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Munitions of the Mind Posts

Keeping the Pot Boiling: British Propaganda in Neutral Turkey during the Second World War

Written by Edward Corse.

Neutral Turkey was geographically surrounded by the Second World War. The Germans occupied land to the north and west; Italy occupied parts of Greece; the British were to the south in places such as Cyprus, Egypt and Iraq; the French were in Syria; and Russia, Turkey’s traditional enemy, loomed in the east in the form of the Soviet Union.

To try to keep itself out of the war, Turkey signed a number of agreements: a Treaty of Friendship with Britain in April 1939 followed by a Tripartite Agreement with Britain and France in October 1939; then later a Treaty of Non-Aggression with Germany in June 1941. Working to balance the interests of the warring parties was the very essence of maintaining neutrality.

However, being neutral did not mean that the war had no impact. Both Britain and Germany had Ambassadors in Ankara – Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen and Franz von Papen, respectively – and the cities of Ankara and Istanbul were awash with their spies and propaganda.

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Reflections on the Centenary: An Important Moment for Education and the Memory of the First World War

Written by Natasha Silk.

As the Centenary of the First World War ends, it is time to reflect on the conflict as a whole and consider how the commemorations have unfolded. We are likely to see a raft of new literature in the coming months discussing the impact of the Centenary on British collective memory of the war. It is undeniable that the events of the last four and a half years have influenced the way we, as a society, view the war. Some have argued that we have allowed the story of the dead to overwhelm the way we have approached the Centenary. Certainly, the commemorations and remembrance services for the dead have been centre stage. However, many have used this opportunity as a platform to educate the wider public about the war, including more marginalized areas. It seems that these two aspects of the Centenary commemorations have gone hand in hand. This post considers how education and remembrance have worked together to create the Centenary’s own legacy.

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(Re-)Visiting Ypres

Written by Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel.

Visiting Ypres, or Ieper to use its modern name, is an amazing experience. First, there is the sheer wonder of wandering around a seemingly historic city which, on closer inspection, proves to be of very recent completion. Then, there is the impressive scale of the massive Cloth Hall, the great medieval trading market which attracted merchants from across Europe. But, that too proves to be a bit of curiosity when stared at, as the mix of very smooth, sharply cut stone merges with the pock-marked, scarred and worn pillars along the ground floor. Next to the Cloth Hall is a soaring medieval cathedral, but enter inside and it feels so new you almost expect it to squeak as it comes out of the shrink-wrap. Finally, there is the Menin Gate, a huge memorial to the British and Commonwealth missing of ‘the salient’. Tucked into the ramparts, the Menin Gate almost leaps out on the visitor walking along the street from the central square (the Grote Markt). Of course, it is the Menin Gate that provides the key to the rest of the mystery, for it commemorates the fact that this charming West Flanders city witnessed some of the most intense and prolonged fighting on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. During that fighting, Ypres was reduced to rubble and ashes only to rise again in replica form. And that is an underlying theme of our new book, Ypres: the recycling, rebuilding, reconstruction of images, stories, and histories of Ypres which stands alongside the physical construction of memorials, monuments and cemeteries in a reconstructed landscape. It is about construction and reconstruction; the encoding and reinterpreting of a major historical event within its original space, and how the battlefield of Ypres could be brought home.

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‘What the Poppy means’: The Royal British Legion’s annual Poppy Appeal

Written by Amy Harrison.

On 17 October 2018, the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) posted a news article entitled ‘No, we did not ban poppies or Remembrance Day at Cambridge University…’. Their piece follows a series of articles appearing in national newspapers (although predominantly tabloids) which suggested that the students had voted against a motion to increase and promote Remembrance events among the student population as these were thought to ‘glorify’ the conflict. This news led to a severe backlash for the Union involved, with even the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough telling the Daily Telegraph that the motion brought ‘“great shame” to Cambridge and shows “disdain” for the armed forces’. However, as with many controversial news stories, it was not all as simple as it appeared to be, and the 17 October response hit back at these assumptions. The CUSU condemned the actions of the press, suggesting that they ‘have used Remembrance Day and Cambridge students as political football’ and led to death threats and online abuse being sent to students involved. The main motion (to advertise Remembrance Day more fully) was adapted to include all those affected by war, and both were defeated in the understanding the Union’s engagement with Remembrance Day would continue as normal.

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Nineteenth-century guerrilla and counter-insurgency warfare colloquium

A two-day colloquium to be held at the University of Kent, on 27–28 October 2018. The term ‘guerrilla’ tends to evoke twentieth-century connotations. ‘People’s war’, Mao and Che Guevara all conjure up notions of revolutionary warfare, of ‘new’ warfare far removed from the supposedly state-centric armies and strategies of the nineteenth century. Yet recent research has demonstrated the diversity both of the guerrilla and of counter-insurgency throughout history. The nineteenth century offers a particular opportunity…

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CFP: ‘Keep Smiling Through’: British Humour and the Second World War

Two-day interdisciplinary symposium – 12/13 September 2019

University of Kent

In conjunction with Special Collections and Archive, home to the British Cartoon Archive

In wartime, as circumstances become increasingly bleak with military losses and civilian deaths mounting, something very distinctive happens to humour. There is an evident demand for an opportunity to laugh: a release from the increased working hours, the separation from loved ones, the dual burdens of work and maintaining a household, the fear of sustaining battle wounds and death. Indeed, war and comedy are intimately connected. In the Second World War, variety shows which included comedy sketches and humorous songs performed for servicemen provided an essential means of respite from both the boredom and the horror of battle, while home front popular culture, in the form of radio programmes, feature films, documentary films, newsreels, cartoons and songs, parodied the conflict and were crucial morale-boosters as the war evolved into a protracted struggle. But it was more than just a coping strategy and a form of escapism; it was also a key element of ‘Britishness’. As Sonya Rose asserts, humour served to define British national character, much of which was constructed in opposition to the humourless Nazis. And of course since 1945, the Second World War has sparked the imagination of scriptwriters. Unlike the First World War, the cultural memory of the later war is replete with stories about the conflict that use humour as a device.

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Spaces, War and Heroism

Written by Ellena Matthews.

Exploring space and place is a burgeoning field of historical enquiry. Indeed, the study of space is no longer solely the interest of geographers and social scientists, its application has broