POPULAR NEWSPAPERS DURING WORLD WAR II
Parts 1 to 5: 1939-1945 (The Daily Express, The Mirror, The News of The World, The People and The Sunday Express)
This microfilm publication makes available complete runs the Daily Express, The Daily Mirror, the News of the World, The People, and the Sunday Express for the years 1939 through to 1945. The project is organised in five parts and covers the newspapers in chronological sequence. Part 1 provides full coverage for 1939; Part 2: 1940; Part 3: 1941; Part 4: 1942-1943; and finally, Part 5 covers 1944-1945.
At last social historians and students of journalism can consult complete war-time runs of Britain’s popular newspapers in their libraries. Less august than the papers of record, it is these papers which reveal most about the impact of the war on the home front, the way in which people amused themselves in the face of adversity, and the way in which public morale was kept high through a mixture of propaganda and judicious reporting.
Most importantly, it is through these papers that we can see how most ordinary people received news of the war. For, with a combined circulation of over 23 million by 1948, and a secondary readership far in excess of these figures, the News of the World, The People, the Daily Express, The Daily Mirror, and the Sunday Express reached into the homes of the majority of the British public and played a critical role in shaping public perceptions of the war.
Extended runs of such papers are only held by a handful of libraries and their physical condition is generally perilous. Some books have made available selections of front pages, lauding the importance of headlines and pictures in conveying news. But here—for the first time—are complete runs of these papers including the fashion, sports, entertainments and advertisements, providing countless teaching and research opportunities for those studying social history, journalism and popular culture.
These papers show both the hopes and the fears of the British people writ large, Air-Raids, black outs, the destruction of property, evacuation of children, the loss or absence of loved ones, rationing, and conscription all became facts of life.
These papers played a central role in satisfying the public’s appetite for news and in carrying out the government’s wishes in control morale. They created and fed off the products of popular culture-especially popular music, sports and cinema-and gave the war a human scale by relating events to individuals.
The First Part of this project offers complete runs of each of the newspapers for 1939. It is interesting to compare coverage of identical issues and events and to identify political viewpoints and attempts to gain readership of the tense international situation before war broke out. On Sunday January 1, 1939 the News of the World declared the “we must be ready to meet a life-and-death challenge”. In contrast the Daily Express ran a story pacifying the public- "This is why you can sleep soundly in 1939”.
Chamberlain’s “satisfactory” negotiations with Mussolini and Hitler can be contrasted with the fierce struggles of Arsenal, Blackpool, Wolves and Everton in the League Championship. Throughout September and October the mood changes significantly as Europe was pushed over the precipice into war. Even the advertising was placed on a war-footing as fruit-gums, for instance, are suggested as the ideal alternative to cigarettes for sailors.
Part Two—covering 1940—carries us through the fall of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg and the redundancy of the Maginot line to the miracle of Dunkirk in which a defeat was turned into a victory in the eyes of the press. The Battle of Britain was joined and night-raids on London forced mass evacuation which is well reported. Chaplin’s “Great Dictator” and Selznick’s “Gone With the Wind” are rapturously received. Although all newspapers in Britain were limited in size in 1940 because of the shortage of newsprint, and circulation numbers were restricted to the then revailing level for the duration of the war, the newspapers lost none of their appeal or popular enthusiasm.
Part Three covers 1941. Lend-Lease, the sinking of the HMS Hood followed by the hunt and sinking of the Bismark, Operation Barbarossa and the German advance towards Moscow, the sudden switch of allegiance to Russia and her heroic armies, the intensification of the German U-Boat Campaign, Rommel’s determined counter-offensive in North Africa, meetings between Roosevelt and Churchill and the signing of the Atlantic Charter, marked a year culminating in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The year of 1941 also witnessed the loss of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, the surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese, and a fierce and resolute struggle to turn the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic. Through the setbacks and the triumphs the Popular Press played a key role in controlling civilian morale.
