Books in disguise: what to do during the Allied invasion

Document of the month: FO 898/484

Guy Woodward finds an invasion manual disguised as a novel

A few months ago I wrote about a miniature edition of John Steinbeck’s novel The Moon is Down (1942) produced for distribution in occupied France. The copy which I found in the PWE papers at the National Archives does not credit Steinbeck as author and its verso title page is blank, carrying none of the usual information regarding publication date or place. These omissions were surely designed to avoid arousing the suspicions of enemy agents, and thereby to aid clandestine circulation of the book.

This booklet, which appears in file 898/484, ‘Basic Manuals For Natives Of Occupied Countries: Correspondence’, aims more explicitly to deceive. The outside cover suggests a cheap edition of a historical novel entitled Godefroid de Bouillon, by a writer named ‘Von Bissing’ and subtitled ‘Un roman historique de la Belgique du onzième siècle’. The publisher is given as E. Guyot, with an address of S.A. Rue Pacheés, Brussels.

As one of the leaders of the First Crusade in the eleventh century, and briefly ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem from 1099-1100, Godfrey of Bouillon’s story is certainly ripe for fictional exploitation, and yet it seems this novel never actually existed. Were an incurious Gestapo officer to glance at the cover of the booklet he might simply assume that it was a novel, but when the booklet is opened, the message which greets the reader on the title page makes the true nature of its contents clear.

The booklet now announces itself as ‘a manual for the use of our Belgian allies, to help and advise them during future operations’. Below the Belgian coat of arms the publisher is identified as the ‘Allied High Command’. The manual is divided into two sections, ‘How you can prepare for the arrival of the United Nations forces’ and then ‘What to do on the day that the United Nations forces arrive’.

With the aid of several illustrations the booklet provides guidance on sealing doors and windows against gas attack…

…on fashioning bandages and tourniquets…

…on how to drag someone who has fallen unconscious from a room…

…on how to orientate oneself using landmarks and, at night, constellations of stars…

…and on how to conduct sabotage, here showing how a road block can be fashioned using boulders and trees.

Designed to be dropped by aeroplane, the manual is small (10.5 x 13 cm) and lightweight. It was prepared in early 1944 as plans for the Allied invasion gathered pace, and was designed to advise Belgian civilians on how to behave during the coming conflict between the Allies and the German occupiers. It tells civilians ‘to be vague and stupid’ when questioned by German forces, but to provide directions and assistance when requested by Allied troops. A joint PWE/SOE publication, by 31 March 1944 two million copies of the manual had been printed and were in storage ready to be dropped, but the file does not confirm whether the manual was distributed as planned.[1]

The manual was published under at least two other disguises – Imprenable, by ‘Jean Doute’, and, startlingly, Un nouveau plan pour la collaboration, by Leon Degrelle – Degrelle was leader of the far-right Rexist party and a prominent Belgian collaborator with the Nazis.  Like most printed propaganda for Belgium the manual was produced in both French and Flemish editions – on the cover of the Flemish editions ‘Jean Doute’ became ‘Jan Scepticus’ and Leon Degrelle became ‘Staf Leclercq’. Apart from Degrelle, none of the other writers seem to have existed and, like ‘Von Bissing’, were likely invented for the purposes of deception.

Images by kind permission of The National Archives

Notes

[1] The file suggests that similar manuals were prepared for Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

SOE’s ‘virtual reality’ resistance movement

Document of the month: FO 898/28

Guy Woodward investigates a fictional Balkan resistance movement, and ponders the parallels between propaganda work and writing fiction

There’s an intriguing paragraph in Bickham Sweet-Escott’s SOE memoir Baker Street Irregular (1965) in which he recalls that around 1942 ‘though no resistance movement existed in Rumania, we and P.W.E. […] invented a Rumanian Mihailović called Vlaicu, whose exploits were broadcast on the radio to Rumania, and we had evidence that our invention caused confusion and concern in Bucharest.’[1]

General Mihailović was leader of the royalist Chetnik guerrilla resistance forces in occupied Yugoslavia, whose exploits had been amplified by Allied propaganda across the globe: he appeared on the cover of Time magazine (left) and featured as the hero of swashbuckling Hollywood films (in 1943 Britain switched support from Mihailović to Tito’s Communist Partisans). As Sweet-Escott observes, no comparable movement could be found in Axis-aligned Romania – Dennis Deletant suggests that reluctance in Romania to organise resistance against autocratic leader Marshal Antonescu or his German allies is explained in part by the threat posed by the Soviet Union at this time: Romania and Germany were fighting together on the Eastern Front and had successfully recaptured Romanian territories occupied by the USSR in 1940.[2]

The Balkan state was certainly the focus of several clandestine British operations in the early stages of the war; various plans were hatched to block the Danube in the north west of the country, thereby preventing the export of oil and agricultural products on which, it was correctly predicted, Germany would depend.[3] British propagandists were also keen to destabilise the country, but as Ioannis Stefanidis notes, SO1 and PWE found that ‘British objectives were undercut by a powerful Russophobia’.[4]

Sweet-Escott does not elaborate on the Vlaicu campaign, but Stefanidis’s compelling book Substitute for Power: Wartime British Propaganda to the Balkans, 1939–44 (2012) features a fascinating account of its genesis. In June 1942 SOE’s Alfred de Chastelain and Edward Masterson decided to try to turn black propaganda into ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’, by establishing a fictitious Romanian resistance movement over the airwaves, creating the impression of membership and activities through a campaign of coordinated broadcasts and stories planted in the press of neutral countries.[5] The pair optimistically hoped that after two months conditions would be established to set up a real organisation on the ground. Quoting from SOE documents, Stefanidis notes that:

SOE London objected that, even if Romanians were convinced of the group’s existence, they would not know ‘what to do or where to go’. The proponents of the scheme countered that if such ‘an efficient and active organisation’ existed, ‘it would not be necessary for us to create imaginary movements and leaders.’[6]

The radio station of the ‘Liberation Struggle’ began broadcasting from Jerusalem on 27 July 1942, and claimed to be the voice of a network of anti-German resistance groups, led by an imaginary figure named ‘Vlaicu’ – Stefanidis suggests that he was named after Vladislav 1 (right), a revered fourteenth-century ruler of Wallachia in present-day Romania (Aurel Vlaicu, the pioneering early-twentieth-century aviator and Romanian national hero, is another possible source for the name).[7] Broadcasts criticised Romanian support for Germany but also gave ‘instructions’ to imaginary resistance cells in the country.

Stories about ‘Vlaicu’ were planted in newspapers in Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland, and by October 1942 references to movement had appeared on the BBC and in the London Times.[8] One hundred thousand leaflets were dropped on Romania addressed to the fictional movement and promising support. Although these interventions apparently prompted the Romanian security services into conducting a search for the non-existent organisation, SOE’s initial optimism was not reflected on the ground, and by August 1943 a report confirmed that Vlaicu remained a ‘virtual reality’.[9]

Deletant adds to the story, identifying the station’s ‘most vigorous contributors’ as George Beza and Petru Vulpescu.[10] Beza had founded a small peasant group in Romania in 1936-7 to break up meetings of the fascist Iron Guard (above); he and Vulpescu had volunteered their services to SOE in Bucharest and were sent to Palestine to man the radio station.[11] Deletant’s account also extends the story to 1944: he suggests that the Vlaicu operation caused ‘embarrassment’ to the Antonescu regime, and led to ‘the arrest of several collaborators by the Romanian authorities in July 1944.’[12]

Documents in the PWE papers show that PWE and SOE coordinated the broadcast of Vlaicu in line with wider propaganda objectives; PWE also appear to have granted SOE the space to transmit broadcasts from Palestine.[13] A report produced for PWE’s Director General R. H. Bruce Lockhart and dated 30 November 1942 described the station as

The report notes that a proportion of the scripts for the station were written in Cairo by an SOE operational officer.[14] At a meeting to discuss SOE-PWE coordination a few days later it was established that the Vlaicu project would continue either ‘until it had achieved its object or until S.O.E. had formed a genuine party of collaborators inside Rumania’ – in which case the station would rally to them and become their mouthpiece.[15]

The extent to which the station was a credible fake can be gauged from a report by the Istanbul Monitoring Unit dated 23 October 1943, which suggests that it sounds ‘as if it comes from Russia’, however ‘The news it gives is not recent, & thus it can be deducted that the station must be somewhere out of Roumania.’[16] As happened on several occasions during the war, one arm of the British state succeeded in fooling another arm.

