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Stand firm & carry on: Churchill’s 1940 instruction leaflet on surviving the German invasion


14 million copies were printed but few have survived: Picture credit – Churchill Book Collector

April 1940. Britain’s darkest hour as the country braced for invasion by German forces. Prime Minister Winston Churchill took the extraordinary step of printing and distributing 14 million leaflets, titled Beating the Invader, featuring instructions on what to do when German troops reached British soil.

The key messages were quintessential Churchill – “Stand firm” and “Carry On.”

The leaflet contains more 1,300 words printed on the front and rear. It begins with an introduction from Churchill. Dunkirk would be evacuated in June, meaning Germany controlled mainland Europe and Britain was next in line for invasion. The leaflets were distributed across the country but most were thrown away when the invasion failed to materialize. Surviving copies are now highly collectible as an important example of government mass communication during World War II. They are also appealing to collectors of Churchill memorabilia.

The leaflet speaks to a wide audience, providing guidance to citizens living along England’s south coast where the invasion was expected to occur and to people in other areas. The War Office appeared to have two goals – provide instructions to people who could be caught up in the fighting and ensure people living elsewhere did not panic. The messaging is practical but the leaflet also contains an element of stiff upper lip public relations with reassuring text that describes how the British forces will counter-attack.

When read in its entirety, the leaflet is ominous. The grim instructions include:

If fighting is close by….

“Keep indoors or in your shelter until the battle is over. If you can have a trench ready in your garden or field, so much the better.”

If living some way from the fighting…

“Stay in your district and carry on. Go to work whether in shop, field, factory or office. Do your shopping, send your children to school until you are told not to. Do not try to go and live somewhere else.”

If you hear church bells…

“It is a warning to the local garrison that troops have been seen landing from the air.”

If newspapers and radio services are curtailed…

“You should not listen to rumours nor pass them on., but should wait until real news comes through again.”

If you have a motor car, disable it…

“Remove distributor head and leads and either empty the tank or remove the carburettor.”

If the enemy attacks ordinary citizens…

“You have the right of every man and woman to do what you can to protect yourself, your family and your home.”

There are seven original copies of the Beating the Invader leaflet for sale on the AbeBooks marketplace, with prices ranging from $225 to $600 depending on condition.

The leaflet includes instructions on disabling cars. Picture credit – Churchill Book Collector

Here is the text of the leaflet in full.

Issued by the Ministry of Information in co-operation with the War Office and the Ministry of Home Security

Beating the INVADER

A MESSAGE FROM THE PRIME MINISTER

If invasion comes, everyone – young or old, men and women – will be eager to play their part worthily. By far the greater part of the country will not be immediately involved. Even along our coasts, the greater part will remain unaffected. But where the enemy lands, or tries to land, there will be most violent fighting. Not only will there be the battles when the enemy tries to come ashore, but afterwards there will fall upon his lodgments very heavy British counter-attacks, and all the time the lodgments will be under the heaviest attack by British bombers. The fewer civilians or non-combatants in these areas, the better – apart from essential workers who must remain. So if you are advised by the authorities to leave the place where you live, it is your duty to go elsewhere when you are told to leave. When the attack begins, it will be too late to go; and, unless you receive definite instructions to move, your duty then will be to stay where are. You will have to get into the safest place you can find, and stay there until the battle is over. For all of you then the order and the duty will be: “STAND FIRM”.

This also applies to people inland if any considerable number of parachutists or air-borne troops are landed in their neighbourhood. Above all, they must not cumber the roads. Like their fellow-countrymen on the coasts, they must “STAND FIRM”. The Home Guard, supported by strong mobile columns wherever the enemy’s numbers require it, will immediately come to grips with the invaders, and there is little doubt will soon destroy them.

Throughout the rest of the country where there is no fighting going on and no close cannon fire or rifle fire can be heard, everyone will govern his conduct by the second great order and duty, namely, “CARRY ON”. It may easily be some weeks before the invader has been totally destroyed, that is to say, killed or captured to the last man who has landed on our shores. Meanwhile, all work must be continued to the utmost, and no time lost.

The following notes have been prepared to tell everyone in rather more detail what to do, and they should be carefully studied. Each man and woman should think out a clear plan of personal action in accordance with the general scheme.

