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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 March 2019
This article examines the memory of the Great War and the underexplored topic of morale during the Phoney War, and contributes to, and connects, their historiographies. Analysis of previously unexamined Mass Observation (MO) material confirms and qualifies some of the concerns about morale that MO expressed at the time. It also reveals that many Britons looked backwards to the Great War during the Phoney War, whether they had lived through the Great War or not, and their memories and understandings of the Great War informed their attitudes to the Second World War. Memories of wartime trauma were just one facet of the varied legacy of the Great War that Britons drew upon. Importantly, Britons of different ages drew upon post-war representations and personal and vicarious experiences to different extents, but those who were able to typically ascribed influence to personal rather than cultural memories of the Great War. This complicates the assumption that the latter determined Britons’ responses to the outbreak of the Second World War and contributes to understandings of both the reception and influence of cultural representations of the Great War, and the place of the Great War in the subjective worlds of Britons during the Second World War.
The author would like to thank Matthew Grant, Peter Gurney, Helen McCarthy, Lucy Noakes, Jade Shepherd, Dan Todman, and the editor and peer reviewers, for helpful comments on this work at various stages. Thanks are also owed to the Trustees of the Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex, for permissions to quote from archival material.
1 Mass Observation Archive (MOA), TC Worktown, 27/A Armistice Day 1937: LT observations on street; MOA 42/G: short report on territorial army, 1938, records a similar comment on enlistment.
2 MOA, TC Worktown, 52/A: GT, militiamen, 11 Nov. 1939.
4 MOA, TC Worktown, 50/B: GT, war atmosphere, 2 Jan. 1940.
5 British Institute of Public Opinion (1985), British Institute of Public Opinion Polls, 1938–1946 [data collection], UK Data Service. SN:3331, http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-3331-1, Dec. 1939. In Nov. 1939, the government had told Britons to expect the war to last into late 1942. A Mass Observation poll conducted shortly afterwards found at least 21 per cent thought the war would be over by the summer of 1940 and another 21 per cent by Christmas of 1941. Mass Observation, War begins at home (London, 1940), p. 421.
6 MOA, TC Worktown, 50/D: working-class questionnaire: wartime, 21 Nov. 1939.
8 Todman, Britain's war, pp. 199, 211–13.
9 Calder, People's war, pp. 60–1.
10 Todman, Britain's war, pp. 255–6.
11 MOA, FR15A, Dec. 1939. In Dec. 1939, BIPO found 72 per cent favoured an easing of blackout restrictions. That 48 per cent said they would only be in favour if it did not increase the likelihood of attack suggests that they could see no need for it given the circumstances. Mackay, Robert, Half the battle: civilian morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester, 2003), p. 56CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Todman, Britain's war, p. 263.
12 Humphrey Jennings was also involved briefly at the outset. Hubble, Nick considers Jennings's surrealist and modernist literary influences to be profoundly important to MO's overall significance: Mass-Observation and everyday life: culture, history, theory (Basingstoke, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hinton, James thinks Jennings insignificant: The mass observers: a history, 1937–1949 (Oxford, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For debate, see Hubble's review of Mass observers and Hinton's response: www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1603. In Jan. 1940, Harrisson told Adams about an investigation into how ‘ordinary people form their opinions on current events’. See Hinton, Mass observers, p. 143.
13 Hinton, Mass observers, p. 3.
14 MOA, Feb. 1940 Directive, question eight.
15 185 men and 92 women answered at least one question. Discounting those who left question eight unanswered, those with illegible handwriting, and those whose answer cannot be made sense of in relation to the question, 239 replies remain (155 men and 84 women).
17 Ambivalence: Bond, Brian, ‘British anti-war writers and their critics’, in Cecil, H. and Liddle, P., eds., Facing Armageddon: the First World War experienced (London, 1996), pp. 810–30Google Scholar; Bond, Brian, The unquiet Western Front: Britain's role in literature and history (Cambridge, 2002), p. 33CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Contestation: Watson, Janet, Fighting different wars: experience, memory and the First World War in Britain (Cambridge, 2004), ch. 5Google Scholar; Trott, Vincent, Publishers, readers and the Great War: literature and memory since 1918 (London, 2017), pp. 67–84Google Scholar.
