Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

23 February 2023

'Stay Put' - Second World War Ephemera

Harold Wilberforce-Bell was born on 17 November 1885, and joined the Indian Army in 1905.  He had a long distinguished career, mostly in the Indian Political Service as either assistant resident, resident or political agent in several parts of India including Kolhapur, Kathiawar, Bhopal, and the Punjab States, as well as Aden.  Wilberforce-Bell was also an author and wrote books on the history of Kathiawar, the Marathi language and poets, and on his experiences during the First World War.  During his life, he filled eight volumes of scrapbooks with a wide variety of printed ephemera relating to the many events he attended, such as invitations, programmes, tickets and menus.

 Programme for Howden & District Weapons Week Programme for Howden & District Weapons Week Mss Eur G57/11

Programme for Hull, Haltenham & District Warship Week.Programme for Hull, Haltenham & District Warship Week Mss Eur G57/11

In 1939, Wilberforce-Bell retired to England, but continued to keep up his scrapbooks.  The volume for the early 1940s contains much of interest for the Second World War, including Red Cross sales and fund raising events, sales of work, British Legion lectures, programmes for the Howden & District Weapons Week and the Hull, Haltenham & District Warship Week.

Ticket for Red Cross DemonstrationTicket for Red Cross Demonstration Mss Eur G57/11

Sale of work, Eastrington Village Hall AssociationSale of work, Eastrington Village Hall Association Mss Eur G57/11

In particular, there are two Government information leaflets issued by the Ministry of Home Security instructing people what to do in the event of invasion.  The first leaflet, titled ‘If the Invader Comes, what to do – and how to do it’, lists the actions civilians must take if Britain were invaded by Germany.

Leaflet - If The Invader Comes

'If the Invader Comes, what to do – and how to do it’ Mss Eur G57/11.

  1. Remain where you are, ‘The order is Stay Put’.
  2. Do not believe rumours and do not spread them.
  3. Keep watch and report anything suspicious to the nearest authority.
  4. Do not give any German anything – food, bicycles and maps were to be hidden; cars and motorbikes were to be put out of action; and garage proprietors needed to have a plan to protect stocks of petrol.
  5. Be ready to help the Military in any way.
  6. In factories and workshops, all managers and workers were to organise some system by which a sudden attack could be resisted.
  7. Think before you act, but think always of your country before you think of yourself.

Leaflet 'Stay Where You Are''Stay Where You Are' Mss Eur G57/11

The second leaflet, titled ‘Stay Where You Are’, reinforces the order to ‘Stay Put’, explaining that in France, Belgium and Holland the German Army had been helped by civilians blocking roads as they tried to flee from danger.  It warns, ‘If you do not stay put you will stand a very good chance of being killed’, and cautions that British soldiers will be too busy fighting the invader to help fleeing civilians.  To prepare everyone was advised to make ready an air raid shelter and to set a good example to others.  If fighting was to come to their area, they were not to engage the enemy but to seek safety in their shelter, although it was still ‘the right of every man and woman to do what you can to protect yourself, your family and your home’.  Those wishing to fight were encouraged to enrol in the Home Guard.  The leaflet ends ‘Stay Put. It’s easy to say.  When the time comes it may be hard to do. But you have got to do it; and in doing it you will be fighting Britain’s battle as bravely as a soldier’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of Lt-Col Sir Harold Wilberforce-Bell, Indian Army 1905, Indian Political Service 1910-40: Scrapbook, 20 May 1938-24 Dec 1944, shelfmark Mss Eur G57/11.

A brief summary of his service record can be found in The India Office and Burma Office List, 1940, page 641.

A list of books written by Harold Wilberforce-Bell: Explore the British Library.


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