A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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No. 12
Thursday, 30th May, 1940


The position of the B.E.F. is uppermost in the public mind. Many people think the Army will succeed in fighting its way out with heavy losses. Few appear to believe the situation is hopeless. The net feeling is one of suspense. There is not as much expression of opinion as yesterday and while some people are more depressed, others are less so. Thus there is still no complete adaptation to the situation nor a complete realisation of its implications. Nevertheless more people are facing up to the possibility of invasion and many people speak of it as certain. This is as true of the countryside as of the towns for rural defence preparations are now getting under way and there are plenty of local evidences of defence measures.

Morale, however, remains good. There is no defeatism and a general confidence in ultimate victory. At the same time a defensive attitude is becoming apparent and nearly all our reports show that the people are actively enquiring about the state of Home Defence. There is a very large degree of ignorance about the number of military men available, and discussion takes place about whether key points are being actively protected, about the conduct of civilians when air-raids come or troops land, about the availability of food supplies. Confusion reigns here and people are heard to be saying that they propose to stay where they are because of the impossibility of deciding where to go for safety. Many people still regard London as safer - because better protected - than other parts of the country. There is a certain amount of voluntary evacuation from the South East Coastal towns and the Ministry of Health report a good response to evacuation proposals in fourteen East Coast towns. Our own observers report that many more people will want to send their children by the end of the week.

There is evidence that people are extremely anxious to be told precisely what to do; they are prepared for orders and are confused by the voluntary principle.

A small survey undertaken to discover whether people approved of racing at the present time showed 2 out of 5 approving, 2 out of 5 disapproving, 1 out of 5 no opinion. A similar survey made to ascertain reactions to variety programmes on the wireless showed an overwhelming majority in favour of continuing them even under emergency conditions. Many say they will be more necessary than ever.

Soldiers returning from Belgium are talking freely about their experiences, particularly in pubs. The effect of this is not good.

Certain localities report considerable ‘spy scare’ and the situation in a few places has become slightly hysterical. Examples of local inefficiency figure highly in our reports and morale may weaken if attention is allowed to focus on these deficiencies.

A detailed report of the Middleton and Prestwich by-election, May 22nd, showed that the percentage of stop-the-war opinion (stationary at about 10% in by-elections since Christmas) had declined although observers found it difficult to elicit opinion on this point. There was strong anti-Fascist feeling which resulted in a very high poll for the Government candidate. The “grievance figure” had declined remarkably and there was a clear indication that electors were prepared to forget their personal grievances, or, at any rate, to consider it unpatriotic to state them. A negligible percentage expressed the opinion that the war could be stopped after a short fight; the great majority thought the war would go on for a long time.

Anti-Italian feeling is recorded from certain districts.


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30-5-40 .

NOTTINGHAM (North Midland) Good reaction to David Grenfell's broadcast “A miner talking to miners”. B.E.F. officer's broadcast was thought good but excessive Eton and Sandhurst voice criticised. Bus conductors are stopping alarmist chatter by women about evacuation. Common opinion is that children are not safe anywhere so why bother to evacuate them.

CARDIFF . (Wales) Military officer's broadcast greatly appreciated “plain and unvarnished”. Criticism of mention of places in Ministry of Health Evacuation broadcast. Wounded returning to Wales are “bubbling with rage”. No defeatism.

BELFAST (Northern Ireland) Recapture of Narvik produced good reaction “We can hit back”. Widespread enthusiasm for Ulster Defence volunteers. Restriction on aliens welcomed. Chancellor's statement on war costs “in the proper tone”.

MANCHESTER (North Western) People are restive as their spare time is not being used when they have volunteered for Voluntary Services. Many towns prepared for refugees and nothing has happened. Consequent anti-climax has produced difficulties in collecting clothes and bedding.

BRISTOL (South Western) Anxiety over B.E.F. is mingled with pride. Recent events have ruffled and stimulated West Country people to greater effort.