18 H. Cecil, ‘British war novelists’, in Cecil and Liddle, eds., Facing Armageddon, pp. 801–16; Paris, Michael, Warrior nation: images of war in British popular culture, 1850–2000 (London, 2000)Google Scholar; Paris, Michael, Over the top: the Great War and juvenile literature in Britain (Westport, CT, 2004)Google Scholar; Todman, Dan, The Great War: myth and memory (London, 2005), pp. 132–3Google Scholar; Watson, Fighting different wars; Boyd, Kelly, Manliness and the Boys' Story Paper in Britain: a cultural history, 1855–1940 (London, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bond, Unquiet Western Front; Dawson, Graham, Soldier heroes: British adventure, empire and the imagining of masculinities (London, 1994)Google Scholar; Sheffield, Gary, ‘The shadow of the Somme: the influence of the First World War on British soldiers’ perceptions and behaviour in the Second World War’, in Addison, Paul and Calder, Angus, eds., A time to kill: the soldier's experience of the war in the West, 1939–1945 (London, 1997), pp. 29–39Google Scholar; Bracco, Rosa Maria, Merchants of hope: British middlebrow writers and the First World War, 1919–1939 (Oxford, 1992)Google Scholar.
20 Todman, Myth, p. 17.
21 Fussell, Great War; Hynes, War. Paris to some extent accepts Hynes's premise, which elides representation and influence, and challenges it with the existence of the pleasure culture of war in other cultural representations, Warrior, p. 148. Gregory, Silence, pp. 176–7; Winter, Sites, p. 8. Mackay suggests the canonical war books gave impetus to the peace movements, Half the battle, p. 23. Todman points to a wider body of popular representations as contributing to later attitudes, Myth, pp. 94–5. Trott uses audience reception to demonstrate that Vera Brittain's Testimony of youth (1933) ‘fostered’ the developing pacifism of some young readers, though with the caveat that they were not necessarily typical of their generation, Publishers, pp. 115–17.
22 Heathorn, Stephen, ‘The mnemonic turn in the cultural historiography of Britain's Great War’, Historical Journal, 48 (2005), pp. 1103–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar at p. 1111; see also p. 1122. Audiences’ responses to literary representations of the Great War are central to Trott's Publishers. Paris attempted to consider the influence of the cultural artefacts examined in Warrior with reference to ‘the memories of those who grew to manhood under its spell’ (p. 10). Seeking the reflections of individuals who cite particular texts is preferable to assuming impact, but unlike the approach employed here, provides little sense of how widespread such responses were, or how commonly representations were encountered.
24 Ibid., pp. 364–6; Reynolds, David, The long shadow: the Great War and the twentieth century (London, 2013)Google Scholar, chs. ‘Peace’ and ‘Never again’; Carr, Richard, Veteran MPs and the aftermath of the Great War: the memory of all that (Farnham, 2013)Google Scholar; Todman, Britain's war. Talbot Imlay has observed that the ‘experience of memory [of industrial dilution between] 1914–18 was a powerful source of suspicion’ for trade unions when negotiating to Second World War industrial controls: Facing the Second World War (Oxford, 2003) pp. 306–7.
26 Grayzel, Susan, At home and under fire (Cambridge, 2012)Google Scholar; Hammet, Jessica, ‘“It's in the blood, isn't it?” The contested status of First World War veterans in Second World War civil defence’, Cultural and Social History, 14 (2017), pp. 343–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Francis, ‘Ghosts’, p. 361.
