WWII: Outbreak | Britain on the brink of World War II
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It is clear that this country is now within forty-eight hours of war. This does
not mean that war is coming within the next forty-eight hours or even that it
is inevitable, but it does mean that any incident may occur or any pretext may
be created which would cause the immediate outbreak of war. This state of
affairs will obviously continue until the late autumn when the weather becomes
too uncertain for extensive or enduring air raids, or until some agreement is
reached with Nazi Germany. It is equally clear that an actual declaration of war
is improbable and that an air attack literally out of the blue is very possible,
as a lightning blow is part of the technique of the totalitarian powers who are
aware that a prolonged campaign against Great Britain with her immense resources
must end in their defeat. It is, thuse [sic] unlikely that the precautionary
period, if one is declared at all, is likely to last for more than a few hours.
2. AIR ATTACK
Air attack, which is inevitable in modern war-fare, may be:-
(a) An attempt to wreck the morale of the civil population by the intensive
bombing of London and perhaps of one or two other large cities. Such attack
would probably consist of a series of raids which though not individually
devastating would allow little or no respite.
(b) Failing this, an attempt to dislocate communications to such an extent that
ordered civilian life would be difficult and starvation possible. (There are ten
million people living within a radius of fifteen miles of Piccadilly Circus who
are dependent on the London markets for their food.)
(c) Attacks on munition factories, aerodromes and docks which can justly be
considered to be military objectives.
How many of the attacking aircraft get through must remain a matter of
conjecture, but at best life in London would be extremely unpleasant. As for the
rest of the country, some districts, e.g. Birmingham and Tyneside, may be as
heavily attacked as London but elsewhere it appears probable that air attacks,
in order to be worth while, would be directed against military objectives and
ordinary civil life would not be interfered with more than it was in London
What is the Corporation's position in view of such a situation?
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1. Air Raid Precautions Scheme:
Air raid precautions schemes for all London premises, Regional studio centres
and Transmitting Stations have been completed some time ago, and the opportunity
which occurred last September to test them showed that they will work well.
It is known what kind of programmes will be produced on the outbreak of war and
there will be no difficulty in this connection. We are prepared for the gradual
building up of programmes as it has been accepted that mainly in order to
maintain the morale of the nation, broadcasting should be of as high a standard
as possible, subject to the limitations produced by a single programme. Whether
it will be considered possible or advisable to produce an alternative programme
later on must be a matter of opinion, but it appears that such a possibility
must not be entirely ruled out.
When Wood Norton has been fully prepared for broadcasting, it will be perfectly
easy to produce any kind of programme there except symphony concerts given by
the full orchestra. In the meantime, there must be a certain amount of
improvisation and as will be mentioned later on in this note, steps are being
taken in this connection.
All programme staff have been informed of the defence category in which they
have been placed and it is hoped that by the end of April each individual will
be informed of what he actually has to do on the outbreak of war.
Duty rosters should be prepared as soon as possible. This is indeed essential
as war may come with little or no notice and in such an event all staff not
actually required must go home as quickly as possible. It is proposed that
Heads of Departments should issue such instructions to their staff but further
consideration is required as to who is to inform Heads of Departments of an
emergency and how best this could be done. It may be considered desirable to
have written instructions prepared now which could be circulated to Heads of
Departments should such a need arise in a very short space of time.
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4. Contract Staff:
Contract Staff have not yet been informed of their defence categories and it is
most desirable that they should be as soon as possible. As things are at
present, there would be considerable confusion on the outbreak of war.
5. Broadcasting House:
It will be of advantage if all staff required in wartime for work in
Broadcasting House should have their offices there. Allocation of office
accommodation should therefore be prepared as soon as possible. It is probable
that a considerable number of those who will be working at Broadcasting House
live some distance away and owing to transport dislocation would not be able to
come to their offices and return home as they do in normal times. Arrangements
for them to sleep at the Langham Hotel are being made but as the first step the
number who will have to be housed there must be ascertained as soon as possible.
Arrangements with the Langham Hotel must also be completed.
Apart from the difficulty of transport, it is likely that work in London may be
a considerable strain. It is suggested that those who are to work in
Broadcasting House on two duty rosters, for instance, (a) six days on duty,
three days off, when they could go home, (b) shifts during their six days on
duty. It is unlikely that a twenty-four hour working day will be necessary
for all Departments.
Arrangements have been made with our usual suppliers to provide the provisions
needed, though of course food rationing is inevitable. To meet the possibility
of any failure in supplies, emergency rations for two hundred people for a
fortnight have already been obtained.
