British 'take the bombing in good heart'

At the beginning of the war Air Raid Wardens were often seen as unnecessarily officious and interfering. Attitudes changed as the bombing became more intense and there were eventually nearly 1.4 million voluntary unpaid wardens.

On the 5th September Churchill addressed the House of Commons on the war situation. Amongst other issues he addressed the growing “Siren controversy”, the widespread public concern about whether frequent air raid warnings were really necessary:

[W]e have come to the conclusion that the arrangements for air-raid warnings and what is to be done when they are given, which appears to be another question, require very considerable changes. There is really no good sense in having these prolonged banshee howlings from sirens two or three times a day over wide areas, simply because hostile aircraft are flying to or from some target which no one can possibly know or even guess.

All our precaution regulations have hitherto been based on this siren call, and I must say that one must admire the ingenuity of those who devised it as a means of spreading alarm. Indeed, most people now see how very wise Ulysses was when he stopped the ears of his sailors from all siren songs and had himself tied up firmly to the mast of duty.

Now that we are settling down to the job, we must have different arrangements from those devised before the war.

See Hansard.

On the following day the Ministry of Information had collated the response to the speech and attitudes to air raids generally, in its daily public attitude survey:

The public continue to take the bombing in good heart. In London last night’s alarm was talked of jokingly for the most part, and fewer people complain of tiredness today; more are sleeping through the night alarms.

There is general satisfaction at the Prime Minister’s announcement that something is to be done about the sirens, and the details are awaited eagerly.

An increasingly fatalistic attitude towards the effect of bombing is reported, and this appears to be coupled with a high state of morale. In the East End the searchlights rather than the sirens are now taken as a sign for going to the shelters. Cooperation and friendliness in public shelters are reported to be increasing, but there are many complaints about ‘insanitary messes’ in shelters, and improper behaviour of various varieties is causing distress among the more respectable elements of the community.

There was more detail in the London regional report:

LONDON

The Prime Minister’s speech was welcomed. The siren policy is still a controversial subject; most Londoners seem to approve the idea of a preliminary ‘stand-by’ siren with a further warning to indicate immediate danger. However there is a small school of thought who wish for no sirens.

The problem of night sleeping in shelters is the greatest concern of observers, particularly in the poor and crowded districts. Sanitary arrangements in many cases are inadequate: the atmosphere becomes very foul: there are increasing numbers of cases of colds and septic throats especially among children and it is feared that there may be epidemics. In several districts cases of blatant immorality in shelters are reported; this upsets other occupants of shelters and will deter them from using the shelters again.

See TNA INF 1/264

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