Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Letter From the Ministry of Information

I found an intriguing letter this afternoon, from the slightly Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Information:


29th May, 1943.

Dear Mr. Eddington,

         Mr. Foreman reported to me that a rumour was prevalent in your area that Haw Haw had said on Thursday night, May 20th, that the Germans would come again after the district had been given time to bury its dead. We have taken up this matter with Headquarters who report that no such announcement has been made by Haw Haw. The B.B.C. Monitoring system, as you know, takes cognisance of all broadcasts from Germany.

         It may be of interest to you to know that similar rumours have occured at various times all over the country after enemy air raids. This Ministry has, from time to time, tried to run these rumours down to their ultimate origin in order to find out whether enemy agents are responsible for starting them. In each case, Haw Haw has never made such announcement, and, where it has been possible to track them down to their source, it has been found that (a) an enemy agent was not responsible and (b) the source was usually a disgruntled citizen with an inferiority complex, who wanted to feel important and had started this story in order to let his friends think that he knew something they did not.

         I think you will like to have this information to pass on to the people in your neighbourhood.

         I have taken up with the Board of Trade the matter raised by your Committee in connection with Mr. T. Galley of Seaside Lane, Easington Colliery, who has been advised that, if he sells six large kettles to an Institution, they will be deducted from his general quota of pans, kettles etc., which will be eventually allotted him. I will let you know further about this when we have their reply.

                                                                                                  Yours sincerely,

                                                                                              (SGD.) MARGARET RICHARDSON,
                                                                                                              INTELLIGENCE OFFICER.


Rog said...

Absolutely fascinating! We won the war and had to battle a fifth column of disgruntled citizens with inferiority complexes!
I wonder if Mr Pot and Kettle traded from her:

Steerforth said...

Looks like a handy property. You wake up in the morning, brush your teeth and only have to walk three feet to work. I'll keep a note in case Mrs Steerforth ever kicks me out.

Camilla said...

"This Ministry has, from time to time, tried to run these rumours down to their ultimate origin in order to find out whether enemy agents are responsible for starting them."

This sounds very much like the work of modern-day Snopes!


Roget said...

Reading this interesting letter, Steerforth, I struggled to recall where I'd seen the comment about the Ministry of Information now reproduced below. I finally remembered that it was from the diary of Harold Nicolson - such a great chronicler of his times.It was written just after we went to war with Germany on September 14, 1939:-
"The Opposition are getting somewhat restive, especially about the Ministry of Information. The latter has been staffed by duds at the top and all the good people are in the most subordinate positions. The rage and fury of the newspapermen passes all bounds. John Gunther, for instance, told me that he had asked one of the censors for the text of our leaflet which we dropped over Germany. The request was refused. He asked why. The answer was 'We are not allowed to disclose information which might be of value to the enemy.' When Gunther pointed out that two million of these leaflets had been dropped over Germany, the man blinked and said, 'Yes, something must be wrong there.'"

Steerforth said...

Camilla - I've just Googled Snopes and can see several lost hours ahead of me while I visit their website.

Roger - It's extraordinary, but not surprising. I must pinch the next volume of Harold Nicolson diaries that comes my way and have a read.

I read somewhere that we toyed with the idea of dropping really obscene pornographic material over Germany, to demoralise that populace, but decided that it might be counter-productive. I tried to find out more, but ended up with this amusing list:

Lucy R. Fisher said...

But surely you don't believe for a minute that the MoI were telling Mr Eddington the truth? They ran their own rumour department - spreading rumours in Germany but also spreading rumours in the UK to study how, and how far and how fast, they spread. Plus they spread "positive" rumours.

Source an attention-seeking neurotic = We can't find out who's spreading these rumours.

Steerforth said...

Lucy - In the pre-internet age, it must have been fascinating to track the origins of a rumour and determine the etiology (I think that's the right word). I used to also wonder how quickly jokes - the ones too tasteles to be broadcast - spread.

Thank God there was no Twitter in WW2.