Maintaining the pretence of broadcasting from inside an occupied territory was extremely difficult, as PWE’s official historian (and later novelist) David Garnett emphasises in his account of the establishment of so-called ‘Freedom Stations’:

Almost inevitably mistakes are made and suspicion begins to be aroused that the broadcasts are not what they appear. As an instrument of subversive propaganda secret broadcasting of this kind is a most potent weapon. So long as the audience believes that the station is operating secretly in its midst, its existence is a symbol of resistance. The Freedom Station is a subject about which thrilling speculations and rumours are perpetually rife; its listeners tend to regard themselves as initiates; to be indulgent and uncritical and they are likely to identify themselves with the views expressed, for Resistance is psychologically infectious.[17]

Sadly the PWE papers contain no further details of how Vlaicu was brought to fruition, or of how the mythical figure, his movement and its activities were imagined and represented over the airwaves. For our project however, which examines the relationship between the PWE, covert propaganda and British culture, the Vlaicu campaign raises important questions regarding the parallels and connections between propaganda work and the practice of writing.

This is not a new topic: Mark Wollaeger suggests that propagandists and modernist writers both strove ‘to make meaning effective through ambiguity’; Gayatri Spivak meanwhile makes the chilling observation that literature makes good propaganda because it ‘buys your assent in an almost clandestine way’.[18] The parallels and connections may explain why so many writers were employed for propaganda work during the war (we might think of Noel Coward, Graham Greene, or Freya Stark); or indeed why others who had worked in the field became writers (Muriel Spark, for example). More specifically however, SOE’s invention here of a movement under the leadership of an invented leader, yet within a heavily defined geographical and political environment, clearly invites comparisons with the practice of writing realist fiction – of devising plot lines and creating characters, within the constraints of needing to ensure the faithful representation of actually existing locations or credible modes of behaviour.

As Tim Brooks has observed, wartime propagandists were by no means free agents – their output had to correlate with British and later Allied war aims and policy, and they were required to liaise with other bodies to ensure that this was adhered to, as shown here by the coordination between PWE and SOE.[19] This requirement to coordinate, and to work within an overall plan, was eloquently outlined by the first executive head of PWE, Rex Leeper, in a report on black propaganda written in July 1942 which – with a few adjustments – could surely be applied to the business of plotting and constructing a novel.[20]

All archival material is Crown Copyright and is held in The National Archives. Quotations which appear here have been transcribed by members of the project team.

Notes

[1] Bickham Sweet-Escott, Baker Street Irregular (London: Methuen, 1965), pp. 194-5.

[2] Dennis Deletant, British Clandestine Activities in Romania during the Second World War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), p. 76.

[3] See, among other accounts: Hugh Dalton, The Fateful Years: Memoirs 1931-1945 (London: Frederick Mueller Ltd, 1957), p. 375; Merlin Minshall, Guilt-Edged (London: Bachman & Turner, 1975), p. 76; Basil Davidson, Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War (London: Grafton Books, 1987; orig. pub. 1980), p. 79; Andrew Lycett, Ian Fleming (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995), p. 108;

[4] Ioannis Stefanidis, Substitute for Power: Wartime British Propaganda to the Balkans, 1939-44 (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012), p. 51.

[5] Stefanidis, p. 154.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Stefanidis, p. 155.

[10] Deletant, p. 98.

[11] Deletant, p. 207.

[12] Deletant, p. 98.

[13] FO 898/28.

[14] Ibid.

[15] FO 898/28.

[16] FO 898/52.

[17] David Garnett, The Secret History of PWE: The Political Warfare Executive 1939-1945 (London: St Ermin’s Press, 2002), pp. 32-3.

[18] Mark Wollaeger, Modernism, Media, and Propaganda: British Narrative From 1900 to 1945 (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006), x; cited Wollaeger, p. 112.

[19] Tim Brooks, British Propaganda to France, 1940-1944: Machinery, Method and Message (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 2.

[20] FO 898/63.

Muriel Spark and the Ethics of Deception: a didactic approach to black propaganda

Beatriz Lopez finds traces of wartime moral dilemmas in Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Following the closure of the PWE radio station Soldatensender in April 1945, Director of Special Operations Sefton Delmer retreated to his bathroom and performed a purification ritual to mark the end of black propaganda:

I removed my beard. […] After my razor shaved the soap sodden whiskers from my face I gazed into the mirror with all the horror of Dorian Grey [sic], confronting his tell-tale portrait. There, staring at me, was the pallid, flabby-mouthed face of a crook. Was this, I asked myself, what four years of ‘black’ had done to Denis Sefton Delmer?[1]

Despite his jocose and unsentimental tone when recollecting the harmful pranks played on enemy civilians as part of PWE campaigns, Delmer’s perceived resemblance to the depraved literary character Dorian Gray points to the existence of moral qualms about the nature of his wartime work. By contrast Spark’s account of her ‘wonderfully interesting’[2] intelligence role at the PWE does not present any pangs of conscience. While she notes that ‘[t]he methods of Delmer’s M.B unit horrified a few cabinet ministers’ – possibly referring to Stafford Cripps’s criticism of the occasional use of pornography in PWE propaganda to Germany – Spark acknowledges that her boss was the subject of much admiration (including her own).[3]

The question of whether the PWE’s ethically dubious methods were morally justified was the subject of much debate within the organization, as archival documents demonstrate. In a 1943 PWE lecture entitled ‘Political Warfare’, Col. Sedgwick adopts consequentialism – the belief that the rightness or wrongness of an action is to be determined by its intended consequences – in order to morally justify the use of black propaganda:

[A]s far as covert propaganda is concerned I will venture the purely personal opinion that it would be absurd to be squeamish. If by hitting the Germans below the belt we can shorten the war, and perhaps save a million lives I hope we shall be prepared to hit them below the belt every time…[4]

However, not all propagandists were of the same mind. In a 1962 review of Delmer’s Black Boomerang, Richard Crossman described black propaganda as ‘nihilistic in purpose and solely destructive in effect’ and expressed serious misgivings regarding ‘whether this decision to plunge far below the Nazis’ own level of lying, half-lying and news perversion was justified’.[5] This remark stems from Crossman’s belief that black propaganda was of little use when compared with the merits of BBC white propaganda.

Even among those who appreciated its value, there were still disagreements regarding the use of ‘the moral approach’ in PWE broadcasts. Noel Newsome, BBC Director of European Broadcasting, reacted against ‘those of our propagandists who urge us to […] eschew history, philosophy and religion in our broadcasts’ because ‘any propaganda which is not essentially moral must be colourless and empty’.[6] Others, such as PWE propagandist Robert Walsmley, were reluctant to blend the Allied cause with Christian ethics because they felt it ‘would nauseate listeners with our hypocrisy [and] would only produce the impression that we wanted to appear religious’.[7] Delmer eventually created a religious radio station, ‘Christ the King’, in which ‘Father Andreas’ (a pseudonym of genuine Austrian priest Father Elmar Eisenberger) attacked the anti-Christian values and the moral corruption of the Nazi regime.[8] Such involvement of a Catholic priest in black propaganda appears unconventional given the Christian commitment to natural law, which emphasises the duty of unconditional truthfulness.

