‘Total War’ had come to Britain very quickly in the summer of 1940, after many months of the ‘Phoney War’. All too suddenly civilians were in the forefront of danger and on a much wider scale than in the First World War. It was realised that there were now many acts of bravery by ordinary people who had been thrust into the full horror of war by force of circumstance.
On the 24th September King George VI announced the creation of the “George Cross”. He was concerned that there was no recognition of civilians who had been engaged in “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”
In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction, which will consist of the George Cross, which will rank next to the Victoria Cross, and the George Medal for wider distribution.
Members of the military would normally be recognised for acts “in the face of the enemy” but there were circumstances, such as dealing with unexploded bombs and mines, where there was no means of recognising them – the new award would also apply to the military in these circumstances.
The Ministry of Information continued to monitor the state of morale of the man in the street:
1. In London people remain determined, but cheerfulness varies. People are anxiously considering night life in shelters under winter conditions.
2. The Kings speech was generally praised, and the creation of the George Cross and Medal has been widely welcomed.
3. Reports show that most people feel that the evacuation of children to the dominions should proceed. To many the torpedoing was felt as a challenge to go ahead.
4. Rumours and exaggerated stories continue: in particular there are stories of poisonous substances dropped from enemy planes and of ‘secret weapon’ with which we shall eventually stop the night bombing.
5. There is a steady drift towards public and away from private shelters.
6. Except in certain areas invasion talk has receded into the background.
7. ‘Refugees’ continue to move into the country round London. Here a general comment is ‘ no one has learned anything from the problems and failures of last September’.
See TNA INF 1/264