Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War

Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War

Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War

Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War

Synopsis

This book shows that before World War II the official prognosis in Britain was pessimistic but that measures to bolster morale were taken nevertheless, in particular with regard to protection against air raids. An examination of a range of indicative factors concludes that morale fluctuated but was in the main good, right until the end of the War. In explaining this phenomenon, due credit is accorded to government policies for the maintenance of morale, but special emphasis is given to the "invisible" chain of patriotic feeling that held the nation together during its time of trial.

Excerpt

What is 'morale' — and have I got any, or how much? And how much more could I call on in need, and where does it come from, and what is it composed of? Such a lot to wonder over.

N HISTORICAL WRITING the term 'civilian morale' is often used as freely as if its meaning were unproblematic, its definition unambiguous. In reality the term is susceptible to a range of meanings. Paul Addison described it as 'the woolliest concept of the war'. Since it was in common use in the period under discussion, it seems appropriate to begin by asking what people at the time meant when they talked about civilian morale.

In the wartime Ministry of Information there was a section, the Home Intelligence Division, whose principal task was to monitor the state of public morale. While the Home Intelligence Division never set down a definition of what it was studying, it is evident from its reports and memoranda on the matter that it did have a rough notion of what the indicators of low morale might be: rumours, complaints and grumbles about official policies and about how the war was being experienced. For the first two years of the war Home Intelligence monitored these indicators in an almost obsessional way, taking the public's pulse by what it thought, felt and said. In rather the same way, the independent social research organization Mass-Observation — which, on commission for the Ministry of Information, made the charting of civilian morale one of its regular tasks — attached great importance to people's states of mind, measuring the fluctuations in cheerfulness, how much people were interested in the war news and whether they were optimistic about victory or the future more generally. Six months into the war Mass-Observation attempted a definition: 'Morale is the amount of interest people take in the war, how worthwhile they feel it is. If people are left bewildered, or if their leaders do not interest them (either in truthful or lying versions of the situation) then morale cannot be regarded as “good” and may easily become “bad”.' A year later, in the course of reporting on how people in Glasgow were coping with bombing, it offered a fuller definition:

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