Muriel Spark arguably found herself in a similar predicament given the discrepancy between her spiritual commitments, particularly in the light of her later conversion to Catholicism, and the consequentialist nature of PWE work. How did she reconcile the Christian view that ‘there are certain things forbidden whatever consequences threaten’ with the wartime need to weight the morality of actions according to their expected results?[9] And how can we reconcile often-proclaimed British values of freedom and democracy with the morally dubious methods of black propaganda?

Crossman’s 1952 address to the Royal United Service Institution (RUSI) offers an attempt to answer this question. Contrary to the traditional distinction between propaganda and education – ‘propaganda tells people what to think whereas education teaches people how to think’[10] – Crossman argues that successful propaganda exhibits a commitment to education:

The job of propaganda is […] to stimulate in people of the country thought for themselves, to make them begin to be, not cogs in a machine or units of a collective organization, but individuals. Individualism is the first act of disloyalty to a totalitarian government, and every individual who begins to feel he has a right to have a view is already committing an act of disloyalty…[11]

Reflecting on his WWII experience, Crossman suggests that totalitarian propaganda and democratic propaganda have divergent aims. While the former attempts to indoctrinate citizens into a set of beliefs, the latter aims to seep through the cracks of such discourse in order to cultivate doubt. Democratic propaganda may therefore fulfil a didactic role insofar as it is capable of eliciting distrust. Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), a novel deeply concerned with the nature of education, illustrates Crossman’s claim. Through the figure of school pupil Sandy Stranger, Spark allows the reader to partake in the structural movement from unwavering loyalty to outright suspicion of Miss Brodie. Sandy’s initial belief that Miss Brodie’s behaviour was ‘outside the context of right and wrong’ is questioned both by her unapologetic encouragement of a student to fight for Franco and her insistence in involving Rose, one of her students, as a proxy for herself in an affair with the art master.[12]

Moreover, Miss Brodie’s imposition of her imaginary fancies onto the girls backfires when Sandy takes Rose’s place in the affair, thus leading Sandy to question her previously taken-for-granted role as ‘the God of Calvin [who] sees the beginning and the end.’[13] Spark’s novelistic method thus resembles that of PWE propagandists, since her introduction of disruptive events leads Sandy to suspect, and ultimately betray, her teacher on the grounds that she is teaching fascism. In doing so, Sandy escapes the authoritarian influence of Miss Brodie and prompts her teacher’s dismissal from the school, but whether Sandy’s betrayal stems from moral duty or personal self-interest remains unclear.

Sandy later embraces Catholicism, a religion ‘in whose ranks she had found quite a number of Fascists much less agreeable than Miss Brodie’, and becomes Sister Helena of the Transfiguration.[14] At this stage, Sandy shows an apologetic attitude towards Miss Brodie, who she describes as ‘quite an innocent in her way’, and her own representation as ‘clutching the bars of the grille’ insinuates a certain degree of regret about her less than altruistic betrayal of Miss Brodie.[15] Did Sandy betray Miss Brodie out of moral duty or envy? Spark never goes in for motives, but in exposing a lively and charismatic teacher as a source of evil, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie testifies to Spark’s fascination with the ethics of deception.

Follow Beatriz Lopez at @bealoplop

Notes

[1] Sefton Delmer, Black Boomerang: An Autobiography: Volume Two (London: Secker & Warburg, 1962), 217-8.

[2] Muriel Spark, Curriculum Vitae: A Volume of Autobiography (Manchester: Carcanet, 2009; originally published 1992), 147.

[3] Spark, Curriculum Vitae, 148.

[4]FO 898/99.

[5] R. H. S. Crossman, ‘Black Prima Donna’ (Review of D. Sefton Delmer, Black Boomerang), New Statesman, 9 November 1962, 676–7, 677.

[6] FO 898/181.

[7] FO 898/177.

[8] Sefton Delmer, Black Boomerang, 121-3. Lee Richards, The Black Art: British Clandestine Psychological Warfare against the Third Reich (Peacehaven: Psywar, 2010), 210.

[9] G. E. M. Anscombe, ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, Philosophy 33.124 (1958): 1-19, 10.

[10] Philip M. Taylor, Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Day (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 14.

[11] Richard Crossman, ‘The Creed of a Modern Propagandist’, in A Psychological Warfare Casebook (ed. William Daugherty) (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1958), 35-47, 40.

[12] Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2018), 85.

[13] Ibid., 121.

[14] Ibid., 126.

[15] Ibid., 128.

Cartoons and propaganda: Osbert Lancaster at the PWE

Document of the month: FO 898/507

Guy Woodward investigates the involvement of Daily Express cartoonist Osbert Lancaster in wartime propaganda

This booklet entitled Moffes-Spiegel measures 10.5 x 13 cm and appears in file 898/507 ‘Dutch Leaflets and Booklets’. Produced for the Netherlands, it contains a series of cartoons ridiculing the Nazi high command and other German officials, all of which were originally drawn for the Daily Express by Osbert Lancaster (1908-86).

‘Mof’ is a derogatory slang term for ‘German’, and ‘Spiegel’ is ‘mirror’: the title has been translated by the invaluable online resource psywar.org as ‘The Image of the Hun.’[1] A message on the opening page signed by ‘The RAF’ crediting Lancaster as artist promises that the cartoons present the Herrenvolk ‘as they really are’.[2] Psywar notes that 66,100 copies of the booklet were dropped over the Netherlands in seven separate missions in mid-September and early October 1942, and then again in early March 1943.

Several cartoons in the booklet address the subject of propaganda – the first in the booklet (above) shows a German military figure asking a civilian: ‘Surely the English couldn’t be so deceitful as to mean what they say?’ Facing this, a cartoon under the heading ‘Propaganda’ depicts a portly SS officer sententiously admonishing a malnourished Dutch civilian, telling him ‘Remember if the kind Führer hadn’t rescued you from the brutal British blockade you’d be starving by now.’[3]

In other cartoons Lancaster addresses the gluttony of senior Nazis more directly – this was a popular theme in British propaganda to occupied Europe, as I explored in a post last May. The cartoon on the left page above shows two men tucking into a feast, with the caption ‘Just think, dear colleague, of all those poor French children starving because of the brutal British blockade.’[4] The cartoon facing this attacks the Supreme Commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring, whose obese form and famed vanity made him a popular target of British wartime satire. Under the heading ‘The Fattest of Teutons’, we see Göring in full Highland dress, as Hitler admonishes him: ‘But, Hermann, I told you distinctly that we are not liberating Scotland until 1941.’[5] Other cartoons seek to emphasise the brutality and deceitful nature of German military campaigns – under the ironic heading ‘Blitzkrieg’ we see a Luftwaffe bomber firing on a pram at close range as one airman says to another ‘Well, we can always say we thought it was a tank’ (below, right).[6]

Lancaster’s attacks were informed by direct observation: like many who worked in British wartime propaganda departments, Lancaster had first-hand experience of the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany. In 1933 he took a skiing holiday with his future wife Karen in Bavaria; he recalled in his memoir arriving at the colourful Alpine town of Mittenwald, and feeling uneasy when he saw an immense banner reading ‘Hitler wird Kanzler sein’. That night the couple observed a torchlit procession from their hotel balcony, and heard the ‘booming of the village band punctuated by throaty “Sieg Heils”.’[7] Visiting Munich a few years later, the couple were shocked when they discovered that German friends of Karen had become confirmed supporters of the Nazi party.[8]