As the Concert Hall in Broadcasting House is not proof against a direct hit from
a large bomb and as air raids may take place with little or no warning, it
appears most desirable that all senior members of the staff should not be
located there during an air raid. It may be considered sufficient that some of
them should go to the Langham Hotel as the chances of both the Hotel and
Broadcasting House being destroyed during one air raid are somewhat remote.
On the other hand, it would obviously be safer if they were more scattered.
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6. Emergency Headquarters:
It is anticipated that by the end of May Wood Norton will be available for all
kinds of broadcasting except by orchestras. It is possible that halls suitable
for orchestras may be found in the neighbourhood. Enquiries are now being
carried out. It may be considered desirable to have the symphony orchestra in
some other place, e.g. Stratford, Worcester, Cheltenham, if there is a suitable
hall. Should this be decided, arrangements will have to be made at once for
By the end of the year, Wood Norton will be available for all orchestras except
the symphony orchestra of seventy-five players.
It is hoped that by the end of April at the latest Wood Norton will be able to
accommodate any Administrative staff it is proposed to send there and that
temporary studios for talks and small drama productions could be improvised.
There are, however, many details still to be worked out in connection with Wood
Norton, - some of which are set out below:-
(a) The composition of the advance party which it is proposed to send down to
Wood Norton during the precautionary stage should be decided as soon as
(b) It must also be decided who is to be in charge of this party.
(c) Transport for this party whether by road or rail must be considered.
(d) As for catering arrangements, it must be decided whether they are to have
their meals at Wood Norton or at Evesham. The former will be possible especially
as a week's rations will be sent down to Wood Norton and stored there
immediately possession is obtained. As, however, the existing kitchens are to
be used for other purposes, other cooking arrangements must be made. It is
suggested that the Catering Manager should inspect the place as soon as possible.
(e) At the precautionary stage the billeting officer with some staff should go
to Evesham. If possible, he should have made a preliminary reconnaissance.
(This could be arranged with the Ministry of Health.) It is desirable that this
billeting officer should be selected at once and that detailed instructions
should be prepared for him as to who he will have to billet and as to the
probable times of arrival of the different parties at Evesham.
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(f) As Wood Norton is two and a half miles from Evesham, it will be necessary
to send some motor transport there, e.g. the Alexandra Palace buses. A list of
transport to be sent there should be prepared as soon as possible.
(g) A certain amount of engineering equipment will have to sent [sic] down.
This is a matter for the Engineering Division to decide.
(h) The question of what records, e.g. registry files, accounts files, etc.,
should be sent down must be considered and a decision taken as to when and how
they should be dispatched.
(i) The fifteen hundred gramophone records at present at Birmingham must be sent
to Wood Norton immediately the Corporation has obtained possession. A decision
is required as to where they should be kept.
(j) It has been decided that skeleton office equipment should be obtained at
once for Wood Norton. Apart from office equipment it will be necessary to obtain
beds for the advance party as it may be impossible to arrange for billeting in
Evesham prior to the outbreak of war, and it will be expensive to house all the
party in hotels.
If it is decided that additional office furniture is to be sent from some other
place, e.g. Birmingham or Alexandra Palace, preliminary enquiries should be made
as to the best means of dispatch.
Subsequent arrivals at Wood Norton
It has been provisionally decided that on the outbreak of war certain
Administrative staff, e.g. most of the Accounts staff, should be sent to Wood
Norton. D.S.A. may also wish to send some of his staff and certain of D.P.A.'s
staff will be required as well as, of course, some catering and house staff; the
lists of those to go should be made out as soon as possible. In the Programme
Division it has been decided that the Variety and Theatre Orchestras and the
Drama Repertory Company, together with certain B.B.C. staff of Music, Variety
and F. & D. Departments should go to Evesham.
The desirability of all staff in these Departments going immediately following
the outbreak of war may be questioned, for though it may be as well to occupy
all the accommodation reserved for us as soon as possible, on the other hand it
may not appear suitable to have large numbers of staff there who have little or
nothing to do. This would defeat one of the objects of the
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Defence categories which was to allow B. staff to take on other work of National
importance until such time as they were needed by the Corporation. In this
connection it seems probable that during the first week of war at least the
public will demand news and information as to the situation and will not require
much in the way of purely entertainment programmes, which in any case could be
produced by Regions, e.g. Glasgow, Bristol, Manchester, and despite lines
difficulties, from Belfast.
