The predictions of the ‘panic flight’, of Londoners fleeing to countryside and rural areas, enduring inhumane conditions whilst away from the city, and literally losing their minds in the process – DID NOT OCCUR. Because the reaction of the Londoners was the complete opposite. The psychiatric hospitals were empty and the ‘panic’ originally envisaged, faltered. Were policy makers therefore, wrong? And, why did Londoners react in way unforeseen to Churchill and his team?
Well, the first question has two facets; one being the absolute outcome, and the second being policy diligence. The absolute outcome was indeed contrary to initial estimations and predictions made by the ‘experts’, in this expose being Churchill and Basil Liddell Hart. However, when looking at policy diligence, the ability to identify an issue/s and then amass a team to plan for the identified issue, it is here, that they were successful. So, yes, the absolute outcome meant that policy makers predictions were wrong, but they were not wrong in their ability to identify the real risks and plan accordingly.
Churchill, Addressing House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom
The second question, of why Londoners reacted in a way unthought of and unforeseen, are for three reasons. The first reason is addressed in Part 2, and is kin to the climate that key policy makers at the time were facing. They faced immense pressure to do the best they possibly could for London, Great Britain and the sovereignty of Europe. This would have been an unimaginable weight upon the shoulders men such as Churchill and co. Hence, for this reason the weight, pressures, anxiety, responsibilities, not-knowing and the fear all contributed to policy makers selecting the outcome that they believed would occur and planned accordingly to that specification.
The second reason, is also addressed Part 2, however, is associated with the individual citizens and their civil society. When looking back in history prior to 1939 and to Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons on July 30th of 1934, it is clear, that Great Britain and in particular London, had built up strong civilian morale, a close bond between families and community members, and a highly resilient attitude in the face of adversity.
Laughing, knitting and strong comradery whilst being bombed (L), The Daily Mirror, “They took it, with chins up” (R)
Thirdly, J.T MacCurdy a Canadian psychiatrist wrote a book published in 1943 called, ‘The Structure of Morale’. (1) It is in his workings, that he explains why the Londoners reacted to the Blitz in the way that they did. Starting from page 11 of the book, MacCurdy, breaks down the citizens into three groups. The first being, those killed by the bombing, the second group are the near-misses, and the third are the remote-misses. “The morale of the community depends on the reaction of the survivors…”. The small group of those killed relative to the total population is small and therefore those who were tragically killed “do not matter”. A heavy statement, perhaps, but MacCurdy’s objective is understand the inner workings of the mind, and how people react to tumultuous and chaotic events. MacCurdy essentially concludes that the Londoners had their adrenaline pumping, their hearts racing in excitement as they are still alive, their confidence increasing, and a sense of invulnerability heightened. People are susceptible to being afraid of being afraid, but conquering fear brings about an exhilaration, and joy in adventure.
Celebrations at London’s Piccadilly Circus during celebration of V-E Day May 8, 1945
As the button factory worker, whose house was bombed twice, responded, when asked why his wife and he didn’t flee into the countryside; “What, and miss all this? Not for all the gold in China!” he replied. The response shouldn’t come as a surprise, now that you’ve read this article. The attitude, the character and the actions of the Londoners defied the expectations envisaged by many, and is testament to the Triumph of The Human Spirit.
(1) J.T. MacCurdy, The Structure of Morale, Chapter 1, Page 11.