Lancaster began contributing a daily pocket cartoon to the Daily Express on 1 January 1939; remarkably these appeared until his retirement in 1981. He recalled in his memoir that he was taken on by the newspaper after he approached the features editor John Rayner and volunteered his services as a cartoonist.[9] The connection with Rayner is significant: an expert on typeface and design who had revolutionised the appearance of the Express in the 1930s, Rayner worked for the PWE during the war in a number of areas, including printed propaganda, radio broadcasting, and the LINK! production of sibs (rumours intended to deceive or demoralise the enemy).[10]

The exact nature of Lancaster’s own wartime activities in this field are unclear: frustratingly his memoir With an Eye to the Future (1967) ends with the declaration of war. According to his biographer James Knox, a few months after this in late 1939 Lancaster was employed by the Ministry of Information (MOI), and worked at Senate House, Bloomsbury (left), in a ‘department responsible for the release of overseas news to the British press and, as part of the propaganda war, to enemy, neutral and allied nations.’[11] In 1941 Lancaster was transferred to the Foreign Office ‘News Department’, but remained at Senate House and continued to brief journalists; he also worked shifts monitoring German radio broadcasts.[12]

A garrulous and sociable figure who loved gossip, Lancaster was certainly busy during the war: in addition to his work at Senate House, he continued producing daily cartoons for the Express, worked as art critic for the Observer and book reviewer for the Spectator, and frequently appeared as a panel member on radio discussion programmes.[13]

Cartoons, it is clear, are a particularly useful form of transnational propaganda, since ridicule through caricature can be easily understood across borders and cultures: like his fellow cartoonists Carl Giles and David Low, Lancaster’s works were frequently reprinted in PWE leaflets and periodicals during the war: However, fragments in biographies of Lancaster and in the memoirs of those who knew him suggest that earlier in the war he also worked directly for the organisation as an artist, at its Country headquarters at Woburn Abbey (below). His friend Peter Quennell, who had a tedious job as press censor at the MOI in the early years of the war, recalled his envy of Lancaster’s attachment to Woburn and involvement in ‘secret campaigns’.[14] Another biographer Richard Boston notes that Lancaster and Karen for a time rented a cottage with fellow Express cartoonist and PWE artist Walter Goetz and his wife Toni in Aldworth, Berkshire (Boston suggests this was ideally located for Woburn, which does not really make sense – even today it is around 1hr 45 m drive away).[15]

Lancaster’s exact role at Woburn remains unclear, but his social and professional connections with PWE figures were notably extensive. In December 1944 he was sent by the FO from London to Greece, where he served as press attaché to the British Embassy and GHQ in Athens, managing a propaganda campaign against the communist insurgency under Ambassador Rex Leeper – executive head of the PWE from 1941-43. And in addition to his friendship with Rayner (to whom his 1941 collection New Pocket Cartoons was dedicated), Lancaster also knew Freya Stark, whose role in wartime propaganda I examined in a previous blog post: he apparently decorated the bathroom at her house in Asolo, northern Italy, shortly after the war.[16]

The connections can be traced over two decades: as a student at Oxford in the late 1920s, Lancaster had encountered several figures who would later play prominent roles in the British wartime propaganda campaign. A fellow student at Lincoln College (right) was Sefton Delmer, another Express man who became PWE’s black propaganda supremo two decades later. Delmer attempted without success to instruct him in rowing, but Lancaster was more interested in aesthetic and cultural pursuits: he describes taking part in a production of King Lear in which several figures later associated with propaganda and secret work were cast.[17] Lear was played by Harman Grisewood, Assistant Controller of the BBC’s European Service during the Second World War and therefore heavily involved in PWE planning. John Betjeman, later ‘PWE’s chosen instrument in Dublin’ during the war (I wrote about this in November 2018), had been cast as the Fool, but was ejected from the production when the Betjeman-edited Cherwell magazine printed satirical photographs of rehearsals of the play.[18] Meanwhile the Duke of Cornwall was played by Peter Fleming, whose wartime roles in British intelligence and irregular warfare were many and various, and included ‘head of deception’ in India from 1942-45.[19]

At first glance such anecdotes may appear trivial, but Lancaster’s wartime career surely indicates the extent to which recruitment to the PWE and other associated British propaganda organisations was determined by a relatively narrow and interconnected series of social and professional networks.

Images by kind permission of The National Archives

Notes

[1] Translation provided by psywar.org: https://www.psywar.org/product_1942H019.php

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Osbert Lancaster, With an Eye to the Future (London: John Murray, 1967), p. 117.

[8] Ibid., p. 140.

[9] Ibid., p. 149.

[10] Artemis Cooper, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure (London: John Murray, 2012), p. 199; Simon Fenwick, Joan: Beauty, Rebel, Muse: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor, (London: Pan Macmillan, 2017), chapter 6 (unpaginated); Eunan O’Halpin, Spying on Ireland: British Intelligence and Irish Neutrality During the Second World War, (Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 211.

[11] James Knox, Cartoons & Coronets: The Genius of Osbert Lancaster (London: Francis Lincoln, 2008), p. 48.

[12] Ibid., p. 49.

[13] Richard Boston, Osbert: A portrait of Osbert Lancaster (London: Collins, 1989), p. 126.

[14] Peter Quennell, The Wanton Chase: An Autobiography from 1939 (London: Collins, 1980), p. 14.

[15] Boston, p. 122.

[16] Maurice Cardiff, Friends Abroad (London, New York: The Radcliffe Press, 1997), p. 87.

[17] Lancaster, With an Eye to the Future, p. 66.

[18] O’Halpin, p. 210.

[19] Rupert Hart-Davis, ‘Fleming, (Robert) Peter’ (2004), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: https://doi-org.ezphost.dur.ac.uk/10.1093/ref:odnb/31114.

‘No Christmas truce in political warfare’: festive wartime propaganda – part 2

Document of the month: FO 898/323

Guy Woodward on PWE plans for a Christmas radio broadcast featuring Italian POWs

This time last year I examined at a plan developed in the run up to Christmas 1940, to use the festive season as a means of fomenting discord in Germany between civilians and officials. A memorandum written at the time by Richard Crossman, then head of Ministry of Economic Warfare’s German section, suggests that the festive season is a time when civilians and troops ‘will feel the absence of their families more strongly and will be most susceptible for this reason to certain lines of propaganda, particularly if that propaganda is made to appear as though it were not propaganda at all.’

Reflecting this view, the archive of the Political Warfare Executive features several other documents showing that British propagandists identified Christmas as a useful period in which to promote narratives which fostered resentment for the Axis governments, or presented Britain and the Allies in a favourable light. PWE’s Central Directive on Christmas Eve 1942, for example, states categorically that:

Throughout the war the PWE placed considerable emphasis in propaganda campaigns on the conditions enjoyed by Axis prisoners of war held in Allied POW camps: by suggesting that POWs were comfortably housed, well fed and treated with dignity the PWE hoped both to encourage enemy troops to surrender and to draw attention to privations and shortages on the German and Italian home fronts.

In late 1942 the PWE was also particularly concerned by an ongoing Italian ‘Hate England’ campaign – apparently personally initiated by Mussolini – alleging that Italian prisoners in British captivity were being maltreated by their captors. In response a plan was hatched to broadcast messages recorded by Italian POWs over the BBC’s Italian Service, as a means of showing that prisoners were well-treated and content.

File FO 898/323 features a script (in English) entitled ‘The Prisoner’s Christmas’ which seems to have been recorded in the run up to Christmas that year, at a POW camp in Gloucestershire. Somewhat ironically the broadcast opens with this announcement:

The announcer introduces a British inspector of the Italian POW camps, who tells listeners that the programme is being broadcast both in Italy and to Italian prisoners in England – suggesting that civilians and troops separated by war can be re-united over the airwaves. The inspector then leads us to ‘the little chapel near the camp’ where songs, prayers and greetings were recorded – a subtle detail indicating that prisoners are not confined within the camp. A second announcer sets the scene:

Religious hymns are played, before a greeting from ‘Sergeant Major Nardo Francesco’, leader of Italian prisoners at the camp:

The announcer then leads listeners back to the camp, stating that the POWs have their own ‘small orchestra’ featuring banjos, guitar, mandolin, violin and drums; he introduces songs from Northern Italy and Naples, before the ‘old refrain of the “Campagnola” (listen to it here). Strikingly, the script makes no direct mention of the living conditions of the prisoners – there are no references to meals or sleeping quarters, for example – but the emphasis on music produced by the POWs themselves nevertheless clearly promotes the impression that they are well-cared for and granted significant autonomy.

