A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


No. 52
Daily Report on MORALE
Wednesday, 17th July, 1940

Morale is high: people are cheerful but critical.

(1) Invasion date (Friday). This prediction largely spread by means of prominent press publicity is a dominant topic of conversation. Evidence shows that many people are seriously alarmed (evidence that domestic and commercial plans have been changed). Many messages have come from those holding responsible positions protesting against the publicity given to the statement. The legend of Hitler's ‘invincibility’ is a continuous factor in popular psychology

(2) Prosecutions for “defeatist talk” widely criticised. Informed circles are nervous at the way in which the Act may be interpreted: working class people feel suspicious and afraid. “Oh I don't know. Best to pass no opinion these days. You might get hung”. “We are fighting for freedom but losing what freedom we've got”. “I'm afraid to open my mouth”.

The case of the “poor old man of 74” prosecuted for saying he thought Hitler would win is the subject of much comment: it is frequently called “a miscarriage of justice”, “what we're all in for”. The clerical campanologist has also aroused much ill-informed sympathy.

(3) The public at large is not much concerned by the problem of press censorship.

(4) The Ministry's “Silent Column” campaign is being criticised. “It is spreading suspicion and unhappiness”. “If we can't talk what can we do?”. “It's all very well for them to say ‘Don't talk’. I'd like to see them trying it themselves”. “Look at the newspapers. Why don't they tell them to shut up”. “Stifling criticism. That's what it is”.

There is no doubt that there is an effort being made to obey instructions not to talk and the effect of this effort is bringing depression and suspicion. This is not as yet a widespread result but the prognosis is not good.

(5) The public has not yet reacted strongly to news about the new war zone Emergency Courts. Preliminary reports, however, show that criticism is much stronger in London and the East than in the Midlands and West, where it is clear people do not consider themselves candidates for the courts. There is some significance in this verbatim: “It's just like D.O.R.A. in the last war - once you've got it you can't get rid of it. They always say it's an emergency”. Other people approve the new machinery without enthusiasm.

A detailed report will be submitted tomorrow.

(6) There is a good deal of criticism that salvage schemes are not being conducted with sufficient enterprise and energy.

(7) Two wishful thinking rumours:

  1. that Oswald Mosley is to be sent to Canada

  2. that some of the dud bombs dropped in this country were found to contain sand with messages of greeting from Czechoslovakia.


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



16.7.40 .

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Growing criticism of lack of details published about air raid casualties. General agreement that air raid warnings should not be sounded for lone raiders. Widespread view that many local authorities are not providing facilities for collecting and separating waste. Reports that teachers are concerned about instructions to keep children in school and not to transfer them to shelters if bombs are dropping near.

CARDIFF (Wales) Common belief that fewer air raids during last two days represents lull before the storm. A little trouble has been caused in industry on account of inadequacy of warnings of air raids in which casualties have occurred. Dissatisfaction in Pwllheli because local aerodrome was bombed the day assurances were given in the House that all aerodromes were well defended.

MANCHESTER (North Western Region) Sentences inflicted for gloom or despondency talk affect ordinary folk who are becoming afraid to open their mouths.

BRISTOL (South Western) Reports say that if present policy of withholding air raid details continues, all news will be regarded with mistrust. The effect of extre sleep due to the lull in air activity is noticeable. Weston-super-Mare complains of lack of shelters. Following vague reports that “a south coast town” has been bombed, billeting officers state that parents are travelling to Weston to find out for themselves whether it is safe for their children.

NEWCASTLE (Northern) Some parents are perturbed that the date of evacuation of children from places mentioned by name by B.B.C. tells the enemy when stations will be exceptionally crowded. Despite public denials rumours suggest that certain Ministers favour a stalemate peace arrangement now under consideration. Reports received of discontent of soldiers through boredom.

LEEDS (North Eastern) Criticism of authority still common and one observer reports that “many people think that those at the top don't believe in the freedom they talk about.” Suggested that anti-rumour campaign, now considered successful, should not be further developed to the point that people become afraid of each other.

READING (Southern) Evidence accumulates from centres which have been bombed that one of the best seditives is the knowledge that Germany is being bombed more heavily. Demand for illumination of the African situation continues. Signs that Churchill's reference to the defence of London combined with the news that members of the Government have sent their children to U.S. causes anxiety as to whether we can defend ourselves as well as is officially intimated. Bournemouth hotel-keepers are planning joint demand for Government assistance.

CAMBRIDGE (Eastern) Some speculation regarding Hitler's next move and some nervousness concerning the application of powers given to authorities by the new E.P.A.

TUNBRIDGE WELLS (South Eastern) Employers in Maidstone area critical of call up arrangements, due to instances of older and more experienced men being enlisted while younger men are kept waiting. Annoyance caused by announcements in popular press that Hitler will invade Britain on Friday. It is pointed out that a private citizen making such a statement could be liable to imprisonment.

BIRMINGHAM (Midland) Renewed complaints that yellow warnings are passed on to public by air wardens. Recurrence of Haw Haw rumours in Wolverhampton area.

BELFAST (Northern Ireland) Feeling that danger of invasion has receded a little but that preparations must not relax. Emergency budget viewed tather gloomily by income tax classes.

SCOTLAND (Scotland) Enemy aeroplanes have passed over Clydebank twice in last three weeks, and although held by searchlights met no A.A. opposition. Communist propaganda, which is effective among the intellectual young artisans, is making full play of this evidence of unpreparedness as well as with the slackness of important workshops and shipyards, where overtime is being worked even when there is not sufficient work to do; the moral drawn is that this Government is not really determined to fight Hitler. Drunkenness is prevalent in Clydebank mainly among war workers previously unemployed for long periods.




Mixed reactions to new War Zone Emergency Courts Bill. Majority agree it may be necessary: Many criticise the manner in which it has been introduced and some are highly suspicious of it. Failure of overseas evacuation scheme still rousing resentment and disappointment. Working class grumbling at M.P.'s and families going to America. Observer reports evidence that idleness and unemployment are having a mischievous effect on juveniles; Court cases believed to be small fraction of those undetected as police are taken up with other duties. Willesden; reports uneasiness among mothers of evacuated children over lack of news about bombed places. Suggestion made that teacher should send postcard to local C.A.B. after raid to say all is well. Parents could enquire at bureau for such news. People wishing to visit friends in defence area uncertain as to whether they will reach destination as railway officials cannot tell them. Explicit instructions asked for. Talk of possible peace proposals in papers to-day brings reaction from several quarters that there will be trouble if there is any suggestion of accepting them. Prosecutions for careless talking and anti-rumour campaign causing considerable uneasiness and criticism. Many people think that prosecutions cause more dismay and depression than talk itself. Younger people, especially men, express fear that free criticism is being lost. Strong representations that talk in press about Hitler planning to invade Britain on Friday is the kind of rumour-mongering that the public is now supposed to suppress.

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