Part four covers both 1942 and 1943 as paper rationing continued to reduce the size of newspapers. 1942 was in many ways a mirror image of 1941. 1942 began where 1941 had left off—with a string of disasters for the Allies such as the fall of Singapore and the capture of Tobruk. German forces regained the initiative on the Eastern Front. But commando raids along the French coast help to revive public morale, the RAF began its unrelenting saturation bombing of German cities, and the Battle of Midway turn the tide of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Stalingrad ended Germany’s forward progress in Russia and Montgomery courted media attention as his Eighth army engaged and defeated the Afrika Korps at El Amanein and recaptured Tobruk.
1943 saw a different sort of disappointment. The Allied forces pushed back Axis opposition on all fronts (North Africa is cleared, German forces quit Stalingrad, Italy surrenders) but hopes of a rapid end to the war are revealed to be no more than wishful thinking and the Allies commence the hard slog towards Axis capitulation.
Part Five concludes the project and covers 1944-1945. The difficulties of gaining victory are exemplified by drawn-out campaigns at Monte Cassino, Kohima/Imphal and Guam in 1944. However, the Second Front that Stalin had pressed for was created when Allied forces landed in Normandy and Paris was promptly recaptured. German V1 and V2 attacks created a mini-blitz in London and morale was tested again after the failure of Arnhem and the loss of supplies during the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes.
1945 brought an end to the war and political changes throughout the world. Roosevelt died in sight of victory, Churchill was ousted in the July election by a Labour landslide, and Stalin’s race for Berlin heralded the onset of a Cold War that was to last for 45 years. Anyone reading the pages of the newspapers will find it difficult not to understand the Allied motives for the saturation bombing of Dresden and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The allies-particularly Britain-had been economically and emotionally drained the war and sought a swift end to it. The horrendous revelations of German and Japanese concentration camps fuelled hatred. Enemy resistance as troops bore down on Berlin and Okinawa became more intense and required immense sacrifice to ensure conquest. The Popular Press fanned the flames of vengeance without regard to moral propriety. However, a new world order was eventually set in place. The newly created United Nations promised much, the World Bank was created and reconstruction began. The seeds of European Unity were planted, and the Labour government in Britain presided over the creation of the Welfare State and the final collapse of the British Empire.
Within each part the newspapers are organised alphabetically, with complete runs of the two dailies-the Daily Express and The Daily Mirror, followed by the three Sunday papers-the News of the World, The People and the Sunday Express.
Brief portraits of the papers:-
The Daily Express
If Winston Churchill was Britain’s bulldog, then Lord Beverbrook’s Daily Express and Sunday Express were surely his bark. His papers were always bright, lively and fiercely patriotic, and Beaverbrook had no qualms in telling a Royal Commission on the Press that he used them “purely for the purpose of making propaganda”. This is particularly true in the period after 10 May 1940 when Beaverbrook entered the war-time government at first at Minister for Air Production and later as Minister of Supply. His record achievements – a factor in the Battle of Britain – are regularly reported on. He entered the War Cabinet on 3 August 1940 (as one of only six members) as Churchill respected his dynamic entrepreneurial style, scything through red tape to make matters happen. In 1941 he took part in an official visit to Russia and he helped to change public perceptions towards Stalin.
However, in the months before the war the Daily Express had a less than sure touch. George Malcom Thomson’s assurance that “there will be no great war in Europe in 1939” was followed by a number of articles on the same theme. Japanese agitation in China was viewed as the most serious threat until Chamberlain’s August 25th announcement of the “imminent peril of war”.
The Daily Express always carried a high news content together with analysis by a stable of regular writers supplemented by special field reporters and outside contributors. The regular writers included Anthony Cotterell, Sefton Delmer, William Barkley, Selkirk Panton, Olga Collett and Hilde Marchant. Delmer also contributed memorable field reports concerning the Spanish Civil War. Feature writers of note included Michael Foot writing on the spread of anti-Semitism (23 March 1939); G B Shaw predictingsd peace (26 may 1939); J B S Haldane on the future (13 September 1939); and Leon Trotsky in an exclusive article explaining that “Stalin is afraid of Hitler” (18 September 1939). Lord Beaverbrook also wrote a number of leaders such as “Britain’s Financial Debt to America “ and why it should bot be prepaid (6 January 1940); “They Also Serve” (17 February 1940); “Prospects of Victory” (13 January 1940) “The way the war is going” (4 March 1940); “Paying for the war” (5 March 1940); “What is th Damage?” (6 May 1940); Man, the Front Line of Science (18 June 1940); and on Production (29 January 1942). Robert Menzies explains the colonial dimensions of the war in “we do not turn away from you” (6 January 1942) and in 1945 Chapman Pincher ponders the implications of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and the nightmare vision of the nuclear age (10 August 1945). Also in 1945, Winston Churchill is given an opportunity to put his ideas in front of the electorate in “I stand for the rights of the Common Man” (5 June 1945).