The programme concludes with a series of personal messages from named Italian service personnel in captivity to their families in Italy. These include:

And:

The French theorist of propaganda Jacques Ellul wrote that ‘The propagandist cannot separate the general and specific effects. When he launches a radio campaign, he knows that the effects of his campaign and the effects of radio broadcasts in general will be combined.’[1] Like the naming of the priest and the prisoners’ leader, the use of specific names and addresses in this script appears designed to provide a guarantee of authenticity to the wider listenership beyond the specific recipients of the greetings.

It is unclear from file FO 898/323 whether ‘The Prisoner’s Christmas’ was ever broadcast. When the possibility of broadcasting a religious service from an Italian POW camp was raised in November 1942 Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden gave cautious approval, but counselled that the ‘shackling dispute’ between the Britain and Germany should be resolved first. Further correspondence in the file suggests that some officials had other reservations about broadcasting POW greetings, fearing that Italian propaganda would respond by claiming that these had been recorded under duress, or by compelling British prisoners in Italian captivity to record similar broadcasts.

The script clearly shows, however, that Christmas presented an ideal opportunity to weaponise the rhetoric of peace and goodwill for the purposes of propaganda.

Notes

All archival material is Crown Copyright and is held in The National Archives. Quotations which appear here have been transcribed by members of the project team.

[1] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, (New York: Vintage Books, 1973; originally published 1962), p. 162.

Clandestine fiction: John Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down

Document of the month: FO 898/523

Guy Woodward finds a miniature novel in the PWE papers

This tiny book appears in file 898/523 of the PWE collection in the National Archives, which bears the unpromising title ‘Various French Pamphlets’. It measures 10.5 x 6.5 cm. The cover and title page feature no reference to any author; the title, Nuit Sans Lune, translates directly as ‘Moonless Night’, but the text confirms that this is in fact a French edition of John Steinbeck’s 1942 novel, The Moon is Down.

As it happens The Moon is Down was written explicitly for the purposes of propaganda, by a novelist who served in several US government intelligence and information agencies between 1940-42.[1] As Donald Coers explains, in summer 1941 Steinbeck was attached to the Officer of Coordinator of Information (COI), and discussed with the organisation’s head, Colonel ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, the possibility of writing a work of propaganda.[2] At the same time Steinbeck’s work at the COI brought him into contact with a range of refugees from recently invaded European nations, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway; their stories of underground resistance to Nazi rule impressed and intrigued him.[3]

The short novel Steinbeck wrote over 1941-42 is set in an unnamed coastal town of an unnamed northern European country, under occupation by a military force whose commitment to timekeeping and fidelity to a singular ‘Leader’ is unambiguously indicative of Nazi Germany. It shows how the invaders’ attempts to maintain a pretence of civility are doomed in the face of deteriorating relations with the townspeople, who begin to resist the occupation, first passively and then actively. Toward the end of the novel they begin to receive military assistance from Britain, as packages containing sticks of dynamite and chocolate are dropped by aeroplane.

The narrative is grim and often claustrophobic, but offers hope in its emphatic conviction that the occupation is doomed to failure, articulated in the potent paradoxical metaphor of flies ‘conquering’ the flypaper they have become stuck to. The prospect of Allied assistance, meanwhile, gestures optimistically towards a future shift in the progress of the war. The novel also offers several practical suggestions of how an occupation can be opposed passively, by working slowly and sabotaging machinery and equipment.

The novel was enormously popular on the home front; stage and screen adaptations appeared quickly on both sides of the Atlantic. In late spring 1942 Winston Churchill was so enthused by The Moon is Down that he passed on the novel to his Minister of Economic Warfare, requesting him to explore the possibility of mass producing small incendiary devices to be provided to resistance movements in occupied Europe.[4]

Some in the United States believed that Steinbeck had been too soft on the German occupiers, who appear prone to uncertainty and anxiety rather than unremittingly cruel and evil. As Coers explains however, The Moon is Down was extraordinarily popular in countries which had experienced Nazi invasion, and was read avidly during the war behind enemy lines – he describes how translations printed on ‘tissue-thin paper’ were smuggled from Sweden into Norway where they were circulated by the resistance.[5] In Denmark and the Netherlands underground presses printed thousands of copies; in these countries and in France sales of illegal editions helped fund resistance activities.[6]

The PWE seem to have become aware of the novel’s potent propaganda value soon after its publication in 1942, and the archive features several references to its production and distribution, suggesting that some of these activities were aided and directed by the Allied propaganda organisations. A secret PWE memorandum dated August 1942 discussing the coordination of broadcast and printed propaganda for Denmark mentions that The Moon is Down has been translated and is already in print.[7] Minutes of a meeting in January 1943 record a PWE discussion regarding the circulation of an Italian edition.[8] And a note dated February 1943 records a request by the Ministry of Information for sample copies of the PWE’s ‘French leaflet edition’ of the novel.[9]

It is not clear whether the copy pictured above is the ‘leaflet edition’ mentioned here. Its small size suggests that it may well have been intended for clandestine circulation, however; the absence of Steinbeck’s distinctive and Anglophone name on the cover or inside the novel, and the lack of any publisher’s name or illustrations further suggests that this was a book designed to pass unnoticed by hostile surveillance.

Steinbeck’s narrative also lent itself to clandestine circulation – the lack of any overt references to Germans, Nazis, Hitler, or to a specific location in the text meant that a curious Gestapo officer leafing through the text might well fail to detect the novel’s propagandist ambitions and political leanings. Were that officer to settle down to read the novel, however, it is possible they might find the fatalism of Steinbeck’s occupying commander Colonel Lanser and the defiance of Mayor Orden as he faces execution more than a little unsettling:

You see sir, nothing can change it. You will be destroyed and driven out […] The people don’t like to be conquered, sir, and so they will not be. Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars. You will find that is so, sir.[10]

Images by kind permission of The National Archives. 

Notes

[1] Donald V. Coers, ‘Afterword’ to John Steinbeck, The Moon is Down (London: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 113.

[2] Ibid., pp. 113-4.

[3] Ibid., p. 114.

[4] For more on Churchill, SOE, PWE and Operation Braddock see the invaluable resource psywar.org: https://www.psywar.org/content/braddock

[5] Coers, ‘Afterword’, p. 120.

[6] Ibid., p. 125.

[7] FO 898/245.

[8] FO 898/168.

[9] FO 898/445.

[10] Steinbeck, The Moon is Down, p. 111.

DON’T drink yourself silly in public: the PWE’s pocket guide to France

Document of the month: FO 898/478

Guy Woodward on the PWE’s pocket guides for service personnel

This small 64-page booklet measures 10.5 x 13.5 cm. Its blue and white cover features a picture of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the single word title ‘France’. On first glance it appears to be a tourist guide, but the booklet was in fact produced by the PWE for Allied service personnel deployed to France following the D-Day landings of June 1944.

