Civilian Morale During the Second World War:
Responses to Air Raids Re-examined
By EDGAR JONESa, ROBIN WOOLVENb, BILL DURODIÉc, and SIMON
SUMMARY. The impact of air raids on civilian morale during the Second World War has
been the subject of much dispute. Ofﬁcial histories concluded that the mental health of the
nation may have improved, while panic was a rare phenomenon. Revisionist historians
argued that psychiatric casualties were signiﬁcantly higher than these accounts suggested
because cases went unreported, while others were treated as organic disorders. Using con-
temporary assessments and medical literature, we sought to re-evaluate the psychological
effect of bombing. There is little evidence to suggest that admissions for formal mental
illness increased appreciably, although a question remains about the incidence of functional
somatic disorders, such as non-ulcer dyspepsia and effort syndrome. The fact that civilians
had little to gain from hospitalization in part explained why dire predictions of mass air-raid
neurosis failed to materialize. In the event, civilians proved more resilient than planners had
predicted, largely because they had underestimated their adaptability and resourceful
and because the lengthy conﬂict had involved so many in constructive participant roles.
KEYWORDS: psychological casualties, air raids, traumatic neurosis, the Blitz, panic, con-
version disorders, somatization, morale.
In the aftermath of 11 September and the war against Iraq, the threat of terrorist
attack has become very real. How civilians might respond to a major offensive
remains an open question but one which may reﬂect the morale and behaviour of
people exposed to air raids, as was the case during the Second World War. The
ofﬁcial interpretation, published in the post-war period, was framed by Titmuss,
who argued in Problems of Social Policy that not only was morale sustained through-
out the war, but that there was also no panic and no rush to safety.1Furthermore,
he claimed that the mental health of the nation improved, attributable to a universal
will to work under the stress of national necessity. Key factors identiﬁed by
Titmuss in maintaining morale at high levels included:
leadership, an equitable sharing-out of food, shelter and social services, a job to do in a
table economy, and the provision of safety-valves ranging from voluntary evacuation
schemes to various mechanisms whereby public opinion could be effectively expressed . . . .
The individual’s responsibility to his family, whose respect he valued, was thus encouraged
to develop its maximum strength.2
Social History of Medicine Vol. 17 No. 3 The Society for the Social History of Medicine 2004, all rights reserved.
aDepartment of Psychological Medicine, Guy’s, King’s, and St Thomas’ School of Medicine, 103
Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AZ, UK. E-mail: E.Jones@hogarth7.demon.co.uk
bCentre for Defence Studies, Department of War Studies, King’s College London, The Strand,
London WC2R 2LS, UK. E-mail: Robin.Woolven@btopenworld.com
cInternational Centre for Security Analysis, Department of War Studies, King’s College London,
The Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK. E-mail: email@example.com
dInstitute of Psychiatry, Weston Education Centre, 10 Cutcombe Road, London SE5 9RJ, UK.
1R. M. Titmuss, Problems of Social Policy (London, 1950), p. 343.
2Ibid., p. 348.
0951–631X Social History of Medicine Vol. 17 No. 3 pp. 463–479
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 463
In his study of Civil Defence, O’Brien took an equally sanguine view of morale.
Writing of the Blitz in autumn 1940, he argued,
the phrase ‘London can take it’ became current, and there is small doubt that this reﬂected
the reality of the situation . . . . Evacuation . . . was relatively small, and there was no panic.3
Drawing a distinction between ‘passive’ morale (a grim willingness to carry on)
and ‘active’ morale (heroic gestures), Marwick detected no fundamental weaken-
ing of resolve throughout the war.4
Questioning these optimistic interpretations, Calder suggested that panic and
defeatism after major raids, looting of bombed premises, black marketeering, strikes,
juvenile delinquency, and higher rates of infantile mortality all indicated that civilian
morale was not uniformly robust.
In a later study, Calder argued that Britain in 1940
provided ‘ample evidence, familiar and unfamiliar, to indicate widespread fear and
paranoia bordering on panic’.
Similarly, Ponting maintained that sustained morale
during the Blitz owed more to government propaganda and a censored media than to
In his study of the devastating raids on Belfast in April and May 1941, Barton
concluded that inadequate preparations and the destruction of 53 per cent of the
entire housing stock led to mass evacuations, which assumed panic proportions.
contrast, Ziegler, who limited his study to London, conceded that the ﬁghting spirit
faltered at times, but concluded that the majority behaved with ‘dignity, courage,
resolution and astonishing good humour’.
However, a recent investigation of
civilian morale during 1940 by Smith returned to a position closer to that of Titmuss
while Mackay’s general investigation of the war years concluded that:
The ‘negative’ features emphasised by revisionist historians, although indisputably present,
were not on such a scale as to invalidate the orthodox picture of a people who became
actively committed to the project their leaders put before them . . . the ‘lows’ did not last for
long and were more than outweighed by the ‘highs’.11
Civilian morale was, of course, not simply a response to air raids but to a range of
factors, such as the availability of food, the cost of living, news about progress in
the war, and the provision of health and welfare beneﬁts. Within the scope of this
article, we were unable to assess all of these inﬂuences, and focused on the psycho-
logical impact of bombing. Received opinion is that there was no public panic,
except in isolated incidents such as the Bethnal Green tube disaster, and that the
incidence of psychiatric disorders among civilians did not increase to any signiﬁ-
cant extent even in areas subjected to heavy attacks, such as the East End of
London, Liverpool, or Southampton. Psychiatric admissions following raids, it was
claimed, were of individuals with a pre-existing disorder or constitutional vulner-
3T. H. O’Brien, Civil Defence (London, 1955), p. 401.
4A. Marwick, The Home Front, The British and the Second World War (London, 1976), pp. 68–71.
5A. Calder, The People’s War: Britain 1939–45 (London, 1969).
6A. Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London, 1991), p. 109.
7C. Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality (London, 1990).
8B. Barton, The Blitz: Belfast in the War Years (Belfast, 1989).
9P. Ziegler, London at War 1939–45 (London, 1995).
10 M. Smith, Britain and 1940: History, Myth and Popular Memory (London, 2000).
11 R. Mackay, Half the Battle, Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester,
2002), p. 248.
464 E. Jones, R. Woolven, B. Durodié, and S. Wessely
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 1/11/04 1:40 pm Page 464
ability. We sought to re-examine this interpretation. Were people as resilient,
adaptable, and impervious to the stress of air raids as ofﬁcial histories have claimed?