Winston Churchill

STAND FIRM

1 What do I do if fighting breaks out in my neighbourhood?

Keep indoors or in your shelter until the battle is over. If you can have a trench ready in your garden or field, so much the better. You may want to use it for protection if your house is damaged. But if you are at work, or if you have special orders, carry on as long as possible and only take cover when danger approaches.

If you are on your way to work, finish your journey if you can.

If you see an enemy tank, or a few enemy soldiers, do not assume that the enemy are in control of the area. What you have seen may be a party sent on in advance, or stragglers from the main body who can easily be rounded up.

CARRY ON

2 What do I do in areas which are some way from the fighting?

Stay in your district and carry on. Go to work whether in shop, field, factory or office. Do your shopping, send your children to school until you are told not to. Do not try to go and live somewhere else. Do not use the roads for any unnecessary journey; they must be left free for troop movements even a long way from the district where actual fighting is taking place.

3 Will certain roads and railways be reserved for the use of the Military, even in areas far from the scene of action?

Yes, certain roads will have to be reserved for important troop movements; but such reservations should be only temporary. As far as possible, bus companies and railways will try to maintain essential public services, though it may be necessary to cut these down. Bicyclists and pedestrians may use the roads for journeys to work, unless instructed not to do so.

ADVICE AND ORDERS

4 Whom shall I ask for advice?

The police and A.R.P. wardens.

5 From whom shall I take orders?

In most cases from the police and A.R.P. wardens. But there may be times when you will have to take orders from the military and the Home Guard in uniform.

6 Is there any means by which I can tell that an order is a true order and not faked?

You will generally know your policeman and your A.R.P. wardens by sight, and can trust them. With a bit of common sense you can tell if a soldier is really British or only pretending to be so. If in doubt ask a policeman, or ask a solider whom you know personally.

INSTRUCTIONS

7 What does it mean when the church bells are rung?

It is a warning to the local garrison that troops have been seen landing from the air in the neighbourhood of the church in question. Church bells will not be rung all over the country as a general warning that invasion has taken place. The ringing of church bells in one place will not be taken up in neighbouring churches.

8 Will instructions be given over the wireless?

Yes; so far as possible. But remember that the enemy can overhear any wireless message, so that the wireless cannot be used for instructions which might give him valuable information.

9 In what other ways will instructions be given?

Through the Press; by loudspeaker vans; and perhaps by leaflets and posters. But remember that genuine Government leaflets will be given to you only by the policeman, your A.R.P. warden or your postman; while genuine posters and instructions will be put up only on Ministry of Information notice boards and official sites, such as police stations, post offices, A.R.P. posts, town halls and schools.

FOOD

10 Should I try to lay in extra food?

No. If you have already laid in a stock of food, keep it for a real emergency; but do not add to it. The Government has made arrangements for food supplies.

NEWS

11 Will normal news services continue?

Yes. Careful plans have been made to enable newspapers and wireless broadcasts to carry on, and in case of need there are emergency measures which will bring you the news. But if there should be some temporary breakdown in news supply, it is very important that you should not listen to rumours nor pass them on, but should wait till real news comes through again. Do not use the telephones or send telegrams if you can possibly avoid it.

MOTOR-CARS

12 Should I put my car, lorry or motor-bicycle out of action?

Yes, when you are told to do so by the police, A.R.P. wardens or military; or when it is obvious that there is an immediate risk of its being seized by the enemy – then disable and hide your bicycle and destroy your maps.

13 How should it be put out of action?

Remove distributor head and leads and either empty the tank or remove the carburettor. If you don’t know how to do this, find out now from your nearest garage. In the case of diesel engines remove the injection pump and connection. The parts removed must be hidden well away from the vehicle.

THE ENEMY

14 Should I defend myself against the enemy?

The enemy is not likely to turn aside to attack separate houses. If small parties are going about threatening persons and property in an area not under enemy control and come your way, you have the right of every man and woman to do what you can to protect yourself, your family and your home.

GIVE ALL THE HELP YOU CAN TO OUR TROOPS

Do not tell the enemy anything

Do not give him anything

Do not help him in any way

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