A final decision is required as to whether Programme Planning Department should
proceed at once to Evesham, but in any case it is essential that a list of those
who are to go to Evesham should be prepared as soon as possible. The question of
transport for this staff must be considered. Owing to petrol rationing it will
probably be impossible for them to go by car. Trains going to the west country
are likely to be very full during the first two or three days following the
outbreak of war. In any case if railway vouchers are to be given to those who
go down, it might be advisable to obtain there [sic] beforehand. If vouchers
are obtained now it has to be decided how and when they are to be sent to those
who would use them, as B. staff who will be going to Wood Norton should not be
required to call at Broadcasting House to get a voucher on their way there.
It is also obviously desirable that everyone should arrive at Evesham at the
same time, and it might be better if those going there received a notice
during the precautionary stage, - something on these lines:-
'At zero (the outbreak of war) plus one day (two days etc.) you proceed to
Evesham. A voucher for the journey from London is enclosed herewith. You will
report to [Person to be inserted here] at [Time to be inserted here] You should
take with you sufficient clothes, etc., for a month's stay.'
As band instruments for orchestras will have to be sent to Evesham enquiries
should be made as to the best means of their dispatch.
Obviously one of the most senior officials in the Corporation will have to take
charge at Wood Norton. Presumably he will be selected in the near future.
The question of whether any air raid precautions scheme for Wood Norton is
necessary must be considered. It does not, however, appear that one is necessary
as the place is so far away from any possible object of attack. If the place is
attacked, it would probably be sufficient for the staff to
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scatter into the surrounding woods.
Movement to other places:
Similar arrangements will have to be made regarding those staff moving to other
places, e.g. to Bristol.
As even now many Heads of Departments know little about our wartime plans,
though they have had some information as to their own Departments, it is
suggested that a meeting might be held rather on the lines of the enlarged
Control Board meeting at which Regional Directors were present during the
September crisis, at which Heads of Departments should be present and at which
D.D.G. could explain are [sic] general proposals. Although any information given
should be treated as confidential, there is nothing really secret now except some
of the details of our engineering plans, and of course Document C.
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Document Type | Report
This document is an extract from the BBC's 'War Book', which was compiled to detail the Corporation's operational requirements in the event of war. The focus here is on how the BBC will continue to broadcast while facing attack from air raids. Plans are outlined for relocation of staff to Wood Norton in Worcestershire or other sites in the event of an air raid. There is reference to 'Document C', the policy document that outlined the regulations under which the BBC would operate during wartime. 'Document C' was 22 pages long and contained detailed instructions for each department on what to do in the event of air raids or loss of specific transmitters.
As early as 1933, the BBC's first Director General, John Reith, made reference to the possibility of war in his diary, noting that senior civil servant Sir Maurice Hankey had told him: 'The government should have taken some steps to prepare the country for what they would have to do in the event of air raids.' A year later, Reith assembled a committee to deal with questions of defence, including air raids and civil disturbances.
Chamberlain returns from a meeting with Hitler in Bad Godesberg.
The BBC announces Britain's home defence measures.
Chamberlain broadcasts to the nation after one of his last meetings with Hitler.
Richard Dimbleby is at the scene of Chamberlain's return from Munich.
News extract on one aspect of British home defence measures - gas masks.
An inside report from Czechoslovakia on the German occupation.
Germany proposes a settlement to the Polish problem.
Children from London depart for an unknown destination in the countryside.
'Germany has invaded Poland and has bombed many towns.'
'This country is at war with Germany' announces the Prime Minister.
The King calls for courage and faith in the battle ahead.
The ultimatum to Germany is due to expire at 11.00am.
The Battle of the Atlantic begins as the first British ship is sunk by the Germans.
Teachers and a schoolgirl describe settling down in the country.
Evacuees from Manchester discuss their new lives.
The Foreign Secretary speaks after two months of war.
A message of hope and encouragement to the women of Europe.
How various hospitals in London prepared for war.
Personal memories of the outbreak of World War II.
A reporter remembers Poland in the summer of 1939.
What will the BBC's role be during war?
Precautions to protect staff from air raids.
Plans for variety programmes during wartime.
Defence: the Corporation's plans in the event of war.
Plans for the 'Radio Times' during wartime.
'This department will have to stand by in a period of comparative chaos.'
The front cover of the 'Radio Times' from the pre-war edition.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's broadcast to the nation.
The front cover of the 'Radio Times' from the wartime revised edition.
Are the headquarters of the BBC in danger from an air attack?
Is there a need to camouflage the headquarters of the BBC?
Remember your gas mask.
A collection of photographs from the BBC archives on the outbreak of World War II.
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