London: British Ministry of Information in co-operation with the War Office and the Ministry of Home Security, 1941. First edition. Leaflet. "If invasion comes, everyone - young or old, men and women - will be eager to play their part worthily."
This original leaflet issued by the British Government early during the Second World War testifies to the very real peril faced by Britain during the first year of Winston S. Churchill’s wartime premiership. The war’s outcome is now long-settled history, making it perhaps difficult to viscerally understand the credible, imminent threat of Nazi invasion at the time.
Beating the INVADER was issued in May 1941, one year after Churchill became wartime Prime Minister (on 10 May 1940). The document is printed on both sides of a thin sheet of newsprint-quality paper, measuring approximately 11 inches by 8.25 inches (27.9 x 21 cm). Condition approaches very good, particularly considering the ephemeral nature of the publication and the inherent perishability of the format. There is a single horizontal and a single vertical fold, ostensibly from original mailing. The leaflet is substantially clean, though with mild, uniform age toning. There are various creases and light wear to extremities, including a few tiny closed tears, but only fractional loss, confined to the blank margin edges. This leaflet is quite suitable for framing.
When Churchill became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, the war for Britain was not so much a struggle for victory as a struggle to survive. Churchill’s first year in office saw, among other near-calamities, the Battle of the Atlantic, the fall of France, evacuation at Dunkirk, and the Battle of Britain. Hitler intended the massive, sustained attacks by his Luftwaffe to achieve air superiority preparatory to an invasion of England. Sapping Britain’s Air Force and war-making capacity was of course a goal. But so to was the simple goal of terrorizing Britons and eroding their will to fight. In May 1941, Churchill’s Britain had held on for a perilous year with remarkable resolve and resourcefulness, but her position was remained tenuous. The United States was still seven months from entering the war and had only recently approved the Lend-Lease Act.
Beating the Invader is a fascinating encapsulation of Britain’s imperiled resolve at the end of Churchill’ first year as wartime leader. The leaflet was prepared by the Ministry of Information and forwarded to Churchill on 7 March 1941. Churchill dictated his introduction on 25 March. After sober consideration of the timing and effect of such a message to the British people, the War Cabinet decided on April 24, 1941 to print more than 14 million copies and distribute the leaflet to all British households. Bibliographer Ronald Cohen writes: "The huge print run might leave one with the impression that the leaflet would be commonly found today. It was, however, only a leaflet anticipating an event that never came to pass. Few copies have survived."
The format is noteworthy. Churchill’s introduction to this leaflet takes up two-thirds of the first page, headed “A MESSAGE FROM THE PRIME MINISTER and terminating with his facsimile signature. Though the tone remains stern and the situation dire, the message – beginning with the title of the leaflet – is subtly as resolute and it is dire. Fourteen numbered points in Q & A format calmly and soberly provide granular guidance about what to do in various conditions incident to invasion. One gets the feeling that much had been weathered and learned since the war began in September 1939, and that a firm, composed hand was is now on the tiller. A closing trio of exhortations clearly convey the exigency of the hour: “Do not tell the enemy anything; Do not give him anything; Do not help him in any way”. But above this trio in all caps is the more affirmative exhortation: “GIVE ALL THE HELP YOU CAN TO OUR TROOPS”. The bottom left verso margin features the print history, including the date “5/41”.
Reference: Cohen B76, Woods A69. Item #007298