If people did break down, what had caused this to happen and, for those who
survived apparently unscathed, what were the preventive factors?
Deﬁnitions and Methods
To analyse contemporary assessments of morale, we systematically searched all ﬁles
of the Home Intelligence Division of the Ministry of Information and the
intelligence branch of the Ministry of Home Security. A keyword search was
performed using PROCAT for the records of other relevant departments such as
the War Ofﬁce, Prime Minister’s Ofﬁce, Cabinet Ofﬁce, and the Air Ministry. In
addition, leading medical journals of the period were hand-searched for papers that
studied psychological disorders in civilians subjected to air attack.
Morale can be conceptualized in a variety of ways, and for the purpose of this
study we adopted the deﬁnition employed by Dr Stephen Taylor, a physician,
who had trained at the Maudsley Hospital. As director of the Home Intelligence
Division of the Ministry of Information, he wrote in October 1941: ‘Morale
[should be deﬁned] not by what a person thinks or says, but by what he does and
how he does it’; it was ‘the state of conduct and behaviour of an individual or
group’.12 MacCurdy reiterated this interpretation in 1943, stating that an attitude
of resilience was ‘meaningless, or at least ineffective, unless it promotes action’.13
Preparation for Aerial Bombing
When, in 1932, Stanley Baldwin declared in the House of Commons that ‘no
power on earth can prevent the man in the street from being bombed . . . the
bomber will always get through’, he was expressing a view supported by the Air
Staff.14 Military planners believed that a ‘knock-out blow’ could be delivered from
the skies by wiping out a substantial section of the urban population. By scaling-up
casualty statistics derived from German air raids on London in 1917–18, the Com-
mittee of Imperial Defence (CID) calculated in 1937 that a 60-day offensive could
kill as many as 600,000 and leave 1.2 million injured.15 These frightening numbers
took on an even more sinister aspect when related to earlier predictions about the
psychological effects of bombing on civilians.
Concerned by civilian responses during the First World War, in 1924 the
government set up an Air-Raid Precautions Sub-Committee of the CID. One of
its earliest pronouncements that ‘the moral effect of air attack is out of all pro-
portion to the material effect’ was to exercise a profound and enduring inﬂuence.16
This theme was developed by Sir Maurice Hankey, secretary of the CID, who
The National Archives, Public Record Ofﬁce, Kew (hereafter PRO), INF1/292, Ministry of Infor-
mation Weekly Reports, No. 53, 8 October 1941, S. Taylor, ‘Home morale and public opinion’
, p. 1.
13 J. T. MacCurdy, The Structure of Morale (Cambridge, 1943), pp. 72, 141.
14 R. Woolven, ‘Munich, London and ARP’, RUSI Journal, 143 (1998), 54–8, p. 54.
15 Titmuss, Social Policy, p. 13.
16 PRO, CAB46/1, Meeting 23 June 1924.
Civilian Morale during the Second World War 465
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 465
argued that victory in any future war ‘will rest with that country whose people will
endure bombardment the longer with greater stoicism’. He questioned the pre-
paredness of the general public ‘who have no realisation what is in store in the
event of another war on a large scale, and I am apprehensive that the full realisation
would come as so great a shock that general panic would ensue’.17 Reports of large
numbers seeking shelter in Underground stations in response to the German air
raids of 1917–18 appeared to provide the Committee with further evidence that
civilians lacked the resilience needed to survive a concerted air attack.18 As a result,
the primary aim of ARP services, as deﬁned in June 1937, was not the protection
of individuals and property from destruction, but ‘the maintenance of the morale
of the people’.19 Plans were laid for some 17,000 regular troops and 20,000 reserve
constables to be drafted into London to control the expected mass exodus from the
capital and to prevent panic at main-line stations and entrances to the Underground.
Fear of widespread psychological breakdown also inﬂuenced the levels of
protection offered to citizens. A deep-shelter system, the only effective defence
against bombs, was rejected not simply because it was costly to construct. Planners
believed that it might create a ‘shelter mentality’ and that essential war production
would suffer as workers became increasingly reluctant to emerge from positions of
safety.20 The system was also rejected on grounds of equality, as the Hailey Con-
ference of February 1939 had decided that morale could be maintained only if the
same standards of protection were applied across areas of equivalent risk. Concerns
about a deep-shelter mentality endured and, in 1942, when eight new shelters
(each accommodating 8,000 people) were completed beneath Underground
stations, they were retained for military use; not until the V1 offensive of 1944
were ﬁve opened to the public.21
Air Raids in Spain and China
Although it had been predicted that for every physical casualty there would be two
to three psychological, these estimates were not supported by events of the late
1930s. Reports from British military observers of the Sino-Japanese hostilities
suggested that ‘there was good discipline and control’ when Nanking was attacked
in August 1937. While high ofﬁcials went to their dugouts, ‘the masses were apa-
thetic to air-raids’.22 A year later, Wing Commander Pelly, the air attaché in
Shanghai, observed that Japanese raids had stiffened Chinese resilience despite
often ‘heavy and indiscriminate bombing’ of large centres of population. Pelly’s
evidence was supported by a German journalist based in Hankow, who wrote that
17 PRO, CAB46/3 ARP/8, Memorandum by Sir Maurice Hankey, 2 July 1924.
18 O’Brien, Civil Defence, p. 6; H. A. Jones, War in the Air, Being the Story of thePart Played in the Great
War by the Royal Air Force, Volume 5 (London, 1935), p. 136.
19 PRO, CAB16/172, Minutes and report of the Warren Fisher Sub-committee of the CID on
ARP Services, 30 June 1937.
20 O’Brien, Civil Defence, p. 192.
21 R. Woolven, ‘London and the V Weapons 1943–45’, RUSI Journal, 147 (2002), 53–9, p. 54.
22 PRO, ADM116/4174, Reports from HMS Capetown on Japanese raids on Nanking from 2
466 E. Jones, R. Woolven, B. Durodié, and S. Wessely
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 466
23 PRO, WO106/5296, Experiences of a German journalist in Hankow, 17 September 1938.
24 PRO, AIR2/3558, Air Operations during Sino-Japanese Hostilities, November 1938.
25 E. Mira, ‘Psychiatric Experience in the Spanish War’, British Medical Journal, 1 (1939), 1217–20,
26 Ibid., p. 1218.
27 G. R. Hargreaves, ‘Psychological Casualties in War’, British Medical Journal, 2 (1939), 1161; H.
Crichton-Miller, ‘Neuroses in War-time’, British Medical Journal, 1 (1939), 169–70, p. 169.
