London: British Ministry of Information, in co-operation with the War Office and the Ministry of Home Security, 1940. First edition. Leaflet. "The Germans threaten to invade Great Britain… read these instructions carefully and be prepared to carry them out."
This original leaflet issued by the British Government early during the Second World War testifies to very real peril faced by Britain during the first month 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.
If the INVADER Comes was issued in June 1940, the month 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, each measuring approximately 11 inches by 8.25 inches (27.9 x 21 cm). Condition approaches good, particularly considering the ephemeral nature of the publication and the inherent perishability of the format. The leaflet is complete, with various short closed tears and wear to extremities as well as some wrinkling and age-toning, but no appreciable loss. The chief defect is what we assume is contemporary graffiti on the upper front face. The title is underlined in red pencil and the subtitle – “WHAT TO DO – AND HOW TO DO IT” – is repeatedly boxed in regular pencil. To the right of the title is pencil notation “102” and in the upper blank margin further notation reading “JAHN | FROM ALL | AT HOME | MANY HAPPY RETURNS | 8590.”
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. On the day he became premier, Hitler commenced Germany’s assault on the Low Countries and France. By the end of May, the Dunkirk evacuation had begun and by the end of June France had surrendered and Hitler was readying to unleash the full might of the Luftwaffe on Britain, preparatory to a planned, cross-channel invasion of England.
If the INVADER Comes was distributed in June 1940. Britain had learned from the swift fall of Holland and Belgium when “the civilian population fled” and “crowded on the roads, in cars, in carts, on bicycles and on foot, and so helped the enemy by preventing their own armies from advancing against the invaders.” This leaflet is a protracted admonition not to panic and to help the cause. Six rules with Roman numerals are articulated: stay put, do not believe or spread rumors, note and report anything suspicious, do not give any German any material or informational aid, be ready to assist the military if asked, and organize or participate in a plan to resist attack. The document closes with a stern and somber admonition to “THINK ALWAYS OF YOUR COUNTRY BEFORE YOU THINK OF YOURSELF” – an interesting, dark rhetorical inversion of future President Kennedy’s famous inaugural exhortation “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
The bottom left verso margin features the print history, including the date “6/40”. While more than 14 million copies were printed, today these leaflets are scarce. A huge print run might leave the impression that the leaflet would be common, but, in the words of Winston Churchill’s Bibliographer Ronald Cohen, the publication was “only a leaflet anticipating an event that never came to pass.” (Cohen, Vol. II, B76, p.1200). Item #007299