A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


No. 54
Daily Report on MORALE
Saturday, 20th July, 1940

Morale is high. But a generalisation made two months ago is still true: “The whiter the collar, the less the assurance”.

(1) Reactions to the expected “peace” speech: “Hitler speaks - in vain”. On the whole people have treated the speech less seriously than the press have done. People laughed and jeered.

(2) The lack of exciting events combined with nervous tension has provided an opportunity for people to criticise Government policy. Although there is a good deal of ignorance about Far Eastern affairs, the closing of the Burma Road is resented. “I'm not too sure about this Burma Road business - but if what I think is true, then I wish I was a Chinaman, they do seem to know what they're fighting for. We're fighting for freedom - are we? Whose freedom? Only ours by the look of it, and let everyone else go to hell” “I don't like the news from China - mind you, I don't understand it really”.

The retreat from Moyale is similarly castigated: “Another successful withdrawal!”.

The Channel Islands have by no means been forgotten. Scattered refugees keep the story alive.

C.O.R.B., aluminium and tea are discussed with resentment.

(3) Most serious cause of tension are the prosecutions for defeatist talk and for spreading rumours. There is alarm at the coincidence of measures which appear to be aimed at the freedom of the civilian. The civilian is beginning to feel, and has been encouraged to feel, that he is in the front line: at the same time attempts apparently are being made to undermine his status. The following verbatims are typical:

“Of course I think rumour's a bad thing but I find myself defending it now that people are being prosecuted”.

“I feel really angry. It's the Gestapo over here”. “They can prevent us talking but they can't prevent us thinking”.

“Those two men who were fined £5 each for leaving their jobs for half an hour. I think it's scandalous. £5 for just a half hour”. “I see they're tightening up the factory laws. Good thing too. Poor devils working 12 hours a day - can't possibly do their best”.

“This Silent Column campaign is a backhand. Although I agree that people shouldn't say dangerous things, this makes you feel you daren't say anything”. “It takes the heart out of you, doesn't it?”.

It is clear that the public has been taken by surprise. The new legislation is unintelligible and the need for further explanation and previous explanation is emphasised in many of our reports




20th July, 1940 .

Reports of the reception of Hitler's speech show that for the most part public opinion follows that of the newspapers. In Cardiff it is said that the speech represents “an underlying fear in Hitler's mind,” and “it is merely laughed at” in Leeds. Bristol considers it has little effect on the war, and only slight reaction has been apparent in Birmingham, Leeds and Belfast. It is suggested that this is because the speech followed anticipated lines.

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Premier's speech still spoken of with enthusiasm. Dissatisfaction with Lincolnshire War Agricultural Committee on the grounds that full use is not being made of land and that there are too many vested interests. The idea persists that the recent earthquake was really a catastrophic explosion.

CARDIFF (Wales) New arrivals to the Dutch army in the Western Counties are effectively spreading news of the deadliness of British bombers. Some criticism about new air raid casualty policy, and disappointment, but many agree that reticence is unavoidable.

MANCHESTER (North Western) Adverse comment persists on the evacuation of the children of prominent persons. It is increasingly being said that the scrap muddle is spreading from aluminium to other things.

BRISTOL (South Western) Growing support for the view that now civilians should be treated as members of the Forces, and civilian casualties issued in the same way. Modification of “War Zone Courts” meets principal criticisms. Bath reports casual conduct on account of continued alarms without visible damage. Complaints again from Plymouth of lack of co-ordination of sirens.

LEEDS (North Eastern) Defensive stage of war has caused some apathy among younger people. Morale is lowest in Bridlington and other towns where livelihood of many has disappeared. Many consider Silent Column publicity overdone. Many sections express the view that we are not trying to win Russia's friendship, which we need.

NEWCASTLE (Northern) Present lull is creating some nervous tension. Rumours largely diminished, but perturbation exists owing to increase of prosecutions for careless talk. Many urge aggressive action against Italy.

BIRMINGHAM . (Midland) No undue alarm about new War Courts, which are considered the best way to deal with fifth column activities. Dissatisfaction over smallness of tea ration.

READING (Southern) Appointment of new C. in. C. Home Forces has tended to crystallise suspicion voiced recently that all is not well with home defence and more vigour is required. Silent Column is considered too negative. Monthly publication of air raid casualties well received on the whole.

CAMBRIDGE (Eastern) Another unheralded raid on Norwich has revived the siren controversy. Reaction is anger against “incompetence somewhere” rather than fear. Feeling of expectancy yesterday among some sections of public due to prophecies of invasion.

TUNBRIDGE WELLS . (South Eastern) Commented that Sir Alan Brook's nickname “Wizard” is unfortunately like that bestowed on Gamelin. Criticism that B.B.C. broadcasters are highly educated and speak with “posh” accents, and the use of “ordinary people” is suggested. Women in Medway Towns complain against authorities for failing to sound air raid warnings when bombs were dropped in Gillingham Area on Thursday.

BELFAST (Northern Ireland) Recruiting drive in country districts gaining momentum.

EDINBURGH (Scotland) Premier's statement has not dispelled uneasiness about closing the Burma Road although majority are willing to take the Premier's lead. Growing agreement that Silent Column campaign is being carried too far. Many middle class people are asking “why didn't we consult the Soviet,” and doubts about a Far Eastern Munich are freely expressed.




People express apprehension at possibility of misuse of War Zone Courts, while at same time considering them necessary evils in extreme circumstances. Tea rationing hitting poorer classes very hard; some comment made on difference between soldiers' generous rations and those of civil defence workers who should have same privileges. Bethnal Green reports misgivings still present among parents of evacuated children in Wales, especially when people visualise children living in South Wales industrial area. Idea current that: “Hitler is out to destroy the children; as soon as they reach a place bombs drop, and when he sank the Arandora Star he really meant to get the children going to Canada.” Report that Indian community in London is depressed and unenthusiastic about war, although anti-Nazi in feeling is not pro-British and is not involved in national effort nor made to feel it has vital part to play; asks for more Indian news. Convictions for rumour-spreading causing uneasiness. Considerable anti-Chamberlainism, weakening confidence in Government, still reported. Some expressions of dismay received at press suggestion that Priestley's and Charles Gardner's talks should be censored. People returning from defence area calm and philosophic on whole; this having good effect on people who have not yet experienced bombing. Much grumbling about food and food prices reported from World's End, Chelsea. Women stating bread and potatoes all they can give men now as bacon, fish, eggs, vegetables and all but a little meat far too expensive; most using tinned foods. From Brixton comes evidence of latent anti-Semitic feeling. Criticism of Eden for slowness in call-up and admiration for Stafford Cripps expressed in Walham Green. Interest in Cripps mission to Russia in spite of soft pedalling in news. Complaints from Lewisham that dustmen have to sort rubbish at depot, wasting precious time. Some concern expressed at danger of smells and flies in food collection.

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