British remain confident despite setbacks

Richard Sainsbury has tea with his wife and two children, Elaine (6) and David (7). He is dressed in his Home Guard uniform and will be out on duty as soon as he has finished eating.

Home Guard soldiers load an anti-aircraft rocket at a ‘Z’ Battery on Merseyside, 6 July 1942.

Even as Winston Churchill faced a challenge to his running of the war in the Commons, a consequence of the various military reverses that Britain had seen in the first half of 1942, the public mood remained undaunted. On hand to record the public state of mind in many acute observations was New Yorker columnist Molly Panter-Downes, who wrote on 5th July:

The most heartening thing to the observer here during the recent black days, which have also been saddened by the fall of Sevastopol and made tense by waiting for the next Egyptian communiqué, has been the behavior of the ordinary people themselves. What they have been through in the last six months has been less noisy, perhaps, but no less wearing to the spirit and nerves than were the bad times of 1940, when the bombs were falling.

In the present ordeal, civilians have had to listen to the monotonous falling of British arms and strongholds abroad while being harassed at home by rising prices, dwindling business, increasing curtailment of liberty and comfort, and anxiety about their menfolk overseas.

It’s good, and to the Axis it should be profoundly discouraging, that the public has refused to become defeatist even under the impact of defeats that in a more excitable country might have resulted in governments and heads being broken.

On the morning after the news arrived that Tobruk was lost, a seedy Londoner in a bus summed up the general point of view nicely by saying to a crony, “I can’t rightly see at the moment exactly how we’re going to win, but if anyone told me we wasn’t, I’d bust out larfing.” This quiet and dogged confidence in themselves which the people of England can feel at such a time is worth a good deal more than all the votes counted at Westminster.

See Mollie Panter-Downes: London War Notes 1939-1945

Anti-aircraft rocket or ‘Z’ Battery manned by the Home Guard on Merseyside, 6 July 1942.

Members of 2nd Platoon, ‘C’ Company of the Doncaster Home Guard swim across a river during an assault exercise, 20 July 1942. Two of them are wearing camouflage net veils over their faces.

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