The PWE’s primary function was to produce propaganda for enemy and occupied Europe, a role which required substantial and intensive intelligence work to ensure that broadcasts, leaflets and publications were targeted at specific countries, regions and localities. The expertise and knowledge thereby gathered, however, meant that the PWE was ideally placed to produce pocket guides such as these, introducing servicemen to French history, culture, customs and conventions – and teaching them some basic phrases in French, with phonetic pronunciation guides (‘Seal vous play, mairsee’).[1]

In addition to France, the PWE collection in the National Archives contains drafts or printed copies of pocket guides for Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Other documents show that guides to Albania, Greece and Hungary were also drafted or planned. Some were presumably never printed or distributed: in the cases of Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia, for example, the advance of the Soviet Union meant that British troops never entered these countries in significant numbers.

The archive shows that editions varied slightly depending on the intended readership. As the maple leaf on the cover suggests, the pocket guide to France pictured above is addressed to Canadian troops – the draft version of the guide in the same file shows that only perfunctory changes were made to adapt the text however, as in most cases ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ is simply replaced by ‘Canada’ and ‘Canadian’.

The text is addressed to an individual reader throughout, seemingly in an attempt to emphasise the importance of personal responsibility. The opening paragraph reads:

A new B.E.F. [British Expeditionary Force], which includes you, is going to France. You are to assist personally in pushing the Germans out of France and back where they belong. In the process, you will meet the French, maybe not for the first time. You will also, almost certainly for the first time, be seeing a country which has been subjected to German occupation for several years. This is a point worth fixing in your mind. You will learn what it means.[2]

After a hasty canter through French history from the Roman invasion to the present day, the booklet poses the question ‘What are the French People Like?’, observing that despite a palpable ‘strong national feeling’ regional identities and characteristics remain important and that ‘it would be difficult to point to a “typical” Frenchman.’[3]

The guides are heavily dependent on generalisation and essentialist descriptions of national characteristics, and perpetuate some troubling stereotypes. The guide naturally assumes an exclusively male readership, and the misogyny of some sections makes for uncomfortable reading today. Under the heading ‘Not Like Montmartre’, the guide advises that ‘it is as well to drop any ideas about French women based on stories of Montmartre and nude cabaret shows’, and that ‘If you should happen to imagine that the first pretty French girl who smiles at you intends to dance the can-can or take you to bed, you will risk stirring up a lot of trouble for yourself – and for our relations with the French.’[4]

The guide repeatedly pleads with readers to consider themselves as representatives of their country and to behave with sensitivity, suggesting that ‘The good guest retains his welcome by making himself as little trouble as possible and doing all he can to help his hosts’; with reference to the recent German occupation it advises that ‘if you’re too boisterous and noisy it will be rather like doing a step-dance in front of a man who has just had his legs off.’[5] Discussions on the subjects of religion and politics are strongly discouraged, and alcohol is repeatedly raised as a possible source of conflict and tension:

DON’T drink yourself silly in public. If you get the chance to drink wine, learn to “take it.” The failure of some British troops to do so was the one point made against our men in France in 1939-40 and again in North Africa.[6]

The second half of the guide features phrases and vocabulary intended to help service personnel communicate with local people. It observes:

The French are politer than most of us. Remember to call them “Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle,” not just “Oy!” And don’t forget “S’il vous plaît” (please) and “Merci” (thank you).[7]

In 2005 the Bodleian Library republished the guide under the title Instructions for British Servicemen in France, 1944. Appearing between stiff, olive green covers, with the new title printed on the cover in austere sans serif capitals, it has a more strikingly military appearance than the printed copy in The National Archives pictured above. The reprint dispenses with most of the French words and phrases, and also omits the illustrations which are scattered through the wartime edition.

A preface by the historian and archivist Mary Clapinson states that the guide was discovered in the papers of its author, the journalist Herbert David Ziman, which were donated to the Bodleian in 1995; Ziman was on secondment to the PWE from the Intelligence Corps in 1943 when he wrote the booklet.[8]

The Bodleian reprint has proved highly popular and is widely available from bookshops and museums as a stocking filler for military history enthusiasts. Perhaps unexpectedly, the guide also found a readership in France: in 2006 a French translation of the guide was published by the small Parisian house Les Quatre Chemins and reportedly sold well.[9] Quand Vous Serez En France featured an introduction by the journalist Pierre Assouline, expressing fascinated bemusement at the ‘battledress paperback’ produced with ‘a consummate sense of understatement’ and which helps explain the continuing attraction of France for the British.[10] Turning to the final section of the guide, he suggests that in phonetically transcribed phrases such as ‘Bonjewer, commont-aalay-voo?’, French readers will find ‘an original form of poetry.’[11]

This is the first post in an occasional series – subsequent posts will address pocket guides to other countries.

Images by kind permission of The National Archives. 

Notes

[1] ‘Draft Soldiers’ Guide to France’, FO 898/478, p. 31.

[2] Ibid., p. 2.

[3] Ibid., p. 14.

[4] Ibid., p. 17.

[5] Ibid., p. 26, p. 28.

[6] Ibid., p. 29.

[7] Ibid., p. 28.

[8] Instructions for British Servicemen in France, 1944. (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2005), n.p.

[9] Noam Cohen, ‘For British Troops, Help Crossing the Channel’, The New York Times, 2 July 2006: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/02/weekinreview/02word.html

[10] Quand Vous Serez En France (Paris: Quatre Chemins), p. 11, p. 16.

[11] Ibid., p. 17.

From Woburn to the St. Petersburg troll factory

Reading Peter Pomerantsev’s new book This is Not Propaganda, Guy Woodward finds echoes of PWE’s wartime activities in contemporary disinformation campaigns

Having spent nearly a decade working as a producer in the super-charged dystopian world of Russian television, by 2010 Peter Pomerantsev was exhausted. He left a country ‘where spectacle had pushed out sense, which left gut feeling as the only means of finding one’s way through the fog of disinformation’, and returned to London, where he is now Senior Fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics and develops plans to combat information manipulation.[1]

Part family memoir, part travelogue, his new book, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality examines contemporary information warfare across the world: Pomerantsev reports from the Philippines, Serbia, Mexico, Syria and China, and focuses at length on Russia and Ukraine.

Born in 1977 in Kyiv, Pomerantsev left the Soviet Union with his parents in 1978, after his dissident father had been detained and interrogated by the KGB on charges of circulating ‘anti-Soviet fabrications of a defamatory nature’.[2] Igor Pomerantsev had distributed copies of banned books by Russian authors including Vladimir Nabokov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He subsequently found work at the BBC World Service, one of the stations he had listened to in secret in Soviet Ukraine. His son describes visiting the ‘wondrous island’ of Bush House as a child in the 1980s:

As soon as my father was locked in the aquarium-like glass case of the broadcasting studio, I was free to roam every floor. Down the wide stairs I went, around me every colour and ethnicity the world knows, all speaking, shouting English, but with different accents. All typing, smoking, sprinting between slamming doors to break the latest news. Every section of the vast building was another country or even continent.

Forty years prior to this, the vast building on the Strand served as London base of the Political Warfare Executive, which shared Bush House with the BBC: in his recent history of the corporation at war, Edward Stourton writes that ‘One lift in the building led to a world where truth was king, another to a world dedicated to deception and treachery.’[3] This Is Not Propaganda has almost nothing to say about the Second World War, but Pomerantsev’s investigations nevertheless suggest some intriguing echoes of the wartime activities of the PWE in today’s highly-networked disinformation campaigns.