28 Gregory, Adrian, The last Great War: British society and the First World War (Cambridge, 2011), p. 276Google Scholar.
29 Pelling, Henry, Britain and the Second World War (London, 1970)Google Scholar; Harrisson, Tom, Living through the Blitz (Harmondsworth, 1979)Google Scholar; Calder, Angus, The myth of the Blitz (London, 1991)Google Scholar; Beaven, Brad and Thoms, Deborah, ‘The Blitz and civilian morale in three northern cities, 1940–1942’, Northern History, 32 (1996), pp. 195–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Beaven, Brad and Griffiths, John, ‘The Blitz, civilian morale and the city: Mass-Observation and working-class culture in Britain, 1940–1941’, Urban History, 26 (1999), pp. 71–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Field, Geoffrey, ‘Nights underground in darkest London: the Blitz, 1940–1941’, International Labor and Working-Class History, 62 (2002), pp. 11–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
30 Mackay, Half the battle, pp. 46–59. Both the Blitz and evacuation are foci in Titmus, Richard, Problems of social policy (London, 1950)Google Scholar, and Field, Geoffrey, Blood, sweat and toil (Oxford, 2011)Google Scholar. Calder's People's war offers a wider consideration of attitudes, albeit focused upon evacuation in the Phoney War. P. M. H. Bell considers public opinions of Russia and the Soviet–Finnish War during the Bore War in John Bull and the bear: British public opinion, foreign policy and the Soviet Union, 1941–1945 (London, 1990), pp. 30–5. Daniel Hucker reflects briefly on morale in the first month of the war based on BIPO polls and the impressions of foreign ministers and ambassadors, and concludes the public was determined to see the war through in Public opinion and the end of appeasement in Britain and France (Farnham, 2011), pp. 242–8. The Bore War as a whole is a neglected period, though Nick Smart's British strategy and politics during the Phony War: before the balloon went up (Westport, CT, 2003) and Imlay's Facing the Second World War provide political and military histories. Neither focus on morale, but Imlay demonstrates that trade unions – presumably with members’ wishes in mind – concluded before the war started that fighting fascism took precedence over opposing workplace controls; see ch. 6. For public opinion about appeasement, see Hucker, Public opinion, and Paul Horsler, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the nation: local-level opinion and defence preparations prior to the Second World War, November 1937 – September 1939’ (Ph.D. thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2016).
31 Mackay, Half the battle, pp. 46–59, uses three MO File Reports, alongside the impressions of politicians, to gauge ordinary people's attitudes. McLaine, Ian, Ministry of morale: Home Front morale and the Ministry of Information in World War II (London, 1979), p. 34Google Scholar.
32 MO, War, p. 415.
33 Picture Post, 4 Nov. 1939, quoted in Mackay, Half the battle, p. 55.
34 MO, War, p. v, quoted in Hinton, Mass observers, p. 141. See also Todman, Britain's war, p. 273.
35 Mackay, Half the battle, p. 1. MO definition, MOA, FR27, Feb. 1940, qu. Mackay, Half the battle, p. 1. ‘Grouses’ were measured in MOA, FR15A, Dec. 1939.
36 MOA, FR89. See also MO, War, pp. 174–5. McLaine found ‘no evidence’ of significant defeatism from Sept. 1939 to May 1940, Ministry, p. 34.
38 Martin, Kingsley, ‘Public opinion during the first six months’, Political Quarterly, 11 (1940), pp. 252–3Google Scholar, qu. Calder, People's war, p. 62.
39 MO, War, p. 136. BIPO's Sept. 1939 poll found 88 per cent wanted to fight until Hitlerism was removed.
42 Mackay, Half the battle, p. 56.
43 MOA, FR27: US, 10 Feb. 1940.
44 BIPO, Feb. 1940, Q2 and Q7. See also Todman, Britain's war, pp. 274–6.
45 BIPO, Sept. 1939, Q8, Feb. 1940, Q7.
46 BIPO, Mar. 1940, Q6. Unfortunately, BIPO did not ask about peace talks between Mar. and Nov. 1940, by which time the context was very different, and only 7 per cent said they would agree ‘If someone in [their] presence suggested that it would be a good idea to have a negotiated peace with Germany now.’
47 Todman, Britain's war, ch. ‘Boredom’, esp. pp. 272–80.
49 Gregory, Last Great War, p. 273.
50 Historians argued that the class prejudices of MO's paid observers led to some erroneous conclusions in their analyses of the material they collected. See Gurney, Peter, ‘“Intersex” and “dirty girls”: Mass-Observation and working-class sexuality in England in the 1930s’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 8 (1997), pp. 256–90Google Scholar, or Beaven and Griffiths, ‘The Blitz, civilian morale and the city’. For a concise summary of the criticisms of, and changing attitude to, MO, see Kushner, Tony, We Europeans: Mass Observation, ‘race’ and British identity in the twentieth century (Aldershot, 2004), pp. 15–17Google Scholar.