LEEDS (North Eastern) Employers in Hull anxious for more War work. Yorkshire miners entirely behind national effort. Some scepticism about 100% excess Profits Tax and equality of sacrifice “We get 45/- but the bosses are still doing well”. Leopold's surrender has encouraged feeling Fifth Columnists are at the top and not the bottom.

EDINBURGH (Scotland) Anti-war groups, including Communists, are now silent. Industrial co-operation good. No opposition to surrender of holidays, though Glasgow would like them later in relays. More bitter feeling against Leopold. In Glasgow people would not accept Belgian refugees. B.B.C. News this morning announcing superiority of French over German tanks evoked bitter comment: “Why are Germans at the coast?”.

NEWCASTLE (Northern) Harold Nicholson's broadcast about definite possibility of German landing has produced anxiety. In South Shields women are having large sums of money with them. (? Fear of having to make a hasty move or a moratorium.) Return of wounded has brought home reality of war.

READING (Southern) High morale of returning contingents have encouraged people. Some apprehension where police have warned householders near aerodromes to take precautions against enemy descents.

CAMBRIDGE (Eastern) Evacuation is main comment. No alarm at extension of towns involved or at exclusion of other towns - e.g. Norwich. Ministry of Health's report 61% of children registered in 14 East Coast towns - 38% in four Medway towns. Lowestoft evacuating 80%; Yarmouth 50%.

BIRMINGHAM (Midland) Some anxiety about supplies for B.E.F. and Home Defence. Criticism of B.B.C. reports of minor sporting events- e.g. Cycle racing.

Tunbridge Wells (South Eastern) Voluntary evacuation from Thanet very rapid. Furniture removers fully booked up. Only business shop-keepers report is returning coupons. Margate Food Office had yesterday 2,000 applications for transfers.

LONDON People still upset over capitulation of the King of the Belgians. Difficulty in “smiling it off”. St. Pancras reports people worried about money. Docks . Dock-labourers and seamen confident; sure they are going to win. Women-folk not so confident; tend to be afraid of air raids. Much discussion to-day of Sir Stafford Cripps going to Russia. Dock labourers consider Russia has behaved badly and do not approve of our sending an envoy. They all want more news. Labour Exchanges of London report situation normal but Sunday work accepted cheerfully. Local Labour Exchange reports worried over 200 Cypriots in London who are British subjects. They work requisite number of weeks to claim benefit and then leave their employers for no reason. Bad feeling is being caused by this. Power machinists in demand for Government orders for battle dress. Girls go to other jobs at higher pay when needed for Government work. The Labour Exchange official hopes new Emergency Powers may stop this state of affairs. A demand for the internment of Czech refugees, as the latter have Communist tendencies. Observers in close contact with the Communist Party and manual labourers who profess Communism state that these elements are now backing the war effort and reluctantly admit we must destroy Hitlerism.



30th May, 1940 .

The number of rumours we have received today shows an increase over the last few days. The most persistent and most disquieting is one of varying form, but the gist of it is that there is danger of a rift in Anglo-French relations. This story is amplified today by its association with Croix de Fer rumours, of which the following is typical:

“The French Army from the high command down to the ranks is riddled with members of the Croix de Fer. Gamelin is alleged to have been the head of it, and the reason that the French are not fighting with the dash of the last war, is because general discontent in their ranks is fostered by members of this association.”

Another rumour which, although it is less well documented, seems to have a no less alarming effect, is that Italy has actually entered the war. Today's version of this story is that Raymond Gram Swing stated on the wireless that according to a Reuter message, England and France had been informed of Mussolini's intention to enter the war, though when this would happen, he, Mr. Swing, did not know. It has since been found that this statement was not issued by Reuters, although it is believed to have been put out by another Agency.

Haw Haw continues to be regarded as a fountain head of rumours, more particularly those which refer to hitherto unannounced evacuations and threatened bombing of special objects or localities. Such is his influence, that it appears that rumours attributed to him are far more readily believed, than those which are said to have other sources.

Nuns, parachutists, paralysing gases, bombings, etc. are widely reported today; the more circumstantial of this type of rumour states that 10 out of 14 destroyers failed to return after an engagement in the Channel last night.


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