28 J. Rickman, ‘The Mental Aspects of ARP’, British Medical Journal, 2 (1939), 457–8, p. 458.
29 M. B. Wright, ‘Psychological Emergencies in War-time’, British Medical Journal, 2 (1939), 576–8,
W. R. Bion, ‘The “War of Nerves”: Civilian Reaction, Morale, and Prophylaxis’, and H.Crichton-
Miller ‘General Conclusion’, in E. Miller (ed.), The Neuroses in War (London, 1940), 180–200, pp. 178–9,
184–5, 201–10, pp. 202–3.
31 A. B. Stokes, ‘War Strains and Mental Health’, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 101 (1945),
Civilian Morale during the Second World War 467
the Japanese air offensive had been ‘materially incapable of affecting the will to
resist on the front or hinterland or of producing panic . . . even when continued
for weeks . . . it merely produces a strong feeling of hatred, which indirectly
strengthens the defences’.23 Although these reports reached the Air Ministry, they
were discounted, probably because planners agreed with Pelly’s view that the
observed resilience was a racial characteristic: ‘the Chinese are more fatalistic and
possibly less imaginative than the Western races’.24
Evidence from the Spanish Civil War, published in the British Medical Journal,
also had little immediate inﬂuence on policy. Emilio Mira, professor of psychiatry
at Barcelona University, demonstrated that the incidence of psychiatric disorders
in the city did not rise signiﬁcantly as a result of air raids.25 ‘After a time’, Mira
the people in the city became almost indifferent to the bombardment if it did not affect
their own district . . . It should, however, be emphasised that the great part of the
population would feel what may be called ‘normal anxiety’ during an air raid, but never
need psychiatric attention.26
Although the Air Ministry and CID had reached pessimistic conclusions about
the psychological responses of civilians to air raids, the UK medical profession was
less decided. Some, such as W. R. Bion and Hugh Crichton-Miller, believed that
it was impossible to predict the effect.27 John Rickman argued that ‘the strain of
war conditions in the direction of disturbing morale will affect a small proportion
of civilian population seriously and a larger proportion subliminally’.28 Wright
believed that morale would be determined by ‘class, to a greater extent on the
density of the population exposed, and probably to the greatest extent on the
adequacy of the protective measures and the conﬁdence these measures inspire’.29
Denied the training and group protection afforded to soldiers, Crichton-Miller
and Hargreaves considered that civilians could more readily succumb to a power-
ful desire for self-protection, regressing to a state of infantile dependency.30
Planners, advised by two veterans of the First World War (Gordon Holmes, a
neurologist, and Bernard Hart, a psychiatrist), took a pessimistic view of civilian
responses and opened specialist hospitals (termed ‘Neurosis Centres’) in the
outskirts of major cities to treat the expected epidemic of psychiatric casualties.31 In
London, the staff of the Maudsley were despatched either to Belmont Hospital in
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 467
Sutton, or to the converted premises of Mill Hill public school.32 During the First
World War, it had been shown that the further a shell-shocked soldier was evacu-
ated from the trenches, the less likely it was that he would recover. As a result,
hospitals were set up in locations of comparative safety but within the sound of
bombs to encourage patients to return to work in danger zones. When the
expected civilian casualties failed to materialize, these units were diverted to
Early Assessments of Morale: Ministry of Home Security
From August 1940, regular weekly morale reports were prepared by the intelli-
gence branch of the Ministry of Home Security.33 Although ﬁlled with telling
anecdotal evidence, their value as objective evaluations of civilian resilience was
undermined by the intrusion of the authors’ prejudices. R. H. Parker, director of
the Home Publicity Division, was responsible for most of the reports written
during 1940. Known as ‘judge’ Parker because of his earlier legal career in India, he
had a penchant for lengthy memoranda in an up-beat patriotic style.34 Sources
were not revealed, while the assessments themselves read like morale-boosting
propaganda. At the height of the Blitz, for example, Parker recorded that ‘there is
little appearance of nervous or physical overstrain . . . . Nothing has affected the
unconquerable optimism of the Cockney, nor has anything restricted his ready, if
In addition, the Ministry of Home Security received reports from various local
sources, including the police and Civil Defence ofﬁcials. In autumn 1940, an
analysis of 50 conﬁdential assessments by chief constables led to the satisfying
conclusion that ‘it is notable that in no single instance is there any suggestion of the
least faltering in the public courage’.36 The report from Lancashire was typical: ‘in
an area which had been bombed for several successive days, the opinion was
expressed that people could not stand the strain for long but this feeling has
gradually subsided, and the presence of our ﬁghter aircraft patrolling in the vicinity
has increased public conﬁdence’. In July 1940, the Civil Defence Commissioner
based in Reading and responsible for the Southern Region concluded that:
The present state of morale is very high. The weak spots are in the middle rather than the
working class . . . . There is some suspicion that the well-to-do are privileged, and that there
is tolerance for defeatism among them. The raids have been met with courage and a
remarkable degree of indifference.37
32 E. Jones, ‘Aubrey Lewis, Edward Mapother and the Maudsley’, Medical History, Supplement 22
(2003), 3–38, pp. 28–9.
33 PRO, HO199/444, Weekly Morale Reports prepared by the Intelligence Branch, 27 August
34 I. McLaine, Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War Two
(London, 1979), p. 199.
35 PRO, HO199/444, Weekly Morale Report, 7 October 1940, p. 1.
36 PRO, HO199/316, Morale of the Public during and after Air-raids, Extracts from Chief
37 PRO, HO199/410, Policy regarding Monthly Reports on Morale received from Regional
Commissioners, Monthly Report, Region 6, two months ended 13 July 1940.
468 E. Jones, R. Woolven, B. Durodié, and S. Wessely
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 468
The Ministry of Home Security believed that the ‘chain of personal contacts
which exists between regional headquarters and the vast network of ARP person-
nel’ provided them with a ‘digest of whose ﬁndings might safely be considered as
representative or indeed universal’.38 But, how robust was the evidence gathered
from these reports? They often relied on the subjective assessment of one indi-
vidual, who was plausibly biased against including accounts of low morale as they
would imply that he was himself inefﬁcient or simply defeatist. These reports,
prepared by apparently well-informed ofﬁcials, illustrated how, in the absence of a
rigorous methodology, it was possible to succumb to institutional bias.
