A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

286 287 2

No. 8
Saturday, 25th May, 1940


There is definite evidence of increasing confusion. Today the strongest optimists (working-class men) are often qualifying their remarks with slight suspicion or doubt about the way things are developing. There is public uneasiness: a fortnight's waiting filled with troughs and peaks of depression and optimism is now beginning to produce bewilderment and disquiet. The first shock is over, and people are beginning to feel that large questions ought to be capable of some answer.

1. The opinion has been strongly held that Weygand had “something up his sleeve” and the necessity for secrecy was appreciated, but many people are now asking what is the reason for the inexplicable inability of the French Army to check the enemy on French territory.

2. Depression is quite definitely up, but on the whole the main trend is towards fatalism, as if people's minds were prepared for almost anything in the way of bad news. Complacency has practically disappeared.

3. Reports from East Norfolk, South-east Essex and the North Riding show that there was public excitement over the raids but no panic. Events were taken calmly. There has been no movement of the population.

4. There are further reports which show that the morale of women is considerably lower than that of men.

5. The King's speech had a steadying but not a deep effect. It was generally liked but most frequent comments were on the improvement in His Majesty's delivery and on the slightly impersonal note of the broadcast.

6. Many people expressed the opinion that the mobilisation of manpower and womanpower is still not being tackled realistically. Many people expected immediate Government action following the Emergency Powers Act. Common verbatims are: “I am still waiting to be told what to do.” “I'm ready to do anything, if they'd only tell us what.” “I can't believe that I'm not wanted.”

A small statistical survey of opinion on the E.P.A. showed 60% strongly in favour, 15% no opinion, 24% favourable under the circumstances, and a statistically negligible percentage antagonistic.


An analysis of reports over the whole period of the invasion shows:

1. That men are more optimistic, less anxious and less doubtful than women. This is true not only in a quantitative sense but in a qualitative sense also.

2. Upper classes show more disquiet and slightly less optimism than working class. There is more doubt among the working class.

3. It can be shown that tension is greatest among middle and upper class women, and least among working class men.

4. It should not be forgotten that working class women are less well informed, and better able to put aside future fears than women in the better-off classes of the community, but these generalisations do not enable one to express any opinion on possible breakdowns in morale among working class women. A number of social workers consulted are of the opinion that working class women are more likely to show panic than other classes of the community.

291 292 2 293 3


Although there seems to be general confidence about the ultimate outcome of the war, there is considerable confusion in most of the Regions about the present military situation in France. Coincident with this is a feeling of tension and expectation of a coming counter attack; unless this materialises fairly soon the effect on morale would seem to be to increase general uneasiness. At the moment however, the public on the whole seems to be fairly calm and determined.


Uneasiness about France's military effectiveness, and at the same time a sense of relief that we have at last “woken up”. A general understanding of the necessity for all to take their part in the war effort.

The effect of Haw Haw is considered in this region to be extremely insidious, and this danger is under-estimated by the B.B.C. and the Government, who do not fully appreciate to what extent this propaganda is believed.


The public are worried by the absence of successful Allied counter attack, and by the apparent inability of the Allies to stop Nazi penetration towards the coast. Though their anxiety on this score is to some extent however illogically lessened for the moment, by the King's speech, which is said to have pulled them together; this was said to be a “grand effort”.

In some sections of the community there is a rather defeatist feeling among people who are not very well off and who have not much idea of what we shall lose if we do not win the war.

The alarmist headlines of the national daily papers in the last few days have been a subject of comment in this area. Criticism is made of the fact that there is too little comment or refutation of German claims.


There is evidence of increasing support for the Government among the working class section of the public. The King's speech was “deeply moving”. Rumours are said to be increasing in both number and danger, and suggestions are made that ridicule by the B.B.C. and Press would be the most effective way of dealing with this situation.


Although tension is increased there is no suggestion of panic, but the continued absence of the eagerly awaited Allied offensive is causing a good deal of apprehension. There is a growing anxiety about bombing and parachute troops - fears continue to be fed by rumour.

The action taken against potential Fifth Columnists is strongly approved, and it is considered that these precautions should be carried to even greater lengths.

Opinion on the King's speech is that it was “just what was wanted”.


In spite of the fact that bombs fell in two places in this area this morning, morale seems to remain firm and people have taken this event with calmness.

