (South Western) Distrust of Silent Column on grounds that most people will soon be afraid to say anything. Confidence increasing in Cornwall due to improved local defences. Reports from Bristol of shop-lifting by people sheltering in shops during air raids.

LEEDS (North Eastern) Much popular resentment against postponement of sea evacuation.

Newcastle (Northern) Complaints of insufficient equipment for civil defence casualty services. Further requests for military bands, parades, etc.

READING (Southern) Appeal for voluntary labour for home defence measures launches last week has failed dismally, and is ascribed to the vague and casual way in which the appeal was launched.

BIRMINGHAM (Midland) The Ministry's campaign against chatter is helping to diminish rumour.

CAMBRIDGE (Eastern) Criticism of lack of strict discipline in L.D.V. from some quarters. Feeling that American Government should offer protective transport.

TUNBRIDGE WELLS (South Eastern) Criticism that Priestley's informative talk or his visit to Margate does not conform to the anti-gossip campaign.

BELFAST (Northern Ireland) A growing volume of opinion that enemy talk of invasion is prelude to peace offensive. Rumour in Belfast that there is a food shortage in Britain.

EDINBURGH (Scotland) The news of the agreement to block the Burma road causes disquiet as it may affect our relations with U.S. and Russia, and a few comments that “the Munich men are at it again,” are heard.




People asking questions uneasily about Italy, Japan and the war in Africa. Opinion expressed that we should put weaker Axis partner out of court first. News considered misleading. “Why are we told we have lost one little fort in Africa after another and then comforted by phrase: “we retired according to plan”? this savours too much of Flanders retreat.” More questions agitating public mind: “are we going to give way to Japan all along the line?” and: “are we leaving China to her fate?” Many people feeling nervous about anti-gossip campaign and state they are afraid to open their mouths. From other quarters people are said to be discounting rumour and are quite cheerful. Some criticisms of sensational press presentation of Sir John Anderson's War Zone Courts Bill. Simple explanations would ease people's minds about this and such remarks as: “if we are not shot by the Germans we are evidently going to be shot by our own people” made in tram by working man reading newspaper would be silenced. Identity cards thought by many people to need photographs to provide true safeguard. Some need in working class districts for creches in which mothers can leave babies and young children when working in factories. Neighbourly scheme introduced in North St. Pancras to bring women on housing estate together reported successful; improving spirit of neighbourhood. Morale of middle class wives left alone all day in suburbs considered by many lower than that of other people; more need for local schemes. In some poorer districts, reports observer, idea is gaining ground that it is useless to save money, as if district is bombed savings will be lost. Also reported that many of these people think in vague terms of “thousands of aeroplanes descending upon them and causing irreparable destruction.”

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