Serialised stories were also a strong feature and were of the highest calibre. Agatha Christie’s Poirot was a regular visitor to the pages of the Daily Express as were short stories and serials by writers such as Lord Dunsany, R C Sheriff, Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker and Ngaio Marsh. The Air Ministry’s account of “The Battle of Britain” was also extremely popular, appearing from 31 March 1941.
Other notable elements of the Daily Express were William Hickey’s gossip column, book reviews by Jonah Barrington and film reviews by Guy Morgan and Paul Holt. Mention should also be made of the back page, reserved for Photonews (photos are used springly otherwise). Also to the endearing and beautifully drawn Rupert stories (as paper restrictions contracted the papers, Rupert shrinks from three illustrations to just one).
A paper that claimed the “World’s Largest Daily Sale” also attracted numerous advertisements and it is interesting to see how such staple products such as Marmite, Ovaltine and Robinson’s Wine Gums adapted their campaigns. Sailors banned from smoking were encouraged to chew gums instead, Marmite was a filling food in times of rationing and Ovaltine offered the prospect of a sound sleep even through the Blitz.
The Daily Mirror
The Daily Mirror offers a complete contrast to the Daily Express. It is a tabloid where the Express is a broadsheet, it is full of pictures and large captions where the Express is more soberly styled, and the Mirror offers glamorous showgirls and Hollywood filmstars as pin-ups for Britain’s heroes – at home or at the front. The Daily Express could be equally enigmatic with stories such as “Mrs Hitler gets rates demand” and “Tattooed seaman on beach reveals new disaster off St Ives” but the Mirror cornered the market in bizarre accounts, stories to amuse rather than to inform, and human interest stories. One early example asks “What would have happened if Hitler had married Mae West?”.
The Daily Mirror also offered a wealth of cartoons – Pip, Squeak and Wilfred; Beezebub Jones; Ruggles; Belinda Blue Eyes; Buck Ryan; Popeye; and the “Jane” stories, which put the ‘strip’ back in to ‘strip cartoons’ and was followed eagerly by the troops. Readers were also given a chance to air their views and receive advice through “Our Live Letterbox”, “Ivor Lambe’s Tales”, Eileen Ascroft’s “Sincerity” and “Cassandra”. They were soothed by Patience Strong’s “Quiet Corner”.
More than any other paper The Daily Mirror also showed that it had its finger on the pulse of popular culture by creating the images and ideas which whipped up jingoisic and patriotic sentiments. In October 1939 it offered a front page to be cut out and pasted on to a dartboard, with Hitler as the target. On 4 September 1939 and following, is issued “Wanted” posters for Hitler and Ribbentrop, picturing them as gangsters. The Daily Mirror promoted a smile campaign and its pictures of the Queen amidst the Blitz (September 1940) helped to turn the Queen’s brave and compassionate actions into a powerful royalist myth. In 1941 The Daily Mirror pushed the “Victory V” campaign which rapidly spread from Churchill to the people, the army, and resisters in occupied Europe.
The Daily Mirror should certainly not be dismissed as a political lightweight. Its pages also carried important exclusives such as David Walker’s reports from Europe. The following was sent from David Walker whilst touring the Balkan States (4 January 1939): “In Poland it has for some time been obvious that Germany is doing precisely what she did in Austria and Czechoslovakia. She first sent her bankers, then her secret agents. The country is stirred up and divided against itself. The German speaking Poles in the Ukraine (Hitler’s objective) are encouraged to demand self – government…. Poles and White Russians are set at each other’s throats.
