"Britain Can Take It:" Rethinking British Morale in 1940

By Craig Stewart-Hunter
2011, Vol. 3 No. 03 | pg. 2/2 |

These feelings of perhaps hopelessness and feeling that the Germans could not be stopped seems to be a widespread theme in the cities that sustained nightly bombing raids during the Blitz. ‘He comes when he wants’17 was perhaps another of the major fears of the wartime population, as the Luftwaffe seemed to be able to attack at any time and in any place destroying cities and lives indiscriminately.

Morale though and the ability to take the nightly raids as we have discussed is really a small part of the state of the British civilians mind set. The Strain of sleepless nights caused by the continual raids were for many just as cruel as the killing and maiming which occurred during attacks18 a M.O report on the 16th of October recorded ‘Sleep! You couldn’t sleep. We can’t go on like this, can we?’19 Sleepless nights due to bombing would eventually wear away at morale; add to this the worries of the ability to purchase food, the general cost of living and the lack of news from the Government, all would contribute to a state of low morale within the civilian population. Morale therefore for many people was not just striving against the nightly air raids, but also the daily struggle of living in a country at war.

In conclusion although the statement “Britain can take it” is perhaps a true reflection of the outward appearance of the civilian population, that was taken on and portrayed by the Government and media of the time. The facts and reports that we have shown portray a picture which is far removed from the idea of “Britain can take it”.

The wartime population in Britain was under a constant threat of being killed or made homeless from the nightly bombing raids add to this an on-going threat of invasion throughout the early years of the war, it is not surprising a picture of a population with low morale and belief in victory has now emerged. We are not saying that all the civilian population showed a less than resilient outlook in the early years, but merely stating that high morale was not always as wide spread as the Government made it out to be.

The myth of a Blitz spirit that has been documented and commented on by early post war historians, has now been revised using the feelings and thoughts of the civilian population of the time recorded in M.O reports and also the M.O.I, it shows a much clearer portrayal of civilian morale, that is far from the idea of “Britain can take it”. The idea of Britain could take it seems to be a collective idea formed out of early post war historians and the myths that have arisen from a growing collective myth that surrounded the country during the Second World War. Britain as we have discussed could not take it in some areas.


References

Calder, A. The Myth of the Blitz, (London 1991).

Clausewitz, C Von. “On War”. Trans M Howard, (Princeton 1976).

Jones, E. Public Panic and Morale: ‘Second World War Civilian Responses Re-examined in the Light of Current Anti-terrorist Campaign’ Journal of Risk Research, Vol.9, (January 2006).

Jones, E. Civilian Morale During the Second World War: Responses to Air Raids Re-examined, Social History of Medicine, Vol. 17 No.3 (2004)

Mackay, R. Half the Battle, Civilian morale in Britain during the Second World War, Manchester University Press,(UK 2002)

Ponting, C. 1940 Myth and Reality. Ivan R Dee (1991).

Stansky, P. The First Day of the Blitz, Yale University Press (London 2007).

Townsend, C & E. War Wives: A Second World War Anthology (Grafton Books 1989)

Taylor, A.J.P. English History, 1914-45, Oxford University Press (Oxford 1965).

Watt, H and H Jennings. “Britain Can Take it!” 1940. BFI Archive, http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/23675 (Accessed 15/10/10).

Watt, H and H. Jennings. “London can take it!” 1940. BFI Archive, http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/15190 (Accessed 15/10/10).


Endnotes

1.) Watt, H and Jennings, H. “Britain Can Take it!” 1940. BFI Archive, http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/23675 (Accessed 15/10/10).

2.) Watt, H and Jennings, H. “London can take it!” 1940. BFI Archive, http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/15190 (Accessed 15/10/10).

3.) P. Stansky, The First Day of the Blitz, Yale University Press (London 2007). P 12.

4.) Clausewitz, C Von “On War” Trans M Howard, (Princeton 1976) P 89

5.) A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-45, Oxford University Press (Oxford 1965).

6.) Ibid A. J. P. Taylor

7.) Op.cit. P. Stansky, pp. 5-6

8.) A. Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London 1991) pp1-5

9.) E. Jones, Public Panic and Morale: ‘Second World War Civilian Responses Re-examined in the Light of Current Anti-terrorist Campaign’ Journal of Risk Research, Vol.9, (January 2006) p59

10.) C. Ponting, 1940 Myth and Reality. Ivan R Dee (1991). pp138-143

11.) E. Jones, Civilian Morale During the Second World War: Responses to Air Raids Re-examined, Social History of Medicine, Vol. 17 No.3 (2004)

12.) C and E Townsend, War Wives: A Second World War Anthology (Grafton Books 1989) p289

13.) From M.O.I 1/292 Reports on Coventry 19.11.40 in C. Ponting, 1940 Myth and Reality. P164

14.) From M.O.I 1/292 Reports on Bristol 11.12.40 in C. Ponting, 1940 Myth and Reality P164

15.) From M.O.I 1/292 Reports on Plymouth in C. Ponting, 1940 Myth and Reality P164

16.) R, Mackay . Half the Battle, Civilian morale in Britain during the Second World War, Manchester University Press,(UK 2002) P77

17.) From M.O. File report 449 Ibid R, Mackay p76

18.) Ibid R, Mackay p69

19.) From M.O File Report 408 ‘Human Adjustments in Air Raids’ Ibid. R, Mackay P70

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