A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Tuesday, 21st May, 1940


Morale is noticeably “brighter” today. There is a consensus of opinion from the Regions and from our own Observer Corps that there is rather more optimism, but not over-optimism, of the “Narvik” kind. Opinion is little changed since Sunday and Monday and this is in line with the general newspaper tone, which has tended to stress any optimistic indications, e.g. “B.E.F. strike at bulge” (Daily Mail), “Nazi drive to Cambrai slows down” (Daily Telegraph), “Fierce battle goes on round St. Quentin ............ Nazi tanks were destroyed” (News Chronicle), “Mystery moves by Weygand; is it the counter-stroke?” (Daily Express).

The following notes are indicative of the general feeling:

1. Most people are slightly less worried and slightly more cheerful today, partly because they are beginning to face up to a more serious situation than they have previously visualised. It is thought that we are holding the Germans.

2. Relieved tension is also indicated in the number of people who show less interest in the news today or who have not bothered to acquaint themselves with the newspapers by mid-morning.

3. In general, it may be said that a mental readjustment is taking place. This readjustment is “healthy” to the extent that many people are facing up to possible unpleasantness, although they do not yet visualise the full seriousness of the situation.

4. Some people have now exhausted their nervous anxieties and are now worrying less because they have worried so much during the last few days. A typical comment is: “I'm not going to worry any more till they're here”.

5. The effect of Churchill's speech is still apparent. Complacency was disturbed by it and although many people were worried by the serious implications of the speech, others were stirred by it and are now definitely “facing the facts”. Of 150 house-to-house interviews in the London area, approximately half said they were frightened and worried by the speech; the rest were “heartened”, “made more determined”, “stiffened”.

6. Morale in villages is still definitely stronger than urban morale.

7. House-to-house visits show that women are, as usual, more pessimistic about the situation. Women are more nervous about air raids, more concerned about their children, more concerned about “nothing being done”

8. The belief that Britain will triumph eventually is universal.


Scotland .

Prevailing optimism and confidence. Acute anxiety disappearing.

Cambridge .

People are waiting patiently upon events but are relieved at the news. Very bad effect created at Luton when garage mechanics applied at aeroplane works and were told that, owing to the lack of war materials, the present staff was not on full production. Communists and Pacifists are less active. Growing feeling that C.Os. should not be allowed to keep on at their jobs in trades

Manchester .

Beaverbrook's appeal had a great response but keen disappointment is expressed because so many applicants were turned away. The public continue to ask what they are expected to do in the present crisis.

Wales .

Strong feeling that all available manpower is not being used. Anti-Italian feeling growing.

Leeds .

Miners still tend to be disregardful of the war effort.

Reading .

People will follow any lead the Government gives. The public only asks for something specific to do. Demand for further action over aliens.

London .

Morale considerably improved. A general feeling that “we are holding them”, particularly finding expression among the working classes. Influx of Dutch and Belgian refugees not regarded with favour. House-to-house visiting showed that mothers are still saying that they will keep their children near them even if London is bombed. Common expressions are: “They are safer in London”. “It's the coast towns which are going to suffer”. “We are well defended”.


Rumours have considerably increased and in some cases are creating alarm. One point emerges strongly: Haw Haw is quoted as the source of many rumours. Investigation, however, shows that there has been no reference by German propaganda to the places or industries quoted in the rumours. There is an urgent request from near all R.I.Os. as well as from the Home Office and individual correspondence that these rumours shall be officially denied.

The most prominent rumours are that parachutists have landed in specific areas. (A telegram from Warwickshire says that a motor-cyclist dashed into a pub with the news and rode off again quickly). The New British Broadcasting Station said that many parachutists had landed in Great Britain and that it was obvious that Hitler was clever enough to land many thousands more. This station may be the origin of the parachute rumours.

There is evidence, however, that most rumours arise from general chatter and from the anxiety states of the last few days. It is commonly believed that rumours are the work of Fifth Columnists. (Most R.I.Os. and individual correspondents express this view. The following rumours appear to be dangerous:

1. General Gamelin shot as member of Fifth Column.

2. “German News” says that Nuneaton, Coventry, Stoke, Stafford, Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Walsall, Wolverhampton are to be bombed.

3. The French Army has been annihilated. Amiens, Abbeville, Arras are captured. Boulogne is reached.

4. Haw Haw is sending messages to Fifth Columnists by code words in wireless talks.

There are definite indications that the whole rumour situation should be dealt with by means of an authoritative postscript to the news. The situation should be analysed and attention should be directed to the danger of repeating rumours and the importance of tracking them to their source. It should be shown that Haw Haw is not, in fact, giving references to specific places and industries.


As usual there is detailed criticism of B.B.C. news broadcasts. There are further demands for news interpretation and for more speeches like Duff Cooper's.

The whole subject of disbelief in news sources will be the subject of special report tomorrow.


21st May, 1940.

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