Germany calculates that by the spring Poland will be so divided agianst herself that she will be too weak to say “No” to his demand for the Polish Corridor….
In the meantime, if you look at a map, you will see that Memel is the perfect curtain – raiser to the Polish scheme….
When [Hitler] came to power only a few years ago he demanded 100,000,000 Germans in the Reich. Britain greeted this demand with jeers and laughter.
GERMANY HAS GOT 80,000,000 NOW".
Winston Churchill also wrote a series of provocative features exclusively for The Daily Mirror prior to his call up as First Lord of the Admiralty (13 July 1939; 27 July 1939; 11 August 1939; 24 August 1939). Each is worthy of study and captures his deliberate, sonorous phrasing and his resolute spirit in the face of war. On the 13 July he places the responsibility for war squarely with Hitler;
“Whether war will come rests entirely in the hands of Herr Hitler and his circle of party leaders and party policemen.
Unless he gives the order no cannon will fire, no blood will flow…..
…...this war, should it come – which God forbid – will , because of the weapons of air terror, become incomparably more fierce and more impossible to stop….
Napoleon, sword in hand, sought victorious peace in every capital in Europe. He sought it in Berlin, in Vienna, in Madrid, in Rome and finally in Moscow. All he found was St Helena.”
On 11 August he shows his sadly misplaced belief in the impregnability of Britain’s eastern fortress of Singaporre:
“A great fortress like Singapore, armed with the heaviest cannon, and defended by air-craft and submarines is in no danger from a purely naval attack. High military opinion in France and England inclines to the view that in another two years China will have defeated Japan.”
By 24 August he can be seen to have accepted the inevitability of war, but not of defeat.
“There can be no question of buying peace. No further concessions can be made to threats of violence…
If the Nazi regime forces a war up in the world the very existence of free government among men would be at stake.
Such a struggle could not end until the reign of law and the soverign power of democratic and parliamentary government had once again been established upon these massive foundations from which in our carelessness we have allowed them to slip”.
Clement Atlee and Herbert Morrison were also leading feature writers for The Daily Mirror, which always had strong pro-labour sympathies. Attlee appealed to the people of Germany to rise and overthrow Hitler (9 November 1939). Morrison leads attacks on Leslie Hore-Belisha (the War Minister who resigned on 16 January 1940). The Daily Mirror also unflaggingly attacked Chamberlain for his hesitant and uncertain handling of Britain’s defence culminating with Morrison’s attack on 7 May 1940 (“GET OUT!”).
Equally uncompromising were ZEC’s fierce black and white cartoons. Grim Reapers, desolate landscapes and dark shadows were common to Secretary’s work and the biting captions were the perfect complement. His portrayal of a sailor clinging to the debris of his ship accompanied with the line “The Price of Petrol had Gone Up-Official” was hastily censored as potentially demoralising.
The Women’s Page was rather less cynical. Hilde Marchant, formerly of the Daily Express, wrote on genuine women’s issues such as the nature of women’s work. Her interview with Anne Loughlin, first woman chairman of the TUC, is particularly good on this issue. The paper followed land-girls working on farms throughout the country and recorded the work done by women in munitions factories. Mostly though, it preferred to find women on the beach. Its articles were typically about “how to held with the war effort and stay beautiful at the same time”.
Social and political campaigns were another common feature and often occupied the centre spread of the paper. The paper understood the frustration of ordinary people fed up with rationing, poor housing and other privations. Typical examples are: “Fat Wallets or Fair Do’s? Who is to get some where to live first?” and “Our post war aim should be more work and – LESS OF IT” (arguing for total employment with shorter hours). These campaigns increase in 1945 when the General Election is announces and The Mirror lambasts Beaverbrook (Churchill’s “confident and henchman”) for conducting has political campaign “at the lowest level”. The paper is jubilant at Labour’s landslide victory, reported on 27 July 1945.
Of all the newspapers represented in this project, The Daily Mirror was undeniably the most modern in its tabloid format, its strong use of photos, its strong use of headlines, and its general organisation and content.
