A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



Three main factors appear to control salvage output:-

(a) The general atmosphere

The “salvage-consciousness” of the housewife is created by national and local education and propaganda.

(b) The housewife

The individual make-up of the housewife determines her reaction to this education; character traits may be influenced by local habits (different standards of housewifery and of general economy in certain parts of the country).

(c) Local organisation

The regularity of collection, number of containers issued, relationship between dustmen and housewives depend strongly on the ability and attitude of the salvage officer in a particular place.

The general atmosphere

The inquiry was carried out at a time when the “salvage conscience” of the public had been roused by intensive national and local propaganda campaigns. For months the national and local papers had mentioned the need for salvage. In December, space was given to this question in the Daily Telegraph on 16 days, in the Manchester Guardian on 13 days, in the Daily Herald on 15 days, in the Evening Standard on 14 days, and in the Yorkshire Post on 7 days. The frequency of these figures was not very different during October and November, and was even slightly increased during January and February. The Ministry of Information had issued 5 films on salvage. The B.B.C. had made appeals, including a special one by Lord Beaverbrook. In nearly all towns, large or small local campaigns were run, loudspeaker vans sent round, personal appeals made in a house-to-house canvass, leaflets distributed, speeches given by local personalities, shop windows dressed with posters, special dumps organised, containers distributed, etc. All towns in the sample had special salvage campaigns, but they differed in extent, intensity and effectiveness of appeal.

The situation was different in rural areas, where many places were untouched by any special effort.

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The housewife

The housewife is the member of the family who takes the greatest interest in salvage, but a considerable number of other members of the household are also interested. In the sample, interest in salvage was taken by:

Housewife 2597 84.4
Husband 831 27.0
Schoolchildren 573 18.6
Other adults 675 21.9
Everybody in family 219 7.1

The attitudes of housewives to salvage collection fell into 3 main groups. The replies could not however be assessed quantitatively:-

1. Strong approval

“Good idea, save the country thousands of pounds. Poor people have more salvage than the high class, don’t you think?”

“Really worth while; waste we didn’t consider before the war makes us value things more.”

2. Conditional approval

This arises from doubt in the housewives’ minds of the efficiency of salvage collection:

“Salvage collection wants re-organising - dustmen come before it’s light, and it means getting up specially to put things out or leaving them out all night in the rain. There should be an official pig food dump.”

“I wish they’d collect more often. I have no place in the house to keep things, and when I put them out they are not collected and only get wet and dirty.”

“The salvage man is not keen on taking it. The dustman and salvage man come together now, and they are not as good as they were. They often leave tins behind, and pig swill, and it makes the place very untidy. It is horrid to keep pig swill more than a week. It was better when the men came separately for the pig swill.”

“I keep tins in the bath and the men keep leaving them. It discourages me, as we haven’t much room, and the cats get at them as well.”

There are also doubts in the minds of many housewives about the use to which salvage is put:

“Yes, I think salvage is made good use of” 1766 60.0
“I hope so” (slightly uncertain but positive) 699 24.5
“Don’t know” (doubtful) 412 14.1
“No” 46 1.4
Sample: 2923 100.0

It will be seen that nearly 39% of the sample had some doubt on this point. Their attitude is illustrated by the following comments on the question about how salvage is used:

“No idea - no means of finding out. I often wonder where it goes.”

“I don’t know - the salvage shop seems to make good use of it.”

C and D classes have greater confidence than the A and B classes in the efficiency of the authorities:

A and B C and D Total
% % %
“Yes, I think salvage is made good use of” 374 51.0 1392 64.0 60.0
“I hope so” (slightly uncertain but positive) 212 28.8 487 22.5 24.5
“Don’t know” (doubtful) 134 18.2 278 12.9 14.1
“No” 15 2.0 31 0.6 1.4
Sample: 735 100.0 2188 100.0 100.0

3. No “salvage consciousness”

Only in four small groups was salvage consciousness not aroused:

(a) Those who live very isolated lives and are completely out of touch with the world around them:

“Feels she does not know enough about it. Would collect paper if knew how to do so.”

“I wish I could help some way with it, but I’m so old and I haven’t got anything.

(b) The group who still believe that they have nothing to save:

“Haven’t got anything to save - never have anything. Have always been very careful.”

(c) The very selfish ones:

“You have to look after yourself and not bother about salvage.”

