Open Access (free)
Civilian morale in Britain during the Second World War
Author: Robert Mackay

How well did civilian morale stand up to the pressures of total war and what factors were important to it? This book rejects contentions that civilian morale fell a long way short of the favourable picture presented at the time and in hundreds of books and films ever since. While acknowledging that some negative attitudes and behaviour existed—panic and defeatism, ration-cheating and black-marketeering—it argues that these involved a very small minority of the population. In fact, most people behaved well, and this should be the real measure of civilian morale, rather than the failing of the few who behaved badly. The book shows that although before the war, the official prognosis was pessimistic, measures to bolster morale were taken nevertheless, in particular with regard to protection against air raids. An examination of indicative factors concludes that moral fluctuated but was in the main good, right to the end of the war. In examining 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.

Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

INTRODUCTION 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.1 I 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’.2 Since it was in common use in the period under discussion, it seems appropriate to begin by asking what

in Half the battle
Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

3 War experienced: 1941–45 A different sort of war W ITH THE ENDING of the Big Blitz in May 1941 the war as experienced on the home front changed and with it the nature of the challenge to civilian morale. Instead of living with the pervasive threat of invasion and the daily experience of violent assault from the air, the country entered a period of improved outlook abroad and relative quiet at home. The bombing slackened off and return to a semblance of normality was possible. Britain was no longer alone in her fight: first the Soviet Union and then the USA

in Half the battle
Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

4 Persuading the people M ANY OFFICIAL and semi-official words and images were devoted to sustaining civilian morale during the Second World War. The attempt to explain the state of mind of the British people in this period might begin, therefore, with a consideration of the nature of these words and images, the thinking that lay behind them and what effect, if any, they had on the targeted audience. As discussed in Chapter 1, the importance of modern mass communications to the state of public morale in time of war was recognized by the Government of the day

in Half the battle
Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

fronts to the home fronts. But the bombing of civilians in their workplaces and their homes, horrifying and unnerving though it was, had not been sufficiently extensive to make governments feel that civilian morale itself was seriously threatened. By 1939, however, the prospect was altogether more alarming. Aircraft design had evolved rapidly in the twenty years since the war. In every respect – speed, instrumentation and gunnery, but more significantly, in range and payloads – the machines of 1939 were greatly superior to those of 1918.2 In a number of war theatres

in Half the battle
Robert Mackay

several provincial cities were subjected to heavy bombing and the threat of invasion persisted. Finally there was the period from mid-1941 to the end of the war in which the threat of invasion receded, the bombing became more patchy and intermittent and the war took on the character of a long haul to victory. In each of these phases the nature of the pressures on civilian morale was substantially different. This meant that there was a mismatch between much of what was prepared and the needs revealed by the actuality of war. And this in turn produced an evolution of

in Half the battle
Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

stations as shelters, clear evidence of a government anxious to do whatever seemed best for the preservation of civilian morale. It was a decision, moreover, that was virtually dictated by the politics of the moment: nothing less than the public’s confidence in the Government seemed to be at stake. When the first surveys of public opinion – as distinct from the views of those claiming to represent it – were made in late November 1940, confirmation came of the wisdom of the concessions made towards deep shelter provision. In a nationwide survey, Mass-Observation asked

in Half the battle
Robert Mackay

commitment, the performance of the British in this regard for several years beyond the point where defeat threatened, suggests a nation that looked to a better future. In the several years it took to defeat the Axis powers, the promise of that future gave added purpose to the task. conclusion.p65 260 16/09/02, 09:28 THE INVISIBLE CHAIN 261 Heightened sense of national identity, participation, shared dangers, the hope of a better future – all these created a favourable context for the maintenance of civilian morale. But no scrutiny of the contemporary social record

in Half the battle
Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

exploit reconstruction for civilian morale, condemning them, rather, to damagelimitation activity, after the disaster of the debate. Mass-Observation, in a study of attitudes towards demobilization, predictably found some anxiety about employment, noting that one man in ten, and one woman in five, expected to have difficulty finding a job.41 (These figures, of course, could be read much more positively, that is that 90 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women did not expect to have difficulty finding a job.) Meanwhile, summarizing its own findings on popular

in Half the battle
Defending Cold War Canada
Katie Pickles

will have to face if World War III develops. There may be no war – we pray there will not be – perhaps no bombs will fall. Yet today in a grim world, tense with dread, we have the need for clear-eyed courage, steady thinking, unshaken faith. We need civilian morale now , war or no war, and we need women able to create and maintain it. We who love Canada can so

in Female imperialism and national identity