Ministry of Information
The newly-created Ministry of Information, staffed by journalists, broadcasters,
academics, and lawyers, had a relatively low proportion of career civil servants and
developed a relatively liberal and broadly-based culture.39 The daily reports on
home morale, prepared by its Home Intelligence Division, were a synthesis of
various sources and less inhibited than those from the Ministry of Home Security.
During 1940, they supported the impression that resilience was not universal or
unfaltering. The Blitz on London was described as causing ‘considerable appre-
hension’, while ‘East-Enders experiencing screaming bomb[s] for the ﬁrst time
expressed great fear but did not panic’.40 However, others did lose control during
Confusion reported in Piccadilly after crowd had made for large Swan & Edgar’s shelter to
ﬁnd it was closed on Sundays. Elderly people started panicking and it took several minutes
for policemen to disperse crowds to other shelters.41
Reactions to raids in London varied widely: ‘four people in one Kensington bus
panicked at a siren; other reports show many people running to shelters and then
leaving them before the All Clear sounded’. Although conﬁdence was ‘still strong’,
by September 1940, ‘terror stories’ were said to be ‘frequent’, accompanied by
rumours of new weapons, and ‘evidence that physical tiredness is beginning to
have an effect on nerves’.42 The challenge facing the government was to determine
which of these conﬂicting accounts were representative.
The answer appeared to lie in the Mass-Observation reports presented to the
Admiralty in December 1940 and January 1941 on the effect of raids on Coventry,
Bristol, Cheltenham, Southampton, Manchester, and Liverpool.
a pioneer opinion-measuring organization, had been founded in 1937 by Tom
38 Ibid., Memorandum from Intelligence Branch, 20 May 1940.
39 McLaine, Ministry of Morale, pp. 277–8.
40 PRO, INF1/264 Daily Report on Morale, 30 August 1940, London, 26 August 1940.
41 Ibid., London, 19 August 1940.
42 Ibid., Daily Observations, 19 September 1940, 21 September 1940.
43 PRO, HO199/442, Reports of the Mass-Observation Group, Morale of Naval Ratings,
Dockyard Personnel and Public.
Civilian Morale during the Second World War 469
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 469
Harrisson (1911–76), an anthropologist, Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, and
Humphrey Jennings, a documentary ﬁlm maker.44 With a nationwide panel of
1,500 voluntary observers and two groups of full-time staff in Fulham and Bolton,
it achieved prominence for its studies of daily life and the attitudes of working
people.45 However, the bias of their investigators and the nature of their interviews
were not disclosed. Mass-Observation was politically left-of-centre and reformist
in outlook. While recognizing their expertise, Richard Crossman argued that its
staff were ‘inclined to turn a hint into a scientiﬁcally demonstrated fact’ and that
there was ‘a considerable element of subjectivity in the results obtained’.46
The intense and destructive raid of 14–15 November 1940 on Coventry,
according to Mass-Observation investigators, led to:
an unprecedented dislocation and depression . . . . There were more open signs of hysteria,
terror, neurosis observed in one evening than during the whole past two months together
in all areas. Women were seen to cry, scream, to tremble all over, to faint in the street, to
attack ﬁremen. The overwhelming dominant feeling on Friday was the feeling of utter
helplessness . . . . In two cases people were seen ﬁghting to get on to cars, which they thought
would take them out into the country, though, in fact, as the drivers insisted, the cars were
just going up the road to garage.47
a quiet night, followed by a ﬁne morning, ‘changed the atmosphere for
the better’, it was predicted that another intense raid would have produced ‘more
striking and terrible’ results. What could have explained the panic in Coventry?
First, the intensity of the destruction was unprecedented. ‘The very compact and
crowded nature of the town’, the investigators concluded, ‘made the damage
dominate the whole scene . . . [and] made the shock effect much greater per bomb’.
Secondly, Coventry had not experienced a period of ‘hardening’.
by contrast, where the population had been prepared by a series of lighter air raids,
the impact of a major assault was lessened and morale remained high.
study by Vernon, based on interviews with psychologists and psychiatrists who had
treated air-raid casualties, suggested that ‘people generally ﬁnd a continued
succession of raids less trying than sporadic ones since they becom
e disadapted [sic]
during the quiet intervals’.50
Comparative studies of Southampton, Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester sug-
gested that morale did not simply ﬂuctuate in direct relationship to the tonnage of
Bristol, which had suffered far less damage than either Coventry
or Southampton, was reported as having low morale, the main complaint being a
44 Mackay, Half the Battle, pp. 10–11.
45 N. Longmate, Air Raid, The Bombing of Coventry (London, 1976), pp. 212–14.
46 PRO, INF1/261, R. H. S. Crossman, Report on the Work of Mass-Observation’, 26 October
1939, p. 1.
47 PRO, HO199/442, Report on Coventry by the Mass Observation Group, 18 November 1940,
48 T. Harrisson, Living through the Blitz (London, 1976), p. 135.
49 PRO, HO199/442, Report on Liverpool and Manchester, 10 January 1941, p. 4.
50 P. E. Vernon, ‘Psychological Effects of Air-Raids’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 36
D. Thoms, ‘The Blitz, Civilian Morale and Regionalism, 1940–42’, in P. Kirkham and D. Thoms
eds), War Culture: Social Change and Changing Experience in World War Two (London, 1995), 3–12.
470 E. Jones, R. Woolven, B. Durodié, and S. Wessely
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 470
dissatisfaction with the shelters, which was judged ‘spontaneous, non-political and
actually justiﬁed’. Despite heavy raids, morale in Liverpool remained consistently
The damage had not been concentrated and the city centre, its psycho-
logical heart, had survived quite well, enabling repairs to essential services to be
effected relatively swiftly. It was also thought that the harsh pre-war economic con-
ditions, with high unemployment and men often away at sea, had toughened the
By contrast, raids on Manchester over 22–26 December 1940 had a signiﬁcant
While plenty of people in Manchester were determined and courageous, and few openly
defeatist, careful analytical discussions with sample people . . . pointed to a considerable
private opinion of real depression and despair. Manchester people are deﬁnitely on edge,
are afraid of the next raid, are beginning to really worry about the future.53
Rumour was said to be widespread, talk about air raids was common, and alarm
openly visible when sirens sounded, and considerable evacuation from the city was
described. All were identiﬁed as signs of low morale. Like Coventry, Manchester
had suffered from concentrated raids without a period of conditioning. The utility
services and transport system were severely affected. Little had been done in terms
of public broadcasts and information to raise morale and, over the Christmas
period, the people of Manchester believed that they had been neglected. Practical
organization for the homeless appeared wanting. ‘The morale of the bombed’, the
observers concluded, ‘largely depends on the care they get in the ﬁrst 36 hours’,54
which in practice related to the quality of the rest centres, facilities for children,
information provided, health care, and provision of food.
