Monday, 26 October 2009

Morale and Morale-busting

I suppose we’d always find something topical in these extracts from Ian McLaine, Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War II (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1979). But the recently published claim that that the current government had a policy of promoting immigration expressly as a means of transforming the ethnic and cultural make-up of the country gives this post added interest.

Looking back we find that many of the persuasion strategies used in the era of mass immigration were given their first run out during the Second World War to manage the reaction to US soldiers’ presence in WWII. As part of this ‘gigantic social experiment’ we see many of the practices that are now familiar being used for perhaps the first time, at least on so large a scale: such practices as historically constructed apologias for Black behaviour; intervention in schools to control politically sensitive language; the police being instructed to discourage ‘discrimination’; the large scale funding and social deployment as government proxies of voluntary organisations known to be committed to race-liberalism; acculturation to social problems imposed by government diktat leading to a growing acceptance that the artificial situation is ‘normal’; propaganda publications specially designed for both host and incomer to smooth both groups' rough edges and facilitate mixing; the government sponsoring of ‘spontaneous’ goodwill and hospitality as model for private emulation; these and more are here.

We can also imagine that this social experiment had interest for integrationists in America. Eisenhower’s agreement not to segregate White and Black troops stationed in Britain, and the Americans’ exposure to British puzzlement and anger at negative attitudes to Blacks born of long experience can only have aided the integrationist cause.

These extracts are also interesting for the light they throw on the growth of government involvement in the minutiae of everyday life and the inexorable growth of rules and regulations; WWII ushered in the nanny state, then as now war was used as pretext for social control.


One of the primary tasks of the Ministry of Information was to compile a weekly report for government on the state of public opinion and on the results of various surveys into lifestyle and consumption habits, the Wartime Social Surveys:

[all emphases in bold are mine]

Not only were the reports comprehensive and detailed, delving into many apparently trivial aspects of wartime life, they were - which was more important - unbiased and accurate when tested against the quantitative findings of the British Institute of Public Opinion and the Wartime Social Survey. Their uniqueness lay in the fact that for the first time a government had at its disposal a reliable machine for testing public responses to administrative and policy decisions


… and for gauging the needs of the people. […]

The cynically-minded observer might be disposed to comment that it took a total war for the British governing classes to show real and practical concern for the condition of the people. But while it may be true to say that the main thrust of Home Intelligence’s work was directed towards ameliorating wartime discomforts and grievances in order to buttress support for the government, it is also true that the staff of the Ministry came to regard their labours as socially useful, war or no war. […]

Once it had settled down, the Wartime Social Survey became an extremely useful adjunct to government. In June 1941 Louis Moss, late of the BBC Listener Research unit and the British Institute of Public Opinion, was appointed as Superintendent and together with Stephen Taylor he readied the Survey for the great demands that were to be made upon it by governments. At the end of the following month all but two of the existing staff resigned when the Ministry refused to approach the National Institute of Economic and Social Research again, the Institute having earlier withdrawn its support because it objected to the Survey’s study of morale as well as of public opinion. However, new staff were immediately engaged and put to work.


Although the major concern was with the immediate physical and psychological well-being of the populace in time of war, the nature and breadth of the Survey’s work had obvious implications for peacetime. Never before had government involved itself so intimately with the minutiae of British, largely working-class, life. Appalled at the prospect of the loss of such a unique organisation, Taylor from as early as September 1942 urged the retention of the Survey after victory in the form of a National Institute of Opinion Studies. He correctly anticipated that after the war economic and social restrictions would continue in being for some time, necessitating appropriate social research so that the government of the day might reach sound and just decisions. […] Taylor was supported by the Ministry. The unit survived and is today a valuable part of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.


For our purposes it is important to note that, as with the reports of Home Intelligence, the Wartime Social Survey was more than an expedient tool for the maintenance of morale. It represented a considerable widening of the ambit of government concern for the condition of the people and may be considered part of the wartime acceleration towards social reform.

The presence in Britain after January 1942 of American troops, several million of whom had passed through the country by D-Day, threw on the Ministry of Information yet another responsibility that of smoothing and enhancing relations between this most numerous body of foreign soldiers and their civilian hosts.

Certain worrying questions presented themselves. How would the populace respond to the presence of soldiers whose country of origin was by no means popular in Britain? A country, moreover, which was inevitably to become the senior partner in the alliance. If resentment arose, would it affect the nature and quality of the British war effort? What of the large numbers - amounting to tens of thousands - of black American troops? The potential for friction between a strained, tired population and the well-paid, ebullient young Americans, freed of the many restraints governing their behaviour at home, was considerable.


