No. 93 NAI DFA 219/4

Confidential report from William Warnock to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Berlin, 14 December 1939

The public is feeling very pleased at a recent order by the rationing authorities. It has been officially announced that, as a special concession for Christmas, certain spices and cooking ingredients may be purchased without a corresponding number of coupons being cut from one's ration card. Furthermore – and this has given great pleasure – women will be allowed to buy one pair of stockings additional to those (six pairs per annum) to which they are entitled to purchase under the textile control scheme referred to in my minute of the 17th November.1 I am sure that there is no need for me to explain that the severe rationing of stockings has been accepted with rather bad grace by the ladies. The patriotism of even the most enthusiastic women has been severely taxed. Men will be permitted to buy an extra tie for Christmas.

The war has had a peculiar effect on Christmas shopping. Money is being freely spent, for two reasons; firstly there are people who feel that in war-time there is always a danger of inflation, and that there is no point in saving, and then there are others who are buying up all they can outside the rationing schemes in order to provide against a possible scarcity in the future. And in any case more money changes hands during the Christmas season than at any other. This year, however, one is at a loss to know what to buy as Christmas presents for one's friends. Articles made of cloth, handkerchiefs, and the like, or anything for which one requires a certificate, are completely out of the question. I am told that sales of books have already reached record figures. An acquaintance of mine engaged in the editorial section of Berlin's biggest publishing firm, the Scherl Verlag, tells me that in spite of the large number of books sold already, he has orders for nearly as many again, but owing to labour shortage only a limited number of the publications ordered can be supplied before Christmas. The trouble which the average purchaser is up against is that even though there are still ten days to go before the 'Heiliger Abend' (the evening of the 24th December, when the main celebration takes place here in Germany) the best books have been bought up long ago.

The sports and general outfitters, who in the ordinary way would be doing a busy trade in ski-ing clothes, are suffering badly. No distinction is made in the rationing scheme for sports clothing, and even the few people who will be in a position to take winter-sports holidays this season will prefer to make the best of their old outfits.

As regulations stand at present, no business may dismiss any employee on the grounds that trade has decreased. If the position is so bad that the proprietor decides to close down altogether, he will lose his right to trade. Schemes are under consideration in order to help employers by granting loans at low rates of interest, or in certain cases, by a moratorium. The regulations are very satisfactory from the worker's point of view – they were mainly designed for his benefit – and he is thankful for having a Government which looks after him so well. The British unemployment figures, and their increase since the outbreak of war, are alluded to every day in the press. Industry in Germany is busily occupied, but it is obvious that some trades, for example shipping firms hit by the blockade and retail shopkeepers, cannot keep open indefinitely under existing conditions. The large department stores, the clothiers in the fashionable streets and the boot-and-shoe shops will find it extremely difficult to make even their overhead expenses on the small amount of goods which they are entitled to sell to customers under the rationing schemes.

There was a rumour in circulation at the beginning of the month that St. Stephen's Day would not be a holiday this year in view of the extra work necessary in war-time. The report raised a storm of protests and grumbling, and now an official denial has been issued. This has given rise to a further rumour: that it was originally intended to cancel the holiday, but that in order to test public opinion, the report was at first circulated unofficially, and that the general feeling was so strongly against the proposal that the Ministry of the Interior was forced to abandon it. The second rumour may well be true.

The safe return of the North German Lloyd liner 'Bremen'2 to its home port, is hailed with great joy, and is regarded as a further proof of the powerlessness of the British at sea. In the early days of the war reports were spread by British agencies that the liner had been captured, then we were told that she had changed her registration on the high seas, then that she was in Iceland, but now she is safe at home again, while the British 'Queen Mary',3 and the French 'Normandie'4 are still at New York, afraid to sail for Europe. The statement by the British Admiralty that one of their submarines could have sunk the Bremen off Norway on the last stage of her voyage is commented on very sarcastically. The fact is, says the German official version, that the submarine was sighted in good time by escorting aircraft, and was forced to dive for safety. Neutral circles here are full of praise for the successful arrangements made to bring the vessel home.

The figures given by the British for shipping tonnage lost owing to German naval action are said to be much lower than the actual amount sunk. Some of the ships said to have struck mines were, according to the Germans, torpedoed when actually in British convoys. The same can be said for 'collisions'. On the other hand, the British claim to be sinking from two to five German submarines per week is laughed at. The British, it is said, make a great fuss about 'spots of oil'. Some of the British accounts of the sinking of submarines are given, though with comment, over the German wireless. Last week the British reported that the pilot of an aeroplane of their coastal command had sighted a German U-boat, and swooped down at once, dropping a ton of bombs. He summoned destroyers to the scene by wireless. They arrived at once from nowhere, and dropped depth charges. After all these preparations a spot of oil was seen on the surface. All the trouble for a spot of oil!

News from Finland is still given very cautiously. The communiqués of the Finnish Army are reported regularly, but practically no comment on the situation from Finnish sources is printed, whereas extensive quotations are given from the Moscow newspapers. Reports of the League of Nations meetings at Geneva were used only to demonstrate the inefficiency of the League. The Government apparently hope to keep the attention of the public away from Finland. A few days ago a rather strongly worded warning addressed to the Northern countries was issued by the official news agency. It was stated that in recent years they had shown tendencies to associate with anti-German powers and movements, and had shown great readiness, under pleas of 'common democracy', to listen to propaganda directed against Germany. So far Germany has shown exemplary patience, as she has many ties, commercial and cultural, with the Scandinavian lands. It is about time, however, that these countries re-considered their position.

We have not figured much in the news recently, except that our Government's decision to ban the wearing of foreign military uniforms was given both over the wireless and in the newspapers. It always used to puzzle Germans, who in any case found it hard to understand what our constitutional position was, to see British uniforms in evidence now and then in Ireland. The decision is popular, too, with the few Irish people who live here.

The inauguration of a news service in Irish from the German short-wave wireless stations is a sign of what I might call propaganda friendliness towards us. As against that I have to record the fact that they have shown little consideration of our commercial interests as far as the treatment of ships by the contraband control is concerned.

I enclose some press cuttings.

[signed] W. Warnock

1 Not located.

2 The German liner Bremen was launched in 1929. On its way to Bremerhaven it was spotted by the British submarine Salmon but her captain decided not to attack and the Bremen arrived safely on 13 December.

3 The British liner Queen Mary was launched in 1936. She arrived in New York after the outbreak of war and remained there until converted into a troopship in 1940.

4 The French liner Normandie was launched in 1932. After the outbreak of war it was docked beside the Queen Mary and it too was converted into a troopship.

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