A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


No. 11
Wednesday, 29th May, 1940


The shock of the news is still apparent but people are, if anything, calmer. Bad news has had a sobering effect. Personal anxieties and fears have largely become absorbed in deep concern over the B.E.F., a concern which is growing slowly as a fuller realisation of the situation sinks in. There is as yet, however, no full realisation of the news. The morning newspapers brought no enlightenment; some said “the B.E.F. is trapped”, others “the B.E.F. fights its way out”. One newspaper describes (Evening Standard, Lunch Edition) allied resistance to “desperate efforts” on behalf of the enemy.

There is still great indignation against Leopold although this would appear to be declining.

The Minister's broadcast at 9 o'clock was favourably received. Reports indicate that people were impressed by his confident manner and that his speech had a steadying effect. The general opinion was that he spoke the truth grave though it was. The increasing prestige of the Minister and his abilities as a broadcaster are becoming obvious in our reports. The people are beginning to rely on him to tell them how the situation should be looked at. This growing reliance on the Minister to tell the truth is a very important factor in morale. It clearly becomes imperative that under no circumstances should he “let people down”. It would appear that people are becoming increasingly prepared to receive “the whole truth”. Morale is still high and under these conditions the whole truth (the worst of the bad news) can be told. The bad news about the B.E.F. is still, in most people's minds, the result of ‘betrayal’; this is a legitimate conclusion from press reports. This sense of ‘betrayal’ is one of the factors which is still preventing a complete acceptance of the full implications of the bad news.

However, morale is still stable in the sense that confidence in ultimate victory is generally expressed, although phrases which indicate that victory is inevitable are not common. There is no defeatism and many of our Regional reports indicate that resolution has stiffened and that anger is growing.

For the first time there appears to be a levelling up of opinion in London, provincial towns and the countryside.




29.5.40 .

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Duff Cooper's speech widely approved. “Personal link between Government and people”. Defection of Leopold is suggested as sign of Fifth Column activities in upper strata of Society.

Cardiff (Wales) No anti-French feeling traced. General reaction to Leopold is one of making allowances for strain of past 14 days. Local Communist Meeting broken up by loyalists who sang God Save the King and took the collection for the Mayor's Concert Fund.

Belfast (Northern Ireland) Cry of treachery at Leopold's surrender has ceased. Most people now suspend judgment. Stir caused by resignation of Parliamentary Secretary to Ministry of Home Affairs who considers Ulster Government has been slack over recruiting measures. Isolated opinions favour National Defence Council for Ulster similar to that just formed for Eire.

Manchester (North Western) Feeling against Belgium very bitter, especially against Leopold; it is reacting against refugees. D.C's speech had excellent effect. Local Press co-operating well in dispelling rumours.

Bristol (South Western) Local satisfaction at French references to Belgian treachery. Coastal people calm in spite of Germans on other side of channel. Local miners are to give up their holiday week. Traders have offered to release any trade secrets for Government. Prosecution of “jitter-bugs” urged. Secretary of Bristol Development Board thanks M.O.I. for taking public into its confidence and calming excited feeling. Complaints in Gloucester of sensational and frightening headlines in Daily Express and The Mail. Satisfaction about further food restrictions.

Leeds (North Eastern) D.C's speech “best yet”. Remarks about French and rumours of their defection appreciated. Growing feeling against aliens. Strong feeling against Belgian refugees. Requests for more vigorous bombing of Germany “give them a taste of their own medicine”. Criticisms of odds against which our planes are fighting and of excessive number of News Bulletins.

Reading (Southern) Leopold condemned as a super Quisling. All people ready for any demands on energy, money or time by Government. Undertone of criticism of late Government for having under-estimated Germans.

Tunbridge Wells (South Eastern) Anti-Belgian feeling outweighed by feeling Leopold has let them down. Stories by wounded in Kent hospitals show no defeatism though men faced terrific onslaught. Idea that every rumour-monger is a Fifth Columnist growing. Only in extreme S.E. coast towns (Margate. Ramsagate, Deal) is there grave anxiety. People drifting away in voluntary evacuation but no panic. News Reels criticised for showing devastation produced by enemy but little of our effort.

Cambridge (Eastern) Troop movements on the East Coast have aroused mild excitement and relief that military authorities are active. Business in Fenland came to a standstill yesterday with depressing news, but has picked up to-day. Appreciation of D.C.'s. broadcast widespread.

Birmingham (Midland) 40 people consulted gave strongest possible praise for D.C's broadcast. A 24 hourly repetition of similar speeches is urged. Engineering and Aircraft firm report 100% attendances generally for 7 day-week and increased keenness following news of R.A.F. exploits using their products.

Edinburgh (Scotland) Individual attitude is one of eagerness to take part in national effort. Bitter comments on Belgium's capitulation. D.C's broadcast created “a certain confidence”. Demand for more refugee round-ups, position of Eire causes anxiety. Criticism of excess R.A.F. news.

Newcastle (Northern) Public criticism of Leopold reported from 7 centres. Criticism of French has disappeared. 3 centres report steady and cheering influence of D.C's speech.

London “East End considers West End too gloomy. All have fierce fighting spirit.” Isle of Dogs dockers unemployed through losing Scandinavian trade uncomplaining. They back the Government and say “We must all pull together”. Working class mothers will not leave their houses now without their children as “it's air raid time”. Women volunteering more for A.R.P. work. Suburban women without much to do might panic in air raids. They should be drawn into local schemes. Evacuation still unpopular. Islington say their children were badly treated before. Housing Manager suggests new scheme to win their co-operation with the Government. One mother should accompany every 20 children and supervise them in their billets. After a month she could come home and another mother would take her place, thus disorganising only one household at a time. A.R.P. scheme on Cowley Estate of 2,000 tenants, very poor unskilled labourers. Tenants are asked to volunteer as shelter marshals. If they have a part to play they are not so likely to panic. Feeling against Leopold divided. Some bitterness against Belgium even to the extent of saying the Belgian refugees should be sent back. Working class people on the alert for Fifth Column activities. Greenwich, people quiet. Resent Fifth Columnists going to Isle of Man to have good time when they save up to have a holiday there.




It should not be assumed because fewer rumours have been reported today, that they are decreasing in number. On the contrary, our evidence suggests that this situation is becoming more serious.

In particular the dangerous persistency of stories seeking to undermine confidence in the entente cordiale and in the French Army is of increasing gravity and one which calls for immediate action on the widest possible scale.

Rumours of a military character are given additional authenticity by the reported conversation of soldiers lately returned from France, to whom various alarming stories are attributed. It seems urgently desirable therefore that some means should be devised of verifying, and when necessary, contradicting such stories, or putting them in their proper perspective.

In view of the fact that Haw Haw is still widely believed, however incorrectly, to be the source of many rumours, particularly those referring to localities by name, the co-operation of the B.B.C. would be extremely valuable in giving publicity to denials of such rumours.

There are, as usual, a number of sinister and ludicrous stories circulating today, such as that “Mentally defective patients are being recruited for a suicide corps”, that “London is being heavily stocked for a siege”, and that “The Germans dug through under Switzerland and came up in Toulouse”.

Although it is clearly unnecessary to take action for the suppression of fantasies such as those, there are so many border line cases where the effects of seemingly improbable rumour might become serious, that it is necessary, wherever possible, to make an effective contradiction of such stories.

29th May, 1940.

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