Upon the arrival of US servicemen, the Ministry of Information set up an American Forces Liaison Division which was made responsible for co-ordinating what was essentially a locally based programme of smoothing relations between the public and the American forces. Only at the level of town and village could the Ministry, through the agency of RIOs, (Regional Information Officers) recruit the co-operation of numerous bodies and authorities. Local improvisation rather than central direction was necessary if success was to be achieved. Employing much the same tactics as were applied to stealing the thunder from the left, the Ministry remained in the background, ‘fomenting spontaneous hospitality’* and encouraging manifestations of good will. […]

* Southern Region Report, INF 1/327B

There were two initial difficulties. The Americans came ‘self-sufficing, fully equipped, and prepared to regard Britain in much the same light as they regarded North Africa, namely, as the base from which they happened to be fighting at the moment’; and it was only through the efforts of General Eisenhower and the creation of a top-level British-American Liaison Board, on which the Ministry was represented, that this variant of isolationism was broken down. A number of publications prepared for distribution to American troops undoubtedly helped. […]


The second difficulty had to do with money. The Ministry’s programme languished for want of it. When the government was persuaded to allocate finance for disbursement by the department, the hospitable impulses of the areas in which US soldiers were stationed or spent their leave were given tangible form.

What was done once money became available? The Local Information Committees, which had been a cause of distress to the Ministry in the past now came into their own, for on them were represented the many interests whose co-operation was required. Hospitality Committees were set up. These comprised local authorities, the Regional Commissioner, voluntary societies and the churches, their ‘ideal being to allow no American to go home again without having at least been under one British roof and made one British friend’. The American Red Cross, which lodged and fed troops on leave in facilities provided by the British, was assisted by a total of 40,000 women volunteers who helped organise Red Cross Clubs. Two hundred and fifty social clubs were established by voluntary agencies such as the YMCA, Rotary, the Salvation Army and the Jewish Hospitality Committee, while the WVS ran some 200 Welcome Clubs where British civilians were able to meet American servicemen ‘away from the atmosphere of the street or the pub’. The Ministry encouraged and supported the British Council and the English Speaking Union in sending speakers to American establishments and aided the American Red Cross in forming clubs for the purpose of instructing some of the 60,000 ‘G.I. brides’ about American life and customs.


Care must he exercised lest the impression is given that most Americans took their ease in church halls and Rotary clubs: it is more likely that the majority preferred the atmosphere of the pub and the company of ‘loose women’ to the amenities so earnestly and anonymously fostered by the Ministry of Information. But insofar as the Ministry facilitated it, the contact of hundreds of thousands of young Americans with the kindness and warmth of ordinary Britons undoubtedly helped to ease much confusion and loneliness. We are, however, principally concerned with the impact of the U.S. troops on their hosts. It did not have the consequences which might have been anticipated from a reading of the intelligence reports prior to Pearl Harbour or from the fears which motivated the Ministry’s campaign to popularise the United States.

The complaints and accusations levelled at the American troops were many. They were said to drink too heavily, to be boastful and contemptuous of the British armed forces (‘the Dunkirk Harriers’), to be too highly paid, to corrupt young women, and to practise discrimination against their black comrades.


By December 1942 such reports had considerably declined in number and in 1943 they had all but disappeared. This, together with the constant remark that the Americans were ‘settling down well’, may be taken as an indication of the way in which they came to be regarded as part of wartime life, albeit an exotic part. The RIO for the Southern Region described the American ‘occupation’ as a gigantic social experiment and asked whether it had succeeded:

... in spite of fairly frequent incidents ... annoyance and criticism lost significance as time went on. It was smothered by a growing appreciation of the Americans as a whole. Irritating and disquieting incidents continued, but there Was less and less inclination to draw general and damning deductions from them. People began to realise ... that the Americans really belong to a different nation, with different standards, customs, manners of approach’.

If after actual contact the British revised their earlier notion of the Americans as close relations, how did they respond to the black American troops in their midst? Great concern was expressed in the War Cabinet. It was feared in a generally undefined way that the presence of black US soldiers would have untoward consequences for the morale of both civilians and servicemen and for Anglo-American relations. The Ministry of Information did not entertain such fears and adopted a cautious and sensible approach to this contentious matter.

