top of page
History of MI7

Please read more about the history of MI7.

The original document can be found in the Public Record Office (United Kingdom), ref: INF 4/1B,

© Crown Copyright 1920.

HISTORY OF M.I. 7 (b) (MARCH, 1916 - DECEMBER, 1918).

WORK OF M.I. 7 (b) (MARCH -DECEMBER, 1916).

The subsection M.I. 7 (b) was started in March, 1916, on the appointment of Lieut.-

Colonel Warburton Davies to take charge of M.I. 7. It was organized by Major J. L.

Fisher, who was appointed General Staff Officer, 3rd Grade, in April, 1916.

The duties of the sub-section were originally defined as:-

(a.) Control of policy regarding Press propaganda;

(b.) The study of the foreign Press, and compilation of the Daily Review of the

Foreign Press;

but later in the year this latter duty was assigned to a new subsection, M.I. 7 (d), under Lieut.-Colonel Wake.

The work of M.I. 7 (b) as regards propaganda was at first confined to the preparation of military material for propaganda purposes, the main duties of distribution being undertaken by the News Department of the Foreign Office and afterwards by the Department of Information. A certain amount of distribution, however, has always been performed by Military Attaches, and by Press authorities at the various General Headquarters, both British and Allied.

The necessity early became apparent of maintaining correspondence with other

Government Departments concerned with propaganda, such as the Foreign Office,

Colonial Office, Board of Trade, Board of Education, War Trade Intelligence

Department; &c., and with British and Allied General Headquarters abroad; and,

also, of organizing an adequate service of propagandist writers.

In May, 1916, Captain Lord Onslow was attached to M.I. 7 (b) to carry out these

duties. Correspondence was established with the other Government Departments

concerned, and to assist in securing a service of writers Captain A. J. Dawson, as an experienced journalist, was attached to the subsection, and instructed to prepare a plan for obtaining continuous supplies of articles about the work of the Army, so far as possible without cost to the country. As a result a notice was issued from General Headquarters, Home Forces, in August, 1916, and posted in all officers messes, inviting officers of literary experience serving in Home Commands and on light duty to send in their names. To this invitation there was a large response. The officers were communicated with and asked to send in specimen articles on military matters, the better writers being encouraged to further efforts.

At the same time attention was given to pictorial propaganda. The services of

various artists were at first lent to the subsection, but subsequently it was decided that officers might be attached for artistic work in the same way as they were attached as writers.

While these developments of popular propaganda were proceeding, it was

considered desirable that technical information should be collected from the various departments of the War Office, and by visits to commands and training centres, regarding the rapidly expanding British military effort. In May, 1916, Captain Basil Williams was attached to the subsection to collect and tabulate this information, and to embody it in articles and pamphlets for the use of writers and journalists.

Meanwhile, every effort was made to instruct and maintain the confidence of the

Press. In May, 1916, arrangements were made for a confidential statement on

military affairs to be prepared and issued, through the Press Bureau, to 40 selected editors of English newspapers; and in October the system of weekly interviews by the Director of Military Operations (described on page 12) was inaugurated for the benefit of selected American correspondents, who desire to be informed of the general course of events.

A weekly telegram was also produced, and circulated through the Foreign Office to foreign countries, giving the military news of the week, and before the end of the year a daily telegram was being despatched to Christiania and a similar bi-weekly telegram to Petrograd.

The distribution of the propaganda articles of the M.I. 7 (b) to the Press of the

Dominions was next taken up (November, 1916). The news department being at that

time a branch of the Foreign Office, could issue articles only to neutral and Allied countries; the Press Bureau issued only to British Press and the Colonial Office, when applied to, stated that it was unable to undertake the distribution. Eventually, it was arranged that the articles, should be sent from. M.I. 7 (b) in the name of the Royal Colonial Institute. The distribution was accordingly begun in January, 1917.

The basis of all counter propaganda being the propaganda of the enemy, an early

start had been made with the formation of a library of German propaganda

literature in the subsection. War literature of enemy origin was collected by a branch of the Postal Censorship (M.I. 9) roughly classified and catalogued, and the first copy of each book or pamphlet sent to M.I. 7 (b). The examination and analysis of this literature was entrusted to Captain Chalmers Mitchell, F.R.S., who prepared an exhaustive memo on this question which was printed, for distribution.