51 Fiona Courage, ‘The national panel responds: Mass Observation Directives 1939–1945’, Mass Observation online, essays. On diaries, see for instance Hinton, James, Nine wartime lives: Mass Observation and the making of the modern self (Oxford, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, or Langhamer, Claire, The English in love: the intimate story of an emotional revolution (Oxford, 2013)Google Scholar.
52 Neil Mercer, ‘Mass Observation, 1937–1940: the range of research methods’, Working Papers in Applied Social Research No. 16 (University of Manchester, 1989).
53 MO, War, p. 20. For discussion of Harrisson's ideas about public and private opinion, see Goot, Murray, ‘Mass Observation and modern public opinion research’, in Donsbach, Wolfgang and Traugott, Michael, eds., The SAGE handbook of public opinion research (London, 2008), pp. 95–9Google Scholar.
54 MOA, DR1141, Jan. 1940 Directive.
56 Nick Stanley, ‘The extra dimension: a study and assessment of the methods employed by Mass-Observation in its first period, 1937–1940’ (Ph.D. thesis, Birmingham Polytechnic, 1981), p. 155, Table 1a.
57 Calder, Britain, p. x.
59 Stanley, ‘Extra dimension’, p. 155, and Table 1.
60 Less than half the men who answered the Feb. 1940 directive had also responded to the month before.
62 Langhamer, ‘“Live dynamic”’, p. 419; Noakes, ‘A broken silence?’, p. 334, drawing on Hinton, Nine wartime lives, pp. 5–7. See also David Bloome, Dorothy Sheridan, and Brian Street, ‘Reading Mass-Observation writing: theoretical and methodological issues in researching the Mass-Observation Archive’, MOA Occasional Paper No. 1, University of Sussex Library, 1993.
63 MO, War, p. 20; Madge, Charles and Harrisson, Tom, eds., First year's work 1937–1938 by Mass Observation (London, 1938), p. 66Google Scholar.
64 Hinton, Mass observers, p. 276.
65 Tom Jeffery, ‘Mass Observation: a short history’, MOA Occasional Paper No. 10, MO online, essays.
66 Hinton, Nine wartime lives, pp. 16–17.
67 Stanley, ‘Extra dimension’.
69 Kushner, Europeans, pp. 112–13.
70 Howkins, Alun, ‘A country at war: Mass-Observation and rural England, 1939–1945’, Rural History, 9 (1998), pp. 75–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar at p. 77; Langhamer, Claire, Women's leisure in England, 1920–1960 (Manchester, 2000)Google Scholar. See Sheridan, Dorothy, ‘Using the Mass-Observation Archive as a source for women's studies’, Women's History Review, 3 (1994), pp. 101–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
71 For example, Hinton notes that he did not select the diarists in Nine wartime lives because they were representative, and Kushner argues that class, gender, and age were not fundamental influences upon the replies to the race directive in Europeans, pp. 112–13.
73 Stanley, ‘Extra dimension’, pp. 164–9, and p. 159, Table 3. James Hinton found more than half of the respondents to the June 1939 directive self-identified as middle class; ‘The “class” complex’: Mass-Observation and cultural distinction in pre-war Britain', Past and Present, 199 (2008), pp. 207–36 at pp. 210–11.
74 Stanley, ‘Extra dimension’, p. 159. Surprisingly, the male February respondents varied even further from the male national panel of 1940, see p. 161, Table 4.
76 75 per cent of men and 85 per cent of women.
77 46.2 per cent of all English males aged 15–49 from 1914–18 enlisted in the army. The proportion in Scotland and Wales was lower, Becket, Ian and Simpson, Keith, eds., A nation in arms: a social history of the British army in the First World War (Manchester, 1958)Google Scholar, p. 11. 24 of the 155 male respondents were of that age.
78 MOA, DR2431, reply to Feb. 1940 Directive. Unless otherwise specified, all further DRs are to this Directive.
79 DR1562. See also DR1435, DR1303, DR1109, DR1226, DR2429, DR2431, DR1016, DR1176.
81 For example DR2375, DR2213, DR2424, DR2057.
82 78 women and 142 men in total. Some respondents are excluded here as they did not provide their age.