In August 1942 Anthony Eden referred the War Cabinet to ‘the various difficulties’ likely to be encountered, including the health of coloured troops during the English winter, should the United


States continue to send the existing proportion of black troops to Britain. Cabinet agreed with the Foreign Secretary’s proposal to press the Americans for a reduction in the number being sent over. A month later Sir James Grigg, Secretary of State for War, submitted a memorandum in which he argued that the failure of British civilians to sympathise with the distinction drawn by white against black troops would lead to friction between white Americans and the host populace. The morale of British troops overseas would also be adversely affected should there ‘be any unnecessary association between American coloured troops and British women’. He therefore recommended that the lead of the US authorities should be followed and, as an example of the policy he had in mind, he appended to the memorandum a note written by the Major-General in charge of Administration, Southern Command, for the guidance of British servicemen.

Following a potted history of slavery and of the reasons for the segregation practised in the southern American states, the note spoke of the ‘bond of mutual esteem’ between the races and the white Southerner’s sense of moral duty to the negro ‘as it were to a child’. Of ‘a simple mental outlook’ and lacking ‘the white man’s ability to think and act to a plan’, the negro is nevertheless capable of engaging in civil strife if allowed too much freedom and too close an association with white people. With these facts in mind, British serving men and women were advised to be sympathetic to coloured men but to avoid making intimate friends with them, women being adjured never to ‘walk out, dance or drink’ with coloured soldiers. As a general rule, it was thought best in such matters to emulate the behaviour of white American troops.

Grigg’s recommendations were too much for Lord Cranborne who, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, was aware of the effect the adoption of such a policy might have on black colonials serving with the British forces. He protested that ‘it is going too far to attempt to ask the British Army or the ATS to adopt the attitude of the American Army towards American coloured people’. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon, warmly supported Cranborne. Although he stated that the coloured man was entitled to equal treatment only ‘if he behaves himself’, Simon insisted upon the maintenance of equality in service and in civilian life. Herbert Morrison, despite concern for the consequences of the fascination of coloured men for some British women, also came down against Grigg’s proposals: the police had already been instructed not to practise discrimination and to discourage it among others; advice to soldiers on the lines suggested


would certainly become known to the general public; and in any case assurances had been received from General Eisenhower that the US Army would not segregate coloured from white troops in the United Kingdom.

Bracken’s contribution to the debate was confined to the circulation of a letter he had written to Grigg on 16 September. Though it was desirable, the Minister of Information maintained, to avoid offending white American soldiers, it would be unwise to try to lead the British people to adopt the American social attitude to the negro:

I do not think that the mass of the civilian population ought to be approached with any propaganda on the subject. A wrong step would be disastrous, and there is not sufficient prospect of any real success, however wise one’s attitude. Incidentally, the essential agents of national hospitality are the Voluntary Societies, with whom we are working very closely. Their fundamental principles are involved in the doctrine of no racial discrimination.

The Ministry’s general philosophy on propaganda apart, Bracken could hardly have advised otherwise since on 20 September 1942 the Sunday Express had carried an article under his name, ‘The Colour Bar Must Go’, which, while referring to coloured British subjects, was unlikely to be divorced from the American issue in the minds of most readers.

In the light of reports reaching the Ministry of Information, Bracken’s caution was well advised. The probability of antagonising the public by ‘education’ along the lines suggested by Sir James Grigg was high. Of all factors contributing to tension between the civil population and the Americans by far the most important was the discrimination publicly exercised by white against black, the initial puzzlement leading eventually to ‘strong feeling’ and ‘considerable indignation’. British soldiers shared the civilians’ feelings: one incident said to be typical was that in which a number of soldiers, upbraided by Americans for ‘fraternising with negroes’, commented that as both black and white troops had come 3,000 miles to help win the war they saw no reason to distinguish between one American and another. Civilians took increasingly to interfering verbally and physically in disputes between black troops and white officers and military police, the GOC Southern Command reporting a number of such incidents to Sir James Grigg who in turn anxiously informed the Prime Minister.

Faced with a cascade of memoranda on the subject, the War


Cabinet was thrown into a lengthy discussion on 13 October 1942. While it was thought that the British people ‘should avoid becoming too friendly with coloured American troops’, it was also agreed that Grigg’s suggestions ‘went too far’ and that no modification be made in respect of free access by coloured persons to canteens, pubs, cinemas and the like. The Lord Privy Seal, Sir Stafford Cripps, was asked to consult with the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for War and to produce a revised set of instructions for the Army and an article for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs.