The News of the World
The News of the World could easily lay claim to the title of Britain’s dominant newspaper during the war. Packed with news – as well as with popular serial, sports and entertainment features – the people like what they saw and an estimated pre-war circulation of 3.75 million surged to an incredible 7.9 millions by 1948.
A Sunday broadsheet, it offered a more traditional style of entertainment. George Formby contributed a regular laughter section in the early years of the war when half a page was also devoted to popular sheet music of the day (as sung by Gracie Fields, Jeanette MacDonald, Shirley Temple and Falanagan & Allen amongst others).
It also featured strong film and theatre reviews, the latter accompanied by Arthur Ferrier’s stylish sketches of stage-stars. A cartoon always dominated the front page, but serial cartoons were not a major element until 13 February 1944 when Ferrier was called upon to rival “Jane” in The Daily Mirror, with his own “Spotlight on Sally”.
Sports were always well covered. The News of the World ‘s team included Alex James on football, Henry Cotton on golf, and Freddie Fox on racing. They conjured to life the era of Hutton, Compton, Drake and Wooderson. Outrage was expressed on 14 May 1939 when England, touring Italy, were forced to a 2-2 draw with the Italian national team as a result of a hand-fisted goal by Piola.
Serial features were equally prominent. Bert Aza, agent to Gracie Fields, offered his music hall reminiscences; Walt Disney’s Autobiography was serialised; Somerset Maugham contributed an account of his visit to Strasbourg (4 February 1940); and ramances, case histories of the police and tales of heroic enterprise were all offered to stir or amuse readers.
The News of the World anticipated the rise to power of Churchill. When he was eventually recalled to government on 10 September 1939 they noted: “Mr Churchill was born for government, and on rising to address the House for the first time in his new office he placed his elbows on the dispatch-box with such easy familiarity that one could not imagine that he had been a back-bencher for a decade.” The paper realistically foresaw a conflict “of three years or more”.
The News of the World’s coup in terms of news analysis was its signing of Leslie Hore-Belisha on 11 February 1940, shortly after his resignation as Secretary of State for War. He had been a Cabinet Member since 1931 and he offered weekly articles on a wide range of topics including: “War on three continents”; “What does Japan intedn?” (21 July 1939); “Balme for Pearl Harbour”; “Meaning of Soviet Political Changes”; “American Post-War Responsibilities” (2 April 1944); and “ How shall we Build the New Britain?” Hore-Belisha may have lost his position in government, but he continued to have influence, as it was estimated that his column was read by 16 million people each week.
Like most papers, the last issue of the year offered a retrospective analysis of the year and hopes the for future. The paper decided that 1945 was “Britain’s greatest and best” year even if Churchill had been deposed, an event greeted with a re-drawing of the famous “Dropping the Pilot” cartoon (29 July 1945)
The People had a pre-war circulation of about 3 million and thus reached into the homes of more people than any other paper except The News of the World. By 1948 its circulation had soared to 4.67 million. As its name suggests, The People took a particular interest in human interests stories and serialised many biographies.
At the start of the war it ran to 20 pages per issue, consisting of c7 pages of news, c4 pages of sport, c3 pages of serials, c2 pages of film and drama reviews, c2 pages for women, 1 page for readers letters (the famous “Lets Talk it Over” column); and 1 page of horoscopes and games. Due to paper restrictions The People shrank to 16 pages in 1940 and then to 8 pages by the end of 1941, as it chose to preserve its circulation rather than continuing at its full size.
Harold Evans has said that “newspapers have become manufacturers of popular mythology and slaves to it” and The People certainly played its part in the respect. Its “Cavalcade of the Blitz” identified the courageous efforts of Wardens, Ambulancemen, and others in preserving a semblance of ordinary life in London, and it ran numerous series to exhalt the “VC’s of the air”, “the heroes of the Dessert War” and other heroes. It plundered history for further examples, discussed in series such as “Men who made Britain Great” (noting the connection between Marlborough and Churchill) and “Naval Dramas of the Great War”.