An analysis of German wireless propaganda and Press telegrams was also

undertaken in October, 1916, and soon developed into two daily circulated reports, one on German propaganda, the other on items of intelligence drawn from the German cables.

Another branch of the work of the subsection which soon became important was the preparation of propaganda pamphlets for aerial distribution, and the reproduction of German captured letters. These were sent regularly to General Headquarters, France and Salonika, and widely used.

The regulation of facilities to foreigners and others desiring to visit places of interest was at first supervised by M.I. 7 (b). Subsequently the regulation of all visits, both in this country and abroad, was undertaken, and a special officer, Captain Foster, appointed to supervise it. Before the end of the year, however, this work was detached, and in June, 1917, was assigned to another subsection, M.I. 7 (c), which, up to that time, had existed as a Translation Bureau only.

It should be added that, in conjunction with M.I. 7 (c) (later with M.I. 3 (e)),

arrangements were made for the translation of suitable articles into foreign

languages for despatch to the foreign Press, and for distribution through

representatives of the neutral Press in London, who were in the habit of calling weekly at the War Office. Sir Douglas Haig’s despatch of 30th December, 1916 - to name one example - was thus translated into nine languages and distributed wherever these languages were current.

In December, 1916, Lieut.-Colonel Davies was transferred from the War Office to the 64th Division, and Major (now Lieut.-Colonel) Fisher was appointed General Staff Officer, 1st Grade, in his place. Lord Onslow succeeded Major Fisher as General Staff Officer, 2nd Grade, M.I. 7 (b).

The staff of M.I. 7 (b) had grown, with the increase of its duties, in 9 months from 1 officer to 24. It was housed, except for the War Office staff, in Adelphi Court, Strand, from August, 1916, to 4th October, 1917, when the whole subsection, still further enlarged, moved under Lord Onslow to improved accommodation in Adastral House, Victoria Embankment, where it remained until demobilized.

WORK OF M.I. 7 (B) (JANUARY, 1917 - DECEMBER, 1918).

The function of the sub-section was clearer, in December, 1916, than in March. Its function was to deal with the publication of military information in all its branches from a propaganda point of view; with all questions of policy that might arise in that connection, with the collection of military information suitable for publicity, the preparation of military material, and the distribution through the Press Bureau, the Department of Information and the National War Aims Committee; or in special cases through its own (That is, Military Attaches, Press authorities at General Headquarters, both at home and abroad, a variety of representatives of public and semi-public bodies, and numerous private individuals going on missions, both neutral and Allied.) organization, of the finished article. To enable it to perform these duties it was found necessary also to follow closely the propaganda of the enemy as displayed in war literature, and in news telegrams circulated through the news agencies.

The work done in 1916 was, in the main, and of necessity, experimental. By the end

of the year, however, most of the present subdivisions (known since, September,

1917, as M.I. 7 (b) (1), (2), &c.), had already defined themselves. Apart from policy,

which is directed by the General Staff, the remaining history of M.I. 7 (b) is therefore best given as a history of the subdivisions.

The duties of the General Staff were these. At the head of the subsection was a

General Staff Officer, Grade 2 (Major Lord Onslow, succeeded in April, 1918, by

Major Lord Kerry). His duties included, besides a general supervision of the

subsection, communication with other Departments; responsibility for the collection of information and supply of material to writers, and the execution of the policy in regard to publicity laid down by the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence, and communicated to him by the head of the section. He also acted as liaison officer between the War Office and the Ministry of Information, (In July, 1918, this duty was taken over by Lieut.-Colonel W.R. Greene, head of M.I. 7 (c).) the National War Aims Committee, (This Committee undertook distribution of articles to the Home Press.) and the British War Mission (Crewe House); and was in touch, by visits and otherwise, with the various British General Headquarters in the field. The subsection also kept in close touch throughout with the Admiralty and the Royal Air Force. By these means an attempt was made to secure unity of policy and action. The General Staff Officer, 3rd Grade, and by an attached officer responsible for preliminary censorship and distribution of articles.

The history of the subdivisions may now be given:-

bottom of page