Ministry of Home Security: Research and Experiments Department
Stung by the Mass-Observation reports, which were more incisive than anything
they had produced, the Ministry of Home Security directed its Research and
Experiments Department to investigate the impact of air raids on morale and
productive output.55 Professors J. D. Bernal and Solly Zuckerman compared the
effects of raids on Birmingham and Hull. They found that the former possessed ‘an
inner buoyancy . . . while Hull was . . . torpid and apathetic’.56 Because of the city’s
very size, and growing industries, production in Birmingham fell by less than 5 per
cent. Stable employment and high wages also deterred people from widespread
evacuation or trekking at night. Hull, by contrast, experienced an economic
depression following the loss of trade with Scandinavia and the Low Countries.
Although 10,000 people left Birmingham every month as a result of raids, they
52 B. Beaven and D. Thoms, ‘The Blitz and Civilian Morale in Three Northern Cities’, Northern
History, 32 (1996), 195–203.
53 PRO, HO199/442, Report on Liverpool and Manchester, 10 January 1941, p. 9.
54vIbid., p. 11.
55 PRO, HO199/453, ‘Ministry of Home Security Research and Experiments Department, Social
and Economic Study of the Effects of Air-Raids on Towns, 29 September 1941.
56 PRO, HO199/453, Total Effects of Air-Raids (Ministry of Home Security Report 2770), Air
Ministry (Air Liaison) Commentary, 5 May 1942, p. 3.
Civilian Morale during the Second World War 471
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 471
were immediately replaced by similar numbers attracted by the ready availability of
well-paid jobs. Morale there was buttressed by economic prosperity: ‘a big town
was more resilient under bombing than a small town, since it has a larger capacity
for absorbing within itself a displaced population’.57 In neither town did Bernal
and Zuckerman ﬁnd ‘any evidence of panic’, although in Hull the situation was
obscured by ‘trekking’ (travelling out of the city in the evening and returning again
in the morning), which they interpreted not as a sign of low morale but as a
rational response to the destructiveness of air raids ‘made possible by the availability
of road transport’.58
A further study led by a physiologist, Dr C. W. E. Emmens, investigated four
towns hit in the ‘Baedeker raids’ (Norwich, York, Canterbury, and Exeter), while
Bootle, Clydebank, and Greenock were added to assess the effects on ports and
centres of manufacture.59 The ‘Baedeker raids’ were on inland cathedral cities of
no appreciable military importance and were reprisals for the RAF raid on Lübeck.
Drawing on reports prepared by the Ministry of Information, stories in the local
press, social survey material gathered from house-to-house inquiries, and damage
reports, they compared absentee rates for a period of three weeks after raids with
the percentage of houses destroyed, effective density of the attack, and casualties
per thousand. The data, expressed graphically, showed consistent linear relation-
ships.61 From these ﬁgures, Emmens concluded that:
The relation of absenteeism for personal reasons to the percentage of houses destroyed and
to the casualties per thousand, and possibly the effective density of the attack should give the
best indices on which to base conclusions as to the relative morale of the various towns.62
He also discovered that the amount of trekking and evacuation was correlated to
the number of buildings destroyed.
Only Greenock did not ﬁt this pattern. Absenteeism was twice the level that
might be predicted from either the percentage of buildings destroyed or the
effective density of the attack. Home Intelligence reports conﬁrmed low morale in
the town and suggested that it was related to poor emergency facilities and a feeling
that the local authorities had lost their ‘grip of the situation’.
V1 and V2 Attacks
The V1 campaign, beginning on the night of 12–13 June 1944, and the V2 rocket
attacks from 8 September 1944, took place when most citizens believed that they
had overcome the worst of the air raids. Much ‘nervous strain’, suggested O’Brien,
was ‘involved in listening to the “buzz-bombs” or “doodlebugs”, watching them
and waiting for the engine to cut out’.63 Reports by the Ministry of Information
57 Ibid., p. 2.
58 S. Zuckerman, From Apes to Warlords (London, 1978), p. 143.
59 PRO, HO199/456, Assessment of Air-Raid Morale from the Local Press, Home Intelligence,
Social Survey and Damage Reports, 19 June 1943.
60 PRO, HO199/98, Brief appreciation of recent attacks on Bath, Exeter, Norwich, and York,
4 June 1942, p. 1.
61 PRO, HO199/456, Assessment of Air-Raid Morale, Table 1, p. 3.
62 Ibid., p. 3.
63 O’Brien, Civil Defence, p. 659.
472 E. Jones, R. Woolven, B. Durodié, and S. Wessely
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 472
suggested that Londoners were seriously affected by the sudden and unexpected
attacks coming so soon after D-Day:
The raids have completely swamped all other war news for the great majority of Londoners.
. . . Nervousness, anxiety, strain and weariness are widespread. Sleepless nights account for
much of the increased jitteriness and lowering of morale. Some people can ‘scarcely believe
that the raids have only been going for ten days’.64
The Ministry judged that Londoners’ spirits were ‘lower now than at any time
during the last two years’.65 Early signs of a potential breakdown in public dis-
cipline included the circulation of wild rumours. Stories spread of the capital being
reduced to ‘a heap of rubble’ and of Londoners, ‘scared or actually panicking’,
crowding into railway stations to leave the city.66 The need to deny the enemy
targeting information during the initial phase of the V1 attacks had led to much
government censorship. The Ministry of Information challenged this tactic:
In view of the widespread rumours, it is thought that more details should be published. . . .
People in target areas, and elsewhere, are critical of ofﬁcial and press accounts which appear
to tone down the raids and the damage they cause. People ask for ‘less secrecy and more
However, by the end of June 1944, there were signs that ‘people are beginning to
adjust themselves to the [V1] raids’. A growing number of citizens believed that
‘the anxiety expressed is greater than the damage warrants’. Outside London and
along the south coast, ‘some alarm’ was reported:
at the possibility that they may drop anywhere at any time. People’s nerves are said not to be
standing up to them so well after ﬁve years of war. The general view, however, is that the
new weapon is a nuisance but not nearly as bad as the raids which people expected to start
when invasion [D-Day] began.68
By comparison, the V2, a ballistic missile, arrived out of the blue with no warning.