For the man who had been chosen earlier in the year to go to India in order to conduct extremely delicate negotiations with Congress and who might therefore have been expected to possess an understanding of racial problems and communal sensitivities, Cripps made surprisingly few alterations to the instructions appended to Grigg’s paper of 3 October. The offensive analysis of the negro character and the recommendation that the British should emulate the white American attitude were omitted, but there remained references to black slaves as having taken ‘root and multiplied’, to the capacity of their descendants for inspiring ‘affection and admiration’ like children, and to semi-tropical labour being more fitted to the coloured man. British servicemen and women were to be told to adopt an objective attitude in any discussions they might have with white Americans on the colour question, but the advice remained much the same as before. Just what effect the issuing of these instructions had on ‘other ranks’ it is difficult to say, but it is doubtful whether on a matter so closely involving deeply personal beliefs and attitudes much influence was exerted. Bracken successfully vetoed the distribution of similar advice to the general public. He also expressed opposition to ‘written documents’ and ‘the didactic approach’ being inflicted on the Army, but could not prevent the scheme going ahead.
Some publicity did, in fact, escape from the Ministry of Information. But it was on a small scale, aimed at specific groups in the community and exhibited rather more discretion than was shown in the final product of the War Cabinet’s deliberations. Louis MacNeice, the poet, was commissioned by the Ministry on behalf of the Board of Education to write a booklet, Meet the U.S. Army, for the guidance of school teachers. In it he touched on the colour problem:

The American Negroes require a special comment. There are many Negro soldiers in this country, and those Britons who have met them have been very favourably impressed by their pleasant manners and their readiness to please. These Negro troops are not,


on principle, separately brigaded, the U.S, War Department having rightly declined to differentiate them from other American citizens. It must be remembered, however, that ... they are in the unique position of being descended from slaves; this memory of slavery, being still fresh, retains a psychological hold both on the Negroes themselves and on many of the white fellow-citizens ... from this they will only gradually break free. Any American Negro who comes to Britain must be treated by us on a basis of absolute equality. And remember never to call a Negro a ‘nigger’.

The Ministry steered very cautiously between the shoals of indignant British opinion and the ingrained attitudes of many white American soldiers. The Regions were advised to seek the guidance of the commanding officer of the local American unit before encouraging hospitality for black troops and to obviate ‘embarrassment’ by never inviting ‘negro troops to a dance at which white American troops and English girls’ were present. RIOs were also asked to point out to Americans that the British people, having no colour problem of their own, could afford to take ‘a more detached and seemingly more humanitarian attitude to negroes’: hence their impatience at evidence of discrimination. One Regional officer found this policy irksome. When asked by the American Southern Base Commander whether anything could be done to moderate the public’s ‘effusiveness’ towards black soldiers, he replied unofficially that departmental instructions prevented him from taking such action in much the same way as US Army policy prevented ‘what most American Officers would have liked to do, namely, to exclude Negro troops from this country’.

A year after the thorough Cabinet discussion Sir James Grigg was still pressing for a change of ‘attitude on the colour question’. Failing to analyse the circumstances and the possibility of discriminatory behaviour on the part of the US military police, he cited the crime statistics relating to black troops. These showed that the incidence of sex offences was twice as heavy and of violent crimes five times as heavy as among white American soldiers; and as black troops were less inclined towards drunkenness, Grigg concluded that ‘in both these classes of crime the trouble is due to the natural propensities of the coloured man’. The Duke of Marlborough, who as a lieutenant-colonel was liaising between the American and British forces, also felt constrained to warn Churchill:

There is, I know, a feeling throughout parts of the country in which these negro troops are quartered that it is unwise and


dangerous to go out into the roads and country lanes after dark and ‘there is growing resentment that these conditions should be allowed to exist. I know the difficulties of the situation as they confront you and the American authorities, I do not wish to make a mountain out of a molehill but I do visualize that during the coming winter when the hours of darkness grow longer that the number of these crimes will become greater and also the possibility of their being undetected will also be facilitated.

The Prime Minister considered the situation ‘serious’. But the Ministry of Information, in possession of no evidence to substantiate the Duke’s forebodings, continued to counsel prudence, Both in the policy towards black troops and in the tactic of quietly encouraging the basically friendly and hospitable promptings of the public towards the American visitors, the department acted in accordance with the stance evolved in 1941. In these, as in other matters of morale and public opinion, the British people were trusted to behave sensibly and in a manner consistent with the nation’s best interests.



sr said...
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sr said...

Blogger sr said...

If you expand your comment at the BANA thread at MR to a few paragraphs and send it to me I will post it as a main item. Perhaps this is against you policy. I hope not.


sr said...


fellist said...

Sorry, didn’t notice this comment until now, Soren.

Thanks for the invite but I’m not sure much elaboration is possible, and in any case I think we should consider it lucky that my little plea for unity in our diversity didn’t itself provoke one or other of the determined factionalists to bash another faction.