In the book’s first chapter ‘Cities of Trolls’ for example, Pomerantsev interviews the Russian journalist Lyudmilla Savchuk, who infiltrated a troll farm in St Petersburg and revealed its inner workings. Savchuk was assigned a ‘special project’ involving the creation of an online personality known as ‘Cantadora’, a mystic healer and ‘expert in astrology, parapsychology and crystals’. Cantadora was designed to appeal to middle-class women with little interest in politics, and Savchuk’s job was ‘to drop in the odd bit of current affairs in between blog entries on star signs and romance.’[4]

This resembles the strategy pursued by the clandestine radio stations run by PWE during the Second World War, such as Soldatensender Calais (1943-45), devised by Sefton Delmer at PWE’s ‘Country’ HQ at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, and intended to resemble a genuine German station. Actor and singer Agnes Bernelle – who played the announcer Vicky on the station – recalled that the main attraction for German military listeners was the broadcast of jazz music, forbidden in Germany as ‘alien and decadent’. Between records, however, Bernelle would read ‘items of news and other subtly disguised pieces of propaganda’, so that the Germans ‘would invariably get the information we wanted them to have.’[5] Like the St Petersburg trolls, the PWE also weaponised astrology for the purposes of propaganda: Delmer describes the production of Zenith, a fake astrological magazine which featured ‘horoscopes for Germany’s leaders’ and ‘prognostications for U-boats and aircraft according to the date and hour of their launching and sortie’.[6]

Pomerantsev is particularly struck by the granular detail of some contemporary campaigns: ‘Two trolls would go on the comments section of small, provincial newspapers and start chatting about the street they lived in, the weather, then casually recommend a piece about the nefarious West attacking Russia.’[7] Several PWE campaigns likewise drew on detailed local knowledge: John Baker White recalls studying aerial photographs of bomb damage so that covert broadcasts could refer accurately to the destruction of individual properties, providing news which the German authorities were keen to keep secret.[8] Ewan Butler, meanwhile, describes spreading a rumour in Germany about the admission to hospital of a Gauleiter’s mother-in-law, as a means of showing how regional Nazi officials were obtaining preferential treatment.[9]

Pomerantsev also visits the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which researches and formulates campaigns against extremism. Here he learns about guides posted by anonymous agitators on sites including 4chan and Reddit which offer a ‘crash course in online persuasion’ and provide ‘advice on how to use the values of your enemy against them’:

So if you are attacking a leftist politician, you should create a fake liberal persona for yourself online and point out how politicians are part of the financial elite, or how their ‘white privilege’ has allowed them to rise to the top and avoid arrest.[10]

Seven decades earlier, Delmer’s clandestine radio station Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1) began broadcasting to Germany on 23 May 1941.[11] GS1 carried furious diatribes by the invented character ‘der Chef’ (‘The Boss’) – a title by which Delmer had heard members of Hitler’s entourage refer to their leader, although this der Chef was hostile to the Nazi Party. A veteran Prussian officer, the intensely patriotic character ranted for two years against the weakness, incompetence and venality of Nazis who were letting down the proud German nation: in broadcasting these sentiments Delmer hoped to drive a wedge between the German people and their leaders.

There’s no evidence that any of the contemporary practitioners of online disinformation and subversion were directly influenced by the PWE’s campaigns, but it is striking and troubling to see similar tactics at work. A clear distinction can be drawn, however, between the PWE’s aim of bringing the war to a swifter conclusion by contributing to the defeat of the Axis regimes, and the desire on the part of Pomerantsev’s subjects to prosecute a multidimensional, ever-shifting and perpetual form of information warfare. In eastern Ukraine he reflects that whereas war had previously involved ‘capturing territory and planting flags […] something different was at play out here’:

Moscow needed to create a narrative about how pro-democracy revolutions like the Maidan led to chaos and civil war. Kiev needed to show that separatism leads to misery. What actually happened on the ground was almost irrelevant; the two governments just needed enough footage to back their respective stories. Propaganda has always accompanied war, usually as a handmaiden to the actual fighting. But the information age means that this equation has been flipped: military operations are now handmaidens to the more important information effect.[12]

Peter Pomerantsev is appearing at the Durham Book Festival on Sunday 6 October 2019

Notes

[1] Peter Pomerantsev, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (Faber and Faber, 2019), p. 218. Pomerantsev describes his experiences in Moscow in the 2000s in Nothing is True and Everything is Possible (2015).

[2] Pomerantsev, This Is Not Propaganda, p. 55.

[3] Edward Stourton, Auntie’s War: The BBC During the Second World War (London: Penguin, 2018), p. 353. Although the PWE was certainly responsible for producing covert or ‘black’ propaganda, it should be acknowledged that many of the campaigns of ‘deception and treachery’ originated from the organisation’s ‘Country’ headquarters at Woburn, Bedfordshire.

[4] Pomerantsev, This Is Not Propaganda, pp. 35-6.

[5] Agnes Bernelle, The Fun Palace (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1996), p. 94.

[6] Sefton Delmer, Black Boomerang:An Autobiography: Volume Two (London: Secker & Warburg, 1962), p. 132.

[7] Pomerantsev, This Is Not Propaganda, p. 36.

[8] John Baker White, The Big Lie (London: Evans Brothers, 1955), p. 67.

[9] Ewan Butler, Amateur Agent (London: George G. Harrap, 1963), p. 166.

[10] Pomerantsev, This Is Not Propaganda, p. 203.

[11] Ellic Howe, The Black Game: British Subversive Operations Against the Germans During the Second World War (London: Queen Anne/Futura, 1988), p.106.

[12] Pomerantsev, This Is Not Propaganda, p. 140.

Adolf and His Donkey Benito

Document of the month: FO 898/128

Guy Woodward on Kem’s cartoons for North Africa

‘Adolf and His Donkey Benito’ is an Arabic-language cartoon booklet produced by PWE for distribution in North Africa in 1942 – it appears in file FO 898/128, ‘Propaganda Activities, Leaflet Translations (Arabic)’. Satirising the relationship between the German and Italian dictators, the booklet depicts the Führer as an unkempt and increasingly deranged figure, exasperated and frustrated in his attempts to train a recalcitrant donkey – whose face bears a strong resemblance to that of Mussolini. In line with many other examples of Allied propaganda attacking Mussolini, the donkey is portrayed as cowardly, incompetent and hapless – the animal is shown suffering a range of injuries.

The file features English translations of the Arabic text and captions. The introduction states that the story’s protagonist ‘used to be a housepainter, who worked his way up the ladder until he reached the position of Dictator of Germany. This was done by means which it would not be decent to print in this book.’ It continues to recall that as a housepainter Adolf ‘could not afford more than one shirt’ and ‘had to stay in bed whilst his only shirt was being washed.’ However, once he became dictator ‘he bought a shirt for everyone who accepted him as leader. He chose the colour brown for the shirt in order that dirt would not show quickly and bloodstains would be less apparent.’ In due course, the introduction concludes, Adolf met the donkey Benito. The two ‘set out to conquer the world, and in the following pages you will see some of their adventures.’

In some frames other Nazi and Axis figures appear. On the front cover a monkey wearing a military cap adorned with the Japanese rising sun helps Hitler prevent the donkey tumbling into a river. When a grotesquely obese Hermann Göring – whose tattered black wings are a mocking reference to Göring’s role as Supreme Commander of the Luftwaffe – attempts to sit on the donkey, the beast collapses to the floor.

Later Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, dressed in mortar board and gown, attempts without success to train the donkey to sing into a microphone.

The booklet consists of eighteen cartoons, all in black and white apart from the outside covers which also feature red – the colour scheme resembles that of the pop-up cartoon Hitler leaflet examined in a previous post. Both publications demonstrate the important role played by cartoons in transnational propaganda: caricatures of immediately recognisable figures as Hitler and Mussolini had an unparalleled ability to transcend borders and cultures.

The artwork for both publications is by Kimon Evan Marengo (KEM), a Cairo-born Anglo-Greek cartoonist and journalist who produced large quantities of visual propaganda for the Ministry of Information and PWE for North and West Africa and the Middle East during the war. He drew several versions of ‘Adolf and His Donkey Benito’, and even produced an animated film featuring the popular caricatures: storyboard sketches for this are displayed in a fascinating exhibition of wartime cartoons currently showing at the University of Kent’s Templeman Gallery. Kem’s papers can be found in the British Cartoon Archive at Kent.