The explicable inability of the French Army to check the enemy has caused considerable uneasiness. This is to some extent allayed by a hope that Weygand “has something up his sleeve”; unless this hope is soon fulfilled the consequent re-action is likely to be most unfavourable.

The King's broadcast was a great success and was considered to have been well timed.


The King's speech was extremely well received.

From this Region alone anxiety is expressed about the lack of reassuring information from Narvik. Our apparent inability to capture the town seems to be causing dubious speculation about the effectiveness of our Norwegian forces.


Morale is unchanged by events of the last 24 hours. There is confidence and no panic, though rumours seem to be rather more prevalent. Some of these are attributed on what would seem fairly circumstantial evidence to the activities of 5th Columnists, and intensification of action against such people is being widely suggested.


The absence of any explicit news about the military situation in France is having a confusing effect, and the urgent need for some regeneration of confidence in the Allied Armies is necessary. Absence of news about the situation is causing some depression, though in the main opinion is firm and hopeful.

The King's speech was well received, so too was the arrest of Sir Oswald Mosley.


The capture of Boulogne had a very depressing effect on public opinion, though this was to some extent offset by the King's speech which was very well received. The rapidity of the German advance however, gives rise to an uneasy feeling that all is not as it should be with the Allied Command. There has been some apprehension about parachutists. The activities of the Defence Volunteer Corps are encouraging feelings of confidence.


In spite of the air raids last night in this Region, there have been no signs of panic or alarm.

The B.B.C's explanation for the withholding of details about the French military situation is welcomed, though criticised on the grounds that the wording of it was to “indirect and guarded” to be reassuring.

The King's speech was well received.


Feeling is definitely disturbed by our apparent inability to check the German advance, and by the possibility that this may mean that our own troops will be cut off, but never-the-less there is confidence in our ultimate success.

The rapid formation of the Defence Volunteer Corps has had a stimulating effect on public opinion.


The event which seems to have had most effectiveness in this Region is that of the Dublin Military Court case in which were revealed the elements of the Nazi intrigue. This has led to the belief that the secret operations are all the more dangerous and widespread character than had hitherto been realised. The rounding up of certain members of the I.R.A. and a similar swoop in Britain is generally approved.

The King's speech was very well received.

In the London area feeling is generally much the same as that noticed in the Regions. There is a certain amount of apprehension and still further confusion about the military situation. This seems in turn to breed pessimism, though there is no doubt that the general feeling is still determined. The effect of the King's speech has been (a) to stiffen the resistance of people who already realised the gravity of the situation, and (b) to depress and destroy the complacency of those who had not yet realised it. On the whole, the speech was extremely well received.

Feeling in the main seems to combine fatalism, determination and depression, all of which will seem to be attributable to the extreme state of uncertainty about the present situation, although it is realised that this must continue at any rate for the next few weeks. It is understandably difficult to adjust one's mentality to meet the circumstances without some trend of heart.

25th May, 1940 .



Although no rumours have come to hand to-day which can be said to be of outstanding importance, there is evidence that a great many are still being circulated, some of which seem to be put about deliberately. Of this type the following is typical:- Cinema Managers in the Exeter district have been told by some of their regular patrons that the showing of the film “Hitler, Beast of Berlin” should be abandoned next week as Haw Haw has threatened that Exeter will be bombed if it is shown. This story is apparently widely believed.

A story which is liable to have extremely undesirable repercussions and which is said to be generally current, is that “the whole stores of the B.E.F. at Boulogne” were left behind when our troops evacuated the town.

Other rumours which, if they are widely propagated, may easily lead to disquiet, unless they are either contradicted at once or confirmed and fully explained, are that all police are to be armed, and that the carrying of respirators is to be made compulsory.

To-day there has been the usual crop of parachutist and nun stories, as well as numerous repetitions of General Gamelin's suicide or execution.

The fact that nothing of outstanding importance has been reported to-day does not indicate that the stories already in circulation are having any less effect, and it is highly desirable that as many rumours as possible should be traced and exposed, since the difficulty of suppressing them is obvious. There seems to be a widespread feeling that the powers of the B.B.C. and the Press are not being properly used for this purpose, and there is no doubt that if some form of comprehensive or individual denial could be made during the 6 and 9 o'clock News Bulletins and could subsequently be confirmed in the following morning's newspapers, a good many of the more harmful rumours would be disproved.

25th May 1940.

We use cookies to track usage and preferences.

Privacy & Cookie Policy Accept & Close