A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


No. 38
Monday, 1st July, 1940 .


The present lull in the tempo of events, popularly called “Hitler's breathing space”, is not having the effect of strengthening morale. During the weekend there was some increase in the feeling of bewilderment and suspense and rumours were again a feature of the morale landscape.

There has been a decrease of interest in news and widespread comments that the news is ‘unintelligible’. In many of our reports there are strong requests for authoritative interpretations of the news and for guidance in appreciating it. Many people appear to be hoping for a Balkan war as a method of staving off the invasion of Britain; others regard it as a further complication likely to react unfavourably to us. Many people are enquiring about the Cripps mission to Russia. A study of reactions to the announcement of Chamberlain's broadcast in the Sunday press showed that many people thought the broadcast was to be a resignation. Comments on the broadcast: “Nothing new”, “Quite good”, “On the defensive”, “He sounded very tired”, “Did he break down at the end?”, “He was right once”. The broadcast did not bring to the fore any strong anti-Chamberlain feeling.

Air-raids were taken calmly: the siren controversy continues.

The wide circulation of sales catalogues comes in for surprised and critical comment which takes the form of enquiring “Why does the Government allow it?”, “I thought the Government didn't want people to buy more things”, “What frightful waste of paper”.

There is still resentment that plans for Dominions evacuation are not further forward.


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1.7.40 .

Chamberlain's speech produced a diversity of comments from the regions, in which no constant theme can be traced. There was, however, unanimity about his delivery. He seemed tired, an old man, and emotional.

The question of sirens is still exercising the public. Bristol reports public doubt about the siren sounding policy and adds that on Sunday heavy raids occurred without sirens, while to-day warnings were given although no bombs fell. Leeds reports that there is uneasiness in Bridlington and Sheffield on account of the general belief that sirens are not going to be sounded until the very last minute. Newcastle records further complaints from a number of centres at the failure to sound sirens until enemy aeroplanes are overhead, and in some cases until they have dropped their bombs and departed. It is pointed out from Newcastle that special constables and L.D.V.s have instructions only to act on the sounding of the sirens. Reading reports a little restiveness at the dropping of bombs when and where no warnings have been sounded. Cambridge states that the siren controversy is acute. On the one hand, the early sounding of sirens allows people to become accustomed to sleeping in their shelters; on the other, the advocates of limited siren sounding point to the loss of output and wages which results in factories if workers spend an excessive amount of time in shelters. It is added that if sirens are not sounded most people presume that aircraft engines heard overhead are mainly German and this is causing rumours. An authoritative statement is asked for at once on siren policy, and numerous enquiries have been received to-day asking for a broadcast tonight.

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Recent raids in Derbyshire are stated to have improved morale considerably. Rumour is rife about the presence of the Duke of Windsor in Spain; some take this as evidence of his Fascist sympathy. Loughborough asks for brighter air communiqués, and likes eye-witness accounts. An editorial article in a daily paper calling for volunteers for coastal defence construction is commented on critically; labour should be conscripted for this work if it is urgently needed.

CARDIFF (Wales) In spite of lack of sleep people remain cheerful. There is much disappointment that only two Welsh names appear on the Advisory Committee for overseas evacuation, while Scotland has its own committee; Wales has willingly welcomed many thousands of English evacuee children and feels therefore that it deserves more consideration. Flying columns of troops have greatly increased public confidence in our ability to deal with invasion.

BELFAST (Northern Ireland) Reaction to Lord Craigavon's conditional offer to co-operate with Eire on defence has been mixed; unionists say co-operation is impossible unless Eire enters the war on Britain's side, while nationalists demand political union of the two countries first. Hence party tension over partition is intensified. Reports are going about that Malcolm Macdonald has been negotiating in Dublin and people are wondering if partition was discussed, or only defence.

MANCHESTER (North Western) Criticism still common at the lack of preparedness of our Island Fortress. People regard the present road barriers and barbed wire as useless against tanks. Fate of French fleet is still much discussed.

BRISTOL (South Western) Local suggestion that anti-tank trenches should be dug by public has been widely welcomed. A report that bombs struck a shelter in this region without damaging it has increased confidence. Occasional cases of defeatism are reported among isolated businessmen and some of the poor people, but the great majority are for “sticking it out”, on the ground that we should be no better than slaves, that the trades unions would go the way of those in Germany, and that if we stick it Hitler will collapse in a few months.

LEEDS (North Eastern) Criticism of the higher administration continues to be common. “Whitehall tells the country to be calm; Yorkshire tells Whitehall to be efficient, bold and enterprising”. A fatalistic belief in Hitler's timetable is still prevalent and people say quite calmly “he starts his Blitzkrieg on July 2.”

EDINBURGH (Scotland) Much comment on Tayside at failure of our fighters to engage German raiders last night, especially when one was caught by searchlights. Explanation is asked for. There is some sceptical criticism of the official reports of our continually successful raids on Germany and their continually unsuccessful ones on us.

NEWCASTLE (Northern) As a result of the scheduling of the Northeast as a coastal defence area there has been some confusion as to whether residents therein may visit towns outside for shopping. Members of A.R.P. personnel are stated to be spreading a number of rumours about the details of raids.

READING (Southern) Portsmouth has joined Southampton in expressing doubt about the new evacuation situation. In rural areas many people are stated to be still only half awake to our present dangers.

BIRMINGHAM (Midland) Reports from observers among the working classes indicate that the belief that they would be no worse off under Hitler is still persistent. Miners in South Staffordshire are stated to have been told to slow up their efforts because so many export markets have been closed down.

CAMBRIDGE (Eastern) From the Chelmsford area comes a growing demand for Anderson shelters now that it has become a defence area.

TUNBRIDGE WELLS (South Eastern) Some resentment recorded among public at Harold Nicolson's references to “shiver sisters and chatterbugs”; most people do not doubt their own courage to take on what lies ahead. Some criticism also of our advice to German citizens to take cover in our air raids, as many regard this as a sign of weakness on our part.




1st July, 1940 .

From all reports two main points emerge:- (1) Unanimous approval of Priestley's postscript and agreement with what he said. (2) Widespread belief in rumour that war will be over in month or six weeks. London Passenger Transport Board states mechanical staff, responsible for maintenance of rolling stock, both road and rail, unconvinced of importance of their work in national emergency. Want instead to produce war material. Propaganda urgently requested to encourage men to continue their work as usual and that their contribution is a vital one for the national war effort. Harrow: Labour Exchange Manager reports “difficult to pacify spate of women wanting to undertake war work.” Hendon: “People still feel they are not told enough news and that bad news is being withheld.” Bethnal Green: “School teachers' efforts to get children back to schools meeting with success. Few children now on streets. People calm and quite optimistic, but some worried about Post Office Savings in the event of invasion. Asking if they should draw their money out now.” Guy's Hospital: “Out-patients coming in regularly. This indicates calm. Most people think we will be victorious.” West Ham: “Most people opposed to Dominions evacuation. Will not agree to children going without parents. If scheme for family evacuation were contemplated it would probably have good reception.”

Paddington: “People with relatives back from France came to register for evacuation. Lack of imagination prevents most others from doing so. Medical examinations started among school children for Dominions.” Highbury: Pollard's Factory. “Stopped doing work on Sundays but working full time. L.D.V. formed but without equipment. Staff enthusiastic about this, fire squad and first aid party.” Willesden, Guinness's: “Strong feeling we all ought to be doing something superhuman. Not enough evidence that we are going all out. Should be piling up sufficient reserves to oppose Hitler who has obviously plenty in reserve.” From many districts reports show that children are trickling back from reception areas since air raids began.

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