Romantic and Adventure Fiction was also very popular. A flavour of this material can be gleaned from the titles of some of the stories. For instance; The Flying Spy; Love Secrets of a Lost City; The Story of Gertrude Bell, Dessert’s Woman Chieftan ; White Queen of the Cannibals; Secrets of Nazi Espionage; Romance Tilts a Lance; and Sympathy in Blue.
Photographs edged out line-drawings by the end of 1939 to give the paper a more modern look, and it always retained its emphasis on amusing its readers, rather than investigating hard news.
The Sunday Express
Like its stable –mate the Daily Express, the Sunday Express was a zestful, patriotic newspaper, distinguished by the high calibre of its many contributors.
Captain B H Liddell Hart contributed a whole sequence of articles from 1939 onwards concerning the conduct of the war which bear re-examination. These include; “Can war be averted?“ (9 July 1939); “Can Britain be invaded?“ (16 July 1939); “How great is the Air Raid Peril?” (23 July 1939); “Is there a new way to fight this strange war?” (10 December 1939); “Are the Bombers Coming?” (11 February 1940); “Can Either Side Risk a Mass Attack?” (18 February 1940); “Can Finland be Saved?” (25 February 1940); and “Where Both Sides Stand Now” (3 March 1940). An advocate of tank warfare, Liddell Hart nevertheless expected a slow, stalemate war in Europe due to “the modern superiority of defence over attack”. His news that “the soldiers’ dream of the ‘lightning war’ has a decreasing prospect of fulfilment” was undone by Germany’s rapid gains, but proved sound when the Allied forces tried to drive the Axis forces back. He rightly praised Trenchard’s rapid build up of the Air-force as a cornerstone of Britain’s defence and thought that any invasion attempt was doomed. Lloyd George, a close friend of Beaverbrook’s, also contributed an interesting series of articles. These included “The First Week of the War” (10 September 1939); “What is Stalin up to?” (24 September 1939) and “Is there still time?” (15 October 1939).
An American perspective was provided by Ramond Gram Swing, “America’s most distinguished commentator”, from January 1941 onwards. His weekly articles illuminated American foreign policy and enabled readers to understand American reluctance to enter the war.
Other notable contributors included: Dr Hermann Rausching, detailing his conversations with Hitler, 1933-1934 (26 November 1939); Leon Trotsky – “Stalin’s Power is on the Decline” (17 March 1940) (Trotsky was assassinated later in the year); H G Wells on “The world of my heart’s desire” (29 December 1940); J B Priestly, who had a weekly column from 15 September 1940; Guy Gibson VC on ht “ Device that made Germany’s destruction certain” (7 January 1945 and following); George Bernard Shaw on “Stalin, Russia, Socialism and The Beveridge Report” (4 February 1945); Montgomery on “the German Surrender” (6 May 1945); and Winston Churchill on “My Policy for the New Britain” (10 June 1945). Lord Beaverbrook also contributed a number of items.
Regular staff writers included Godfrey Winn (who travelled to the front and to local villages to describe the way in which different people coped with the war); C B Fry (who headed a sports writing team that also included Patsy Hendren, George Allison, Bobby Locke and Stanley Matthews); Stephen Watts/Isolene Thompson (a noteworthy film page, occasionally written by stars such as Merle Oberon and Anna Neagle); and Giles, whose cartoons became a part of the fabric of British life.
Like The Daily Express photos were largely relegated to the back-page, but fine maps and line drawings contributed to the readers understanding of the war. Another attempt to make the war more intelligible to people at home was a revealing series of “this is what it is like” articles describing the experience of an allied bombing raid on Germany, a raid by the Charles in Burma, a prison camp escape attempt and so on.
Starting with a pre-war circulation of 1.48 million (less that its daily companion which had 2.5 million). The Sunday Express increased its circulation to 2.58 million by 1948 to rank 3rd amongst Sunday papers and 5th overall amongst all newspapers.
Any library supporting studies of World War II should consider adding this set to their collections. It shows how the news of the world’s events were mirrored and expressed to the people, how opinions were formed, and how people lived and survived. This is a most important collection for all those interested in Media Studies, the History of Journalism, and Newspaper History. It is also a most valuable resource for those concerned with social and cultural history of the Second World War.