(d) Those who say they need not collect because the Government or other people are wasteful, and should do their duty first:

“I don’t in lots of ways. I think millions of pounds are wasted. They call out for things on one hand and waste it in other ways.”

“Very good idea, but there are 100 tons of pig iron lying on the mountain. They would make a whole fleet - I’ve offered to take any of the Councillors to see it - and then they ask for people’s railings. The town gets run down, but it is not our fault.”

Local Organisation

This section is based upon interviews carried out with 24 salvage officers and 59 dustmen in the areas where housewives were interviewed. It summarises the subjective impressions of these officials about the collection of salvage and its problems for them.


The salvage officers

National propaganda was not only designed for housewives, but also for salvage officers; the January paper salvage campaign especially tried to work in this direction.

All the salvage officers to whom we spoke were very conscious of their task, but differed about the difficulties facing the organisation of salvage collection. The main difficulties as seen by salvage officers were:-

(1) The inability to get the best work out of their dustmen

“Can’t do much because every day 100 out of 400 dustmen are absentees.”

In another place, during Paper Salvage Week, the men worked two hours overtime every day without pay; the result was magnificent.

This difficulty with dustmen is sometimes intensified by a system of pay which gives a bonus for a high collection of one sort of salvage, and thereby encourages the dustman to neglect the other kinds.

(2) A belief that housewives are not sufficiently co-operative

This is supported by the following type of comment from housewives:-

“They never send the carts along here, yet they go to the houses lower down the road. I throw my empty packets into the field, and don’t bother with tins now. The country says it needs them, I know, but I haven’t got time to go to the depot with them.”

Such comments, however, were few.

(3) Limited salvage budgets

This difficulty in the minds of salvage officials is illustrated by the following comments made by officials:-

“A seventy-two-year-old man ran a tobacco and sweet shop single handed and had collected a good size box room full of cardboard and paper; he had been trying for 6 months to have it called for....it is absolutely impossible for me to deal with cases of this kind. Before the war, such people would have to pay me 6/8 per ton for having waste paper destroyed, and I think that it should not be collected free now just because there is a war on.”

“I have no patience with housewives who are irritated because their salvage is not collected. Their offerings are so puny that they are not worth while. I think it is the duty of every housewife to find out where the nearest salvage depot is and take her things to the place. The fact that the housewife is ignorant of that request is the housewife’s fault, as she should have made herself cognisant through some means or other.”..... Suggestion on the part of the interviewer that the newspapers might help got the answer “They are our enemies.”

“The January campaign was not taken up by the Council; January was considered an unsuitable month.”

From a rural area:-

“The great difficulty is collecting salvage in a rural area. The only profitable project is to collect a ton of paper in a lorry in one journey; often 15/- worth of salvage costs much more to collect, bale and deliver it to a mill. Private firms are not asked to work at a loss; why should The Corporation be asked to?”

The dustmen

The middle-man between housewife and collecting authority criticises both:-

(a) Housewives don’t sort properly, or only do half a job.

“People should be instructed to tie up paper, to flatten boxes, put them and small paper well inside the bundle so that they would not fly out, keep rags dry, food waste well separated. (It is not nice for he dustman to pick up a bin and find water is running down his back). Bottles and jars are put beside the dustbin. People should be told it is no use helping the country if they only do half the job.”

He also complains that the housewife mistrusts him and does not believe that he keeps the sorted things separate, though she can be convinced if told properly. A housewife said:-

“I checked the dustman when I thought he was going to mix things; he said he wasn’t going to; he only placed all on top of ashes to carry to the cart.”

Misunderstandings may end in the police court; this happened to one of the dustmen who was brought up for using bad language.

(b) The local authority

What dustmen complain of most is that the organisation of collection is bad, and that they are blamed for it.

“Housewives are very co-operative; we get the stuff all right. But we have not enough labour to collect it. I’ve dumps waiting to be collected all over the district. Some of these 7 dumps have been there over a year, but what can I do? Salvage should be collected by a special man; the dustman has enough to do already as it is. If the dustman has to knock at every door, three times as many dustmen should be employed. The housewives are good - it is really the Council which has to be blamed for the mess in this area. Every house, or at least every street should have separate bins for everything. People should be told to put tins in the dust-bin; some clean and save them religiously, and it is a pity if they then have to go in the refuse.”

It will be seen then that salvage collection is the result of three forces, each of which is dependent in some measure on the other.

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