Mighty Midget books help Britain through the Blitz
In 1939 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing Hitler's Germany collapsed as the country declared war on Germany. It wasn't long before the Luftwaffe's planes were bombing London and other major cities across the United Kingdom. Many families were forced to forego the comfort of their beds for the safety of air raid shelters, either at the bottom of their gardens or with other families in a communal facility, including London Underground stations. This was very scary for children. Many parents did what they could to make the whole experience into an adventure - with a little help from Woolworths and tiny little Mighty Midget books.
When war broke out, many Woolworth staff volunteered or were conscripted to serve in H.M. Forces. Everyone under forty-one was eligible to serve. The Chairman, William Stephenson was older but was still called on to do his bit. The media mogul and Head of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook, invited the Woolworth man to to give special service, by turning his talents to the production of Spitfires for the Battle of Britain. Stephenson accepted, delegating his day-to-day duties in the High Street stores to his MD, Louis Denempont. The Chairman hand picked twenty other Woolworth Managers to join him.
The new job provided a hotline to influence government policy. On several occasions Beaverbrook arranged a helping hand for 'FWW'. He arranged supplies of raw materials for some special morale-boosting products. Paper and card went into Lumar Jigsaw Puzzles, as well as patriotic miniature comic booklets for children called Mighty Midgets. He also interceded to persuade the Ministry of Food to keep ice-cream and restaurant meals off the ration, so long as Woolworth sent all of the available ice-cream stock to the cities suffering the worst enemy bombardment.
The 32-page books measured just 3¾ inches by 2½ inches (10 x 7cm) and were sold at the artificially low price of threepence. The cover price was subsidised by a full page advertisement on the back. Some of the books contained traditional stories liked Cinderella, while others were specially written with patriotic titles like Munich for Tonight and I captured a U-Boat. They were printed in the East End of London by W Barton (Publishers) Ltd., of Central Street, EC1.
There were titles for both boys and girls. The scripts aimed to be uplifting, with positive endings and brave children playing an important part in many of the stories. The goal was to distract the reader from the drone of aircraft overhead. The small books fitted neatly into pockets so that they could be kept to hand in case the sirens sounded in the dead of night.
Today these booklets have become highly collectable, often fetching upwards of £5 each at collectors' fairs, meaning that the original threepenny books have appreciated in value by 400 times!
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