83 DR1044, DR2478.
84 Adult knowledge: DR2143, DR1253, DR1527, DR2425. Reading: DR1345, DR1499, DR1270, DR1416, DR2453.
85 Jeffery, ‘Mass Observation’.
86 58 women referenced the Great War in response to the Feb. 1940 directive; a larger sample is required for meaningful quantitative analysis any deeper than that already undertaken, particularly as age is likely to influence the responses.
87 DR1176. See also DR1283.
89 Death: DR1460 mother: DR1191 father: DR2421.
91 Air raids: DR1642, DR2045, DR1259; not so bad: DR1554, DR2254.
94 DR2348, DR1588, DR1139, DR1235, DR2057.
95 DR1253, DR1108, DR1029.
96 DR1325, DR2143, DR2331.
98 DR2370, DR2119, DR2422.
101 DR1632, DR2390.
102 DR1264, DR1363, DR2424.
103 DR2151, DR2173.
107 Grayzel, At home, pp. 110–20.
112 DR1090, DR1220.
114 Paris, Warrior nation, pp. 152–7.
117 Watson, Fighting different wars, pp. 203–4; Trott, Publishers, pp. 75–80.
123 Trott, Publishers, pp. 115–17.
124 For a summary, see Gregory, Last Great War, pp. 271–3.
125 See Grayzel, At home. Noakes highlights that Armistice Day 1937 was an occasion for people to think about the use of air raids in future war and in 1938 to reflect on previous air raids and trauma. ‘A broken silence?’, pp. 337–9.
126 Grayzel, At home, pp. 285–94.
127 DR2188. See also DR1324, DR1259.
132 DR1146. An artist from Birmingham, born 1905, struck a less optimistic tone: ‘so far we've got off lightly, and it's sure to be much worse later’ (DR1554).
135 MOA, TC Worktown, 50/B, Worktown war barometer: 1–5 Nov. 1939.
136 MOA, TC Worktown, 52/A, JC, 11 Dec. 1939.
137 MOA, TC Worktown, 50/E war talk, lavatory, Bridge Street, overheard, 21 Jan. 1940.
138 MOA, TC Worktown, 9 May 1940. Similar sentiment expressed in MOA 42/G: short report on territorial army, 15 Feb. 1938.
139 MO's first MOI commission was to analyse the Ministry's early posters, and revealed these negative responses. McLaine, Ministry, pp. 31–2; Calder, People's war, pp. 61–2.
140 MOA, TC Worktown, 52/A, JC, 11 Dec. 1939.
145 DR1220. See also DR2345.
146 Gregory, Silence, especially pp. 56–65, ch. 2, and pp. 166–8; Noakes, ‘A broken silence?’; Todman, Myth, pp. 52–4.
147 MOA, TC Worktown, 27/A Armistice Day 1937.
148 Gregory, Silence, p. 163.
149 Manchester Guardian, qu. Mass Observation, Britain (Harmondsworth, 1939), p. 201. See ch. 7 for MO's view on the incident. For discussion of the immediate and press reaction, see Noakes, ‘A broken silence?’, pp. 331–2.
150 Noakes, ‘A broken silence?’, p. 340.
151 Gregory, Last Great War, p. 275.
152 MO, Armistice Day 1939, Streatham High Road, qu. Gregory, Silence, p. 173.
153 Noakes, ‘A broken silence?’, p. 342.
155 Noakes, ‘A broken silence?’, pp. 332, 335–6, 339.
157 PPU: Ceadel, Martin, Semi-detatched idealists: the British peace movement and international relations, 1854–1945 (Oxford, 2000), p. 334CrossRefGoogle Scholar; LNU: McCarthy, Helen, The British people and the League of Nations: democracy, citizenship and internationalism, c. 1918–1945 (Manchester, 2011), pp. 3–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
160 McCarthy, ‘Democratizing’, p. 365.
161 DR2265. See also DR1190, DR2285, DR2239, DR1284.
162 DR2047. See also DR2239.
166 MOA TC Worktown 50/D, ‘Working class war questionnaire’, 20 and 21 Nov. 1939.
171 Mackay, Half the battle, p. 61; Todman, Britain's war, pp. 389–91.
172 Francis, ‘Ghosts’, p. 361.
174 Francis, ‘Ghosts’, p. 361.
175 Gregory, Silence, pp. 176–7.
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