The file in the PWE papers features an intriguing detail regarding the circulation of the leaflet. A memo dated 18 July 1942 sent by PWE’s Sylvain Mangeot to Hracia Paniguian of the French Section outlines a recent meeting with a ‘Mr Quennell’, who reported that:

Kem’s booklet with Hitler and his donkey, Mussolini, was in the bags which were blown up by the German bomb on the quay at Tangier. The leaflets were scattered and the local inhabitants snatched them and they are now on sale, and Mr. Kem’s caricatures seem to have taken very well indeed.

This anecdote hints at the significance of distribution methods for the credibility and appeal of printed propaganda. We can infer that material which circulated on a commercial or illicit quasi-commercial basis appeared more detached from the official Allied propaganda machine, and thus appeared more authentic. The PWE do seem to have understood this: as the war turned in the Allies’ favour the organisation began producing publications for liberated territories, and arranged for cultural and indirect propaganda – such as the French literary digest Choix – to be distributed through commercial venues such as bookshops and kiosks.

Images by kind permission of The National Archives

The exhibition Keep Smiling Through: British Humour and the Second World War explores the use of humour in cartoons, letters, books, ephemera and artefacts from the First and Second World Wars. It complements the symposium of the same title held at the University of Kent on 12–13 September 2019 and was curated with the assistance of Special Collections & Archives’ inaugural exhibition interns.

PWE and the Durham miners

Document of the month: FO 898/514/49-50

Guy Woodward on the deployment of the Durham miners in wartime propaganda – and the role of a Durham MP in the PWE

This leaflet appears in a file of leaflets and booklets produced for distribution in France. It is dated 28 December 1940 and is addressed from ‘des mineurs du basin de Durham, l’une des plus puissantes fédérations syndicales des mineurs britanniques’ / ‘the miners of the Durham coalfield, one of the most powerful associations of British miners’ to ‘mineurs actuellement sous le joug des Nazis’ / ‘miners currently under the yoke of the Nazis’.

The leaflet is a single sheet and features on the front an image of two miners, stripped to the waist, mining underground using pickaxes, stressing the physical strength and bravery required. The reverse shows a swastika hanging from a gallows at sunrise, with the caption ‘Le jour approche…’, suggesting that the vanquishing (and crucially the punishment) of the Nazis is in sight – an expression of extreme optimism in December 1940, seven months after the Dunkirk evacuation and with the Blitz at its height.

The leaflet indicates the fame of the Durham miners among industrial and trades union communities in Europe at this time. Addressing the French miners as ‘camarades’ / ‘comrades’, the leaflet promotes solidarity between workers in Britain and in occupied France. It decries the ‘crimes’ and ‘barbarous treatment’ meted out by the Nazi occupiers, and also seeks to refute ‘the attempts being made in each of your countries by these people of a depraved species, now known as Quislings, who would have you believe that England will not be able to last long.’ Without specifying the leaflet continues to assure the French readership that ‘the events of the last six months, and what happens every day under our eyes, show how false this is.’

Sending greetings for the coming year ‘from each mining village, from the home of each miner in Durham and Britain’, certainty is expressed that ‘the reign of the Nazi bandits is coming to an end’ and that despite the darkness ‘the ray of light that illuminates our path will also appear to you and give you the strength to shake off the yoke of tyranny, despotism and cruelty.’

The leaflet makes no attempt to encourage sabotage or subversion, but simply seeks to extend a hand of friendship, to foster a sense of solidarity and to encourage fortitude against the occupier – a similar leaflet offers greetings from ‘les ouvriers de Coventry’. In the field of black propaganda, however, attempts were made to foment resistance to the German occupation using trades union rhetoric or channels of communication. And, perhaps not coincidentally, the foremost advocate of this approach in the British government in the early years of the war was Hugh Dalton, the Minister for Economic Warfare and Labour MP for Bishop Auckland.

Dalton had lost his seat in the 1931 election, catastrophic for Labour, but had been determined to return as MP in 1935: ‘My heart was in Bishop Auckland and in County Durham, and especially with the miners.’[1] In his autobiography he writes of his pride at being featured on the banner of the New Shildon Lodge – Dalton also appeared on the banner of the Whitworth Park Lodge seen above.[2] Strongly anti-appeasement in the late 1930s, Dalton was appointed to the cabinet in Churchill’s coalition government and asked to take charge of the new Special Operations Executive, formed to conduct irregular warfare in occupied Europe. On 16 July 1940 Churchill ordered Dalton to ‘set Europe ablaze’, and described his department as the ‘MUW – Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.’[3] In this spirit Dalton referred to this period as ‘my Black life’, and told his cabinet colleagues on 17 August 1940 that ‘we must learn, for the duration of this war at least, to shed many inhibitions and to act on the assumption that the end justifies the means… We must beat the Nazis at their own game.’[4]

Dalton’s plans involved the mobilisation of socialist parties and trades unions in Europe as a means of creating fifth columns and causing ‘explosions, chaos and revolution.’[5] He hoped for strikes, boycotts and sabotage, and advocated the formation of movements comparable to Sinn Féin, to Chinese guerrilla fighters, or to Spanish irregulars in Wellington’s campaign during the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century.[6] These plans never bore fruition, and the historian David Stafford has observed that Dalton’s vision of Europe in permanent revolution, with the Germans plagued by constant military and civil unrest, rested on over-ambitious assumptions about the willingness of European socialist parties and trades unions to want to pursue such activities and to do so at the behest of the British government.[7]

At home meanwhile, many in government and the military believed that a German invasion of Britain was imminent, and preparations were being made to plan for resistance activities in the event of Nazi occupation. Also held in the PWE archive, minutes of a meeting held on 17 November 1940 to discuss ‘Policy to France’ record Dalton’s comments to senior officials that:

if the Germans were in occupation of Great Britain, and he was trying to organise a movement against them, he would choose people like his own constituents, the Durham Miners, and he would sent to them, not a bank clerk or commercial traveller, but one of their own men, in whom they would have confidence. Similarly, in training Agents for work in France, we should send to the industrial workers men who understood them and whom they trusted.[8]

Dalton’s sense of commonalities between the Durham miners and the French industrial workers is reflected in the leaflet dated just over a month later. Had a German invasion of Britain taken place, Dalton wrote in his autobiography that he would have wanted to travel north to Durham – he recalled Winston Churchill’s plan in the event of a German invasion to deploy the slogan ‘You can always take one with you’ to encourage hand-to-hand combat, and writes that ‘Nowhere would that slogan have echoed louder than in the County of the Faithful Durhams.’[9]

Images by kind permission of The National Archives and Beamish, the Living Museum of the North

Notes

All archival material is Crown Copyright and is held in The National Archives. Quotations which appear here have been transcribed by members of the project team.

[1] Hugh Dalton, The Fateful Years: Memoirs 1931-1945, (London: Frederick Mueller Ltd, 1957), p. 21.

[2] Dalton, p. 137.

[3] Dalton, p. 366.

[4] Stafford 29

[5] Dalton, p. 367.

[6] Dalton, p. 368.

[7] David Stafford, Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945: A Survey of the Special Operations Executive, with Documents, (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1983), p. 30; When the PWE was formed in September 1941, Dalton originally served on the tripartite ministerial committee established to supervise its activities, but was angry that PWE had taken responsibility for covert propaganda from SOE. Due in part to irreconcilable conflicts with his colleagues at the Ministry of Information he was moved to the Board of Trade in February 1942.

[8] ‘Policy to France: Short Record of a Meeting held on Sunday, 17th November 1940’, FO 898/9/49.

[9] Dalton, p. 337. Dalton’s reference to the ‘Durhams’ here is to the Durham Light Infantry, whose service in the Second World War he also hails.