Dispatches from the People's War: Home Intelligence and Army Morale reports, October 1940-May 1945

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: History

Abstract

On the outbreak of war in 1939 Neville Chamberlain's government set up a Ministry of Information (MOI) with the task of handling its public relations and, more generally, of sustaining morale. The MIO was, however, handicapped by the fact that is was trying to communicate with the public without any means of assessing the public mood. It was talking to Britain without listening to Britain: a one-sided conversation. In December 1939 a Home Intelligence department was established within the Ministry of Information to investigate and monitor popular morale. From 18 May until 27 September 1940 this unit compiled secret daily reports on the state of public opinion. From 9 October 1940 until 27 December 1944 these reports were produced on a weekly basis. The Home Intelligence reports, which cover all regions of the United Kingdom and all issues that were thought to affect morale, are a remarkable set of documents. They provide a unique window into the attitudes and behaviour of the British people during one of the supreme crises in their history. The reports were circulated within the MOI, and to other relevant Whitehall ministries, and came to form a vital link between the British public and the machinery of government.

In the meantime, the War Office was deeply worried about the morale of the army, most of which was stationed in Britain until the cross-Channel invasion of June 1944. The adjutant-general's department thus set up its own system for gathering intelligence about the troops and, from January 1942 until May 1945, produced quarterly morale reports for the Army Council. Like the Home Intelligence reports, they offer us an unparalleled insight into the mindset of the troops at home as they prepared for overseas service.

As outlined above, in May 2010 Dr Paul Addison and I published a co-edited volume containing an unabridged set of the daily home intelligence reports from 18 May to 27 September 1940 under the title 'Listening to Britain: Home Intelligence Reports on Britain's Finest Hour, May-September 1940' (The Bodley Head). We now wish to produce a major follow-up volume. This will include a selection of both the weekly home intelligence morale reports from October 1940 to December 1944 (when these reports terminate) and the quarterly army morale reports from January 1942 to May 1945. This new volume, together with the volume published in May 2010, will thus form a comprehensive survey of the morale of the British people on the home front from 1940-1945.

Planned Impact

There is an enormous public appetite for historical works on Britain and the Second World War. The proposed volume will therefore benefit a range of individuals and institutions beyond the academic beneficiaries outlined in the previous section. These will include the following:

School teachers and pupils will be able to utilise the volume as a source of invaluable primary source material when teaching or studying the British home front. Local History societies, historical websites, and other fora, will also be able to draw on the volume to inform their discussions of the war.

Museums and archives, such as the Imperial War Museum, the Second World War Experience Centre, and the Churchill Archives Centre, will be able to use the volume to complement, and help interpret, their extensive collections from the period. The Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, for example, recently used extracts from the previous volume, Listening to Britain, to illustrate a lecture he gave on Churchill in 1940.

Media organisations will be able to use material from the volume in order to generate articles and programmes on the war. Listening to Britain, for instance, was the subject of two feature articles (Daily Express, Yorkshire Post) and six radio interviews (including Radio 4's Today Programme and Radio Free Europe). Material from this volume will also be incorporated in a forthcoming Channel 5 documentary on the Blitz. If our proposed volume goes ahead, Radio 4 has expressed an interest in making a programme based on readings from it.

More generally - and this is a point that has been emphasised to us by readers of Listening to Britain - the proposed volume will be of value to those who lived through the period, perhaps as young children, but did not fully appreciate the events unfolding around them (or that the government was eavesdropping on them), and to a post-war generation brought up on the 'folklore' of the Second World War. The volume will both inform and demythologise and thus contribute to a better public understanding of the complexities of the period and a more sophisticated discourse on the experience of the war. It should therefore have an important cultural impact on how we view a historical event that continues to exercise a profound influence on contemporary British society.

It is difficult to predict when the full impact of the volume will be realised. It is hoped that in terms of media impact, for example, it would come to fruition within a year or so of publication. Other impacts, such as the process by which the volume might come to inform school curricula or wider public discourse on the war, would take longer to achieve but we would hope to see evidence of this over several years.

Publications


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Description Dr Addison and I compiled a manuscript approximating to some 350,000 words. However, after lengthy and protracted negotiations with our publisher, we decided that we needed to slim the manuscript down and refocus it. We have thus resolved to focus the volume on the Blitz period (September 1940-June 1941). It is intended that we will submit the revised manuscript to a publisher in the next few months.
Exploitation Route On the basis of our research on the Blitz encapsulated in our previous volume, Listening to Britain, and the research we have undertaken for our current volume, Dr Addison and I have been appointed as historical consultants for a major new four-part BBC television series on the Blitz. We believe that our refocused volume will dovetail well with this series and improve the likelihood of our research achieving measurable impact.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
 
Description Public talk by Dr Paul Addison at the Open History Society (Edinburgh) relating to research project on Home Intelligence. Dr Jeremy Crang was also present. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The talk generated a high number of questions and a good deal of discussion.

The impact was two-way: the audience was interested to find out about what techniques the Ministry of Information used to monitor morale on the British home front during the Second World War, and the findings of their inquiries; and Dr Addison and Dr Crang were able to gauge the potential impact of our research on a general audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013