A long way from Greenham Common

Every day during the Blitz, the Daily Mail published a selection of letters from readers on various topics, out of the hundreds received every day. Clearly it can't be assumed that these are representative of British public opinion generally, or of Mail readers, or even of those readers motivated to write letters to the editor (though on that last point, at least there is the newspaper's own daily summary of its mailbag to compare with). Still, they're fascinating to read. Consider this letter from Molly Roche, of Welwyn, Hertfordshire:

For God's sake put women in charge of the R.A.F. policy before it is too late.1

This is somewhat cryptic as it stands: what did she think women would do differently, if they were in charge of the RAF? It's clear enough from the context that the policy she had in mind was the bombing of German cities in reprisal for the Blitz. At this point, 80% of the letters received by the Mail advocated 'unlimited reprisals on German cities' -- though another 12.5% were opposed.2 Was she right in implying that women generally favoured reprisals? It's impossible to say, because of the caveats mentioned above, but there were certainly other women who were thinking along the same lines. For example, Ida Turnbull, Bury St. Edmunds:

English men and women are getting as tired of hearing "bombed at random" as we were of "appeasement." And what good did that do? The only thing that Hitler and Co. can understand is the iron fist: so why not bomb their principal streets and shops of Berlin? We have the finest airmen and craft, so why not let them "Go to It?"3

Mrs. A. Penington, Blackpool:

"Bomb Berlin. Raze it to the ground." is on everybody's lips.4

Mrs. Rosa Keoghoe, Wood Green, N.22:

Why all this tender feeling for German children? When bombing military objectives it is their own families' fault if they are within bombing distance. They have the same chance to break up their homes and go to safer places as many English families have had to take. This is war, and we are all in it.5

Mrs. E. M. McMillan, Ormskirk, Lancashire (it's not clear what she is proposing specifically, but it's the first letter in a section headed 'Reprisals'):

As a cancer or a poisonous weed should be ruthlessly cut out, so must the German race be utterly and definitely purged of all its evil powers.6

Not all published letters from women on the matter of reprisals were in favour, of course. And there were plenty in favour from men -- or so I assume, since in most cases first names or honorifics are not given, only initials; where either or both appear, it's nearly always for a woman. The letter I found most chilling in fact gives no clue as to the gender of the author, and is from E. James, Colchester:

I understood we were going to be meeting force with force. What is murdering women and children but force?7

At least it's not hypocritical.

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  1. Daily Mail, 26 September 1940, p. 3. []
  2. Ibid. The other 7.5% were presumably on unrelated topics. []
  3. Ibid., 23 September 1940, p. 3. []
  4. Ibid., 24 September 1940, p. 3. []
  5. Ibid., 2 October 1940, p. 3. []
  6. Ibid., 4 October 1940, p. 3. []
  7. Ibid., 30 September 1940, p. 3. []

3 thoughts on “A long way from Greenham Common

  1. Alan Allport

    The Mass-Observation file reports may have something on this too. The material for 1940-41 is particularly strong.

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