The absence of a practical defence against the weapon led to a fatalistic attitude,
and consequently its psychological impact was lessened. The opening of the V2
offensive had been greeted by an ofﬁcial silence, while stories were circulated that
the damage was caused by exploding gas mains. Inevitably, the truth leaked out
and in November 1944, when most people had concluded that they were caused
by rockets, the government broadcast a formal acknowledgement. By this time, it
was considered that ‘the absence of warnings and the ofﬁcial silence add[ed] to the
apprehensions of the nervous’.69 Following this conﬁrmation, Home Intelligence
ofﬁcers wrote of the V2: ‘a considerable number, however, show little concern,
some preferring rockets to ﬂying bombs’.70
64 Ibid., p. 4.
65 PRO, INF1/292, Weekly Report by Home Intelligence, No. 196, 6 July 1944, p. 1.
66 PRO, HO199/410, Ministry of Information, Home Intelligence Report, 20–27 June 1944, p. 1.
67 PRO, HO199/410, Ministry of Information Home Intelligence Report, 27 June 1944.
68 Ibid., p. 5.
69 PRO, INF1/292, Home Intelligence Report, No. 214, 9 November 1944, p. 3.
70 Ibid., No. 215, 16 November 1944, p. 3.
Civilian Morale during the Second World War 473
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 473
Psychiatric Casualties among Civilians
In 1942, in the aftermath of the Blitz, R. D. Gillespie wrote: ‘one of the most
striking things about the effects of the war on the civilian population has been the
relative rarity of pathological mental disturbances among the civilians exposed to
air-raids’.71 Indeed, in 1941, the clinic set up in London by Edward Glover and
other psychoanalysts to treat those traumatized by air raids was forced to close
because they had no patients.72 Responsible for a nationwide survey of the inci-
dence of neuroses among the general population, C. P. Blacker wrote that ‘it was a
source of almost universal surprise that, throughout the aerial bombardments of
the civilian population in 1940 and 1941, very few of these conditions material-
Contemporary reports indicated that acute cases of fear, anxiety, and confusion
were not uncommon in areas subjected to heavy bombing but that these rapidly
recovered with psychiatric ﬁrst aid: rest, sympathy, and suggestion. Stokes recorded
that 134 civilians suffering from fright or anxiety seen in a London ﬁrst-aid post
were all able to return home within 24 hours and only six required further
psychiatric treatment.74 Brown, a psychiatric registrar at Guy’s Hospital, identiﬁed
‘acute emotional shock’, typiﬁed by tremor, tachycardia, and conversion
symptoms, and ‘acute transient hysterical reactions’, which presented in ‘a limp semi-
stuperose state, usually with a tremor’. Both categories recovered rapidly with
In 1941, Aubrey Lewis analysed an inﬂuential investigation into the nature of
psychological disorders presenting to a suburban London general practitioner in
September 1940 and May 1941 and compared them with
equivalent ﬁgures for 1937.76 In addition, various London psychiatric out-patient
clinics were surveyed, together with six general practitioners and three out-patient
psychiatrists based in Merseyside, a region that had been subjected to heavy raids in
1941. Although Lewis discovered that the stress of war, including air raids, was
responsible for 75 per cent of those individuals breaking down for the ﬁrst time,
these numbers were not signiﬁcant. His general conclusion based on war pension
data from London and Bristol was that ‘after intensive raids there is a slight increase
in the total amount of neurotic illness in the affected area, occurring chieﬂy in
those who have been neurotically ill before’.77
However, Lewis urged caution in the interpretation of these statistics. ‘Figures
for neurosis’, he conceded:
71 R. D. Gillespie, Psychological Effects of War on Citizen and Soldier (New York, 1942), p. 106.
72 P. Roazen, Oedipus in Britain: Edward Glover and the Struggle over Klein (New York, 2000), pp.
73 C. P. Blacker, Neurosis and the Mental Health Services (Oxford, 1946), p. 22.
74 Stokes, ‘War Strains’, p. 216.
75 F. Brown, ‘Civilian Psychiatric Air-raid Casualties’, Lancet, 1 (1941), 686–91.
76 A. Lewis, ‘Incidence of Neurosis in England under War Conditions’, Lancet, 2 (1942), 175–83.
See also, PRO, FD1/6580, A. Lewis, Report into the Incidence of Neurosis.
77 Lewis, ‘Incidence of Neurosis’, p. 182. See also, J. Whitby, ‘Neurosis in a London General
Practice during the Second and Third Years of War’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 36
474 E. Jones, R. Woolven, B. Durodié, and S. Wessely
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 474
are difﬁcult. Diagnosis is untrustworthy; a patient may appear at several clinics in turn . . .
[and] many neurotic patients, when they come to hospital, are not seen in the psychiatric
department, but in the medical or specialist division with which their presenting symptom
would appear to be concerned.78
Lewis believed that the full effect of war-related stress might be delayed and that
‘the evil harvest may be reaped afterwards’ when the Ministry of Pensions would
be ﬂooded by claims for compensation.79
The reservations expressed by Lewis were supported by a follow-up study of
admissions to a ﬁrst-aid post in an English city subjected to heavy bombing. The
investigators interviewed 127 cases (76 per cent of the sample) 10 months after the
raids. Of the 35 who had been buried for more than one hour, 66 per cent had
developed neurotic symptoms and 40 per cent were sufﬁciently troubled to be
absent from work.80 They concluded that severe personal experiences were likely
to cause psychological disorders even in people with no history of vulnerability.
In an attempt to address what he believed were unrealistic and complacent
attitudes about the incidence of ‘nervous and shock response among the civilian
population’, Harrisson wrote to the British Medical Journal in April 1941. He and his
team had observed individuals, who:
after a heavy bombardment, have left the next morning, found a billet with friends or
relatives or strangers, and then caved in. In some cases they have simply taken to bed and
stayed in bed for weeks at a time. They have not shown marked trembling or hysteria, but
an extreme desire to retreat into sleep and into being looked after, as if chronically ill.81
These cases, Harrisson believed, rarely came to the attention of general practitioners
or out-patient psychiatrists, but exercised ‘a profound effect on the morale of many
others’. Crichton-Miller and Clifford Allen responded unconvincingly that cases of
stupor or extreme distress could be explained entirely by the physical effects of raids
(blast-concussion, anoxaemia, and toxic absorption from a septic focus).
response, Harrisson stated that most of these individuals had not been directly
affected by bombardment but had seen its effects nearby and assumed that it was
their ‘turn next’. People who had been bombed and survived did not seem to suffer
in this way, believing that lightening would not strike twice.
He concluded that
‘no one who has spent any time objectively studying the “blitztowns” and getting
right in among the mass of the people could shut their eyes . . . to the very
considerable effect that continuous raiding has on people’s nervous system’.
A post-war study of civilian responses to the dropping of atomic bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagaski supported Lewis and Gillespie’s interpretation rather than
that of Harrisson. American investigators found ‘no references to excited,
78 A. Lewis, ‘Mental Health in War-time’, Public Health, 57 (1943), 27–30, p. 28.
79 Ibid., p. 27.
80 R. Fraser, I. M. Leslie, and D. Phelps, ‘Psychiatric Effects of Severe Personal Experiences during
Bombing’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 36 (1942), 119–23.
81 T. Harrisson, ‘Obscure Nervous Effects of Air-raids’, British Medical Journal, 1 (1941), 573.
82 H. Crichton-Miller, ‘Somatic Factors Conditioning Air-raid Reactions’, Lancet, 2 (1941), 31–4.
83 Harrisson, ‘Obscure Nervous Effects’, p. 832.
Civilian Morale during the Second World War 475
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 475
uncontrolled behaviour that could be characterised as overt “panic” ’.85 Despite
the destructive effect of the atom bomb, morale did not fall below that recorded in
other Japanese cities. Although Janis concluded that there was no appreciable
increase in the incidence of major mental illness, he suggested that psychosomatic
symptoms, in particular associated with the gut, were frequently observed after
heavy air attacks.
Recently, Shephard questioned the apparent absence of traumatic neurosis:
‘photographs of people being pulled from the rubble and reports of conditions
after some raids do make one wonder whether psychiatrists, having reﬂected the
psycho-panic of 1938, were now affected by the “Britain can take it” mood of
1940–41’.86 Glover believed that pre-war hysteria about mass casualties was
replaced by a new myth of universal resilience. A Coventry-based psychiatrist
quoted by Lewis in May 1941 had written:
my general impression is that the number of neurotic disturbances is considerably higher
than we realise, but that the cases just do not get treatment; that is not to say, however, that
the majority of them do not make a spontaneous recovery.87
Functional Somatic Disorders
lthough Lewis was unable to discover a signiﬁcant increase in the number of
civilians suffering from ‘war neuroses’ in the aftermath of air raids, there is evidence
to suggest that functional somatic disorders may have risen appreciably. On an anec-
dotal level, reports suggested that patients presented with unexplained medical symp
toms such as headache, fatigue, dyspepsia, joint, and muscle pain. Molesworth, a
Home Security ofﬁcial, interviewed a panel doctor based in Filton, a northern Bristol
suburb, who reported an increased incidence of indigestion cases, and estimated at
least 15 per cent absenteeism after severe raiding.
Glover argued that most civilians
vulnerable to the stress of air raids tended to express their fears as bodily sensations
and were either treated as cases of apparent organic illness or suffered without
Gastro-intestinal symptoms were often emphasized, which related to the
epidemic of peptic ulcer that Britain then experienced. Contemporaries believed
that stress was a causal factor, together with wartime dietary changes.
Although Brown agreed with Lewis’s conclusion that ‘deﬁnite psychoneuroses,
induced by air-raids in patients who have previously shown no psychoneurotic
traits are comparatively rare’, he also observed functional somatic symptoms in
patients with no history of mental illness. His anecdotal evidence suggested that ‘a
particularly horrible experience is needed to precipitate this reaction in a pre-
viously normal person’.90
85 I. L. Janis, Air War and Emotional Stress, Psychological Studies of Bombing and Civilian Defence (New
York, 1951), p. 38.
86 B. Shephard, A War of Nerves (London, 2000), p. 178.
87 Lewis, ‘Incidence of Neurosis’, p. 179.
88 PRO, HO199/276, Bristol and Cardiff, Public Morale Report, p. 2.
89 E. Glover, ‘Notes on the Psychological Effects of War Conditions on the Civilian Population’,
International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 23 (1942), 17–37.
90 Brown, ‘Air-raid Casualties’, p. 687.
476 E. Jones, R. Woolven, B. Durodié, and S. Wessely
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 476
Factors that militated against a feeling of helplessness and gave people a sense of
control, supported morale. The idea of an active defence against attacks lifted the
spirits of those not directly involved in the conduct of the war. During the Blitz,
for example, anti-aircraft batteries were ﬁred when it was known that their chances
of hitting night raiders were minimal and that the falling shrapnel was a danger to
people and property. In July 1941, the Civil Defence Commissioner for the South-
ern region observed that ‘the feeling that we are no longer on the defensive . . . has
ad not merely an encouraging effect but has induced some people . . . to take the
view that we are through the worst’.91 Involving the civil population in con-
structive activities also served to generate resilience. By spring 1941, as a result of
air raids, rationing, war work, and civil defence, ‘everyone’, wrote Taylor, ‘has
some sense of participation in the work of the country’, while ‘the uncertain fear of
the unknown has gone’.92 Indeed, by June of that year, 1.8 million citizens had
joined either full- or part-time civil defence and police services, while 5 million
were later engaged in the Fire Guard organization.93
It is difﬁcult to judge the extent to which protective measures safeguarded
morale. Reports from Finland suggested that those with a vulnerability to
psychological stress were attracted to safe places: ‘persons in raided areas would go
and sit in shelters at times when no raid was in progress to recover from an attack of
wind up’.94 However, only one signiﬁcant example of a deep-shelter mentality has
been identiﬁed in the UK. After a series of raids on Ramsgate late in 1940, several
hundred people congregated in a tunnel shelter where they lived permanently,
despite the absence of proper sanitation and schooling for their children. Morale
was described as ‘almost non-existent’.95 Fearing that these squatters would depress
the spirit of the surrounding population, they were evicted.
Anecdotal reports suggested that morale was higher in those towns where the
people believed that anti-aircraft defences were effective and shelter accommo-
dation widely available and safe. This factor would explain the report of a regional
intelligence ofﬁcer based in Reading, who claimed in September 1940 that ‘gener-
ally speaking, morale appears to be best in those places which have been heavily
bombed’.96 After the ‘tip and run’ raids on southern coastal towns in 1942, there
was widespread demand for Morrison shelters and a rapid up-take of them when
they were delivered. Conversely, the combination of lack of preparation, in-
experienced emergency services, and low morale was seen in Barrow in July 1940:
for the ﬁrst 24 hours people were rather shaken. The Civil Defence services were not as
effective as they might have been, and there had been a widespread idea that Cumberland
was safe and was not likely to suffer appreciably from air bombing.97
91 PRO, HO199/411, Morale Reports by Regional Commissioners, No. 6, 15 July 1941.
92 PRO, INF1/292, Taylor, Home Morale, p. 7.
93 O’Brien, Civil Defence, p. 605, Appendix X.
94 PRO, HO199/410, Memorandum from the Intelligence Branch HSWR to regional intelligence
correspondents, 20 May 1940.
95 PRO, HO207/1101, Letter from E. J. Hodsoll, Inspector General of Civil Defence, 4 February
96 PRO, INF1/264, Points from Regions, 29 September 1940.
97 PRO, HO199/410, Monthly Report, Region 10, July 1940.
Civilian Morale during the Second World War 477
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In general, the British people responded with fortitude to the aerial assaults of the
Second World War, resigning themselves to the dangers while engaging in the war
effort. Morale ﬂuctuated, but never broke. Although some individuals lost self-
control during raids, large-scale panic was a rare event and occurred in deﬁned
circumstances, such as the Bethnal Green Tube station disaster.98 Mental illness did
not increase signiﬁcantly, although a question has been raised about the incidence
of psychosomatic disorders, such as effort syndrome and non-ulcer dyspepsia. Only
a detailed analysis of hospital admission and out-patient records will resolve this
Contemporaries struggled to explain why the predicted epidemic of air-raid
neurosis failed to appear. If so many soldiers had succumbed to shell shock during
the First World War why, then, did civilians behave so differently when exposed
to the dangers of bombing? First, casualty rates in the trenches were far higher than
in cities subjected to air attack. Secondly, civilians had less to gain by being
hospitalized. For a soldier it resulted in a rapid transfer from danger and possible
transfer to a non-combatant or base role. Some civilians, Brown recorded, ‘ask,
during recovery, to be sent to a quiet hospital, away from the anti-aircraft barrage.
This is impossible . . . It is even possible that recovery while the patient is in a noisy
neighbourhood serves to desensitise him to noise.’99 As Vernon observed, the
civilian was not:
tempted to think that it would be an advantage to be sick or wounded, and he is usually
already in, or close to, his own home. The importance of sentiments centred around the
home in preserving mental stability is further indicated by the tendency towards deteriora-
tion . . . among those whose homes are destroyed.100
Contemporaries established an association between damage to homes and levels of
resilience. As a result, larger cities were better able to cope than small ones.
‘Plymouth or Coventry’, observed Lewis in 1942, ‘more uniﬁed, small and con-
centrated, can be so devastated that every citizen is affected, and the interference
with essential services—food, warmth, light, water—serves to intensify depressive
and other neurotic reactions’.101 ‘I know from personal experience’, wrote
Harrisson, ‘that it is ten times more unpleasant to be blitzed in a place the size of
Coventry or Bristol, where every bomb is personal and every piece of damage is a
disaster to one’s own town, instead of the great agglomeration of town which is
It seems that weapons may have varied considerably in their psychological effect.
The quality of evidence
available to planners had
improved signiﬁcantly by mid-
98 L. R. Dunne, Report on the Inquiry into the Accident at Bethnal Green Tube Station Shelter on 3 March
1943 (London, 1945).
99 Brown, ‘Air-raid Casualties’, p. 687.
100 Vernon, ‘Psychological Effects’, p. 475.
101 Lewis, ‘Incidence of Neurosis’, p. 182.
102 Harrisson, ‘Obscure Nervous Effects’, p. 832.
103 B. Durodié and S. Wessely, ‘Resilience or Panic? The Public and Terrorist Attack’, Lancet, 360
(2002), 1901–2, p. 1901.
478 E. Jones, R. Woolven, B. Durodié, and S. Wessely
08SHM17_3 hkh060 463-479 FINAL 27/10/04 3:08 pm Page 478
1943. Recognizing the amateurish and anecdotal character of much information
gathered at the beginning of the war and the need to base policy on reliable data, the
government instructed the Research and Experiments Department of the Ministry
of Home Security to
conduct well-designed studies into the effects of air-raids. For
example, Dr Emmens and his team investigated: numbers of casualties (killed and
seriously injured), density of attack (tons of bombs per square mile), percentage of
buildings destroyed, percen
tage of housing demolished, average number of working
days lost over the following 17 days and numbers either evacuating or trekking,
while Home Intelligence reports of the Ministry of Information were analysed and
local newspapers assessed to measure the amount and content of space devoted to
air-raid issues. Towns that they studied had been selected to represent different
categories of economic and social function. Equally, the research supervised by
Aubrey Lewis into psychiatric admissions (comparing 1940-41 with pre-war 1937)
was conducted with due regard for problems of evidence and its representative
character. Although the ﬁndings of Lewis and others were published in medical
journals, the work of the Research and Experiments Department was considered
helpful to the enemy in determining the effectiveness of aerial attacks and its reports
were classiﬁed as ‘secret’.
The V1 ﬂying bomb appeared to have been more feared
than conventional air raids, although the latter caused more destruction. However,
there is evidence to suggest that this initial psychological effect was not long-lived.
Panic observed in British troops after the ﬁrst German gas attack of 1915 was not
repeated. The publication of technical details about the V1, and the introduction
of increasingly effective counter-measures, conveyed to the public the conviction
that the weapon was understood and could be defeated.
Indications of falling morale were rumour and some unofﬁcial evacuation. Such
stories allowed people to express fears that they were reluctant to state openly, and
could serve as a safety valve. Yet, if such stories ﬂourished and caught the popular
imagination, it could undermine resolve. Spontaneous evacuation after the heavy
raids on Belfast was described by some as close to panic, although regular nightly
‘trekking’ into the surrounding countryside or suburbs after heavy raids was, for
many, a rational decision to avoid danger. In the event, it seems that civilians prove
to be far more resilient in the face of war’s technological advances than planners
had predicted. It may well be that this was because they underestimated their
adaptability and resourcefulness, but also because the length and scale of the
conﬂict had involved so many in constructive participant roles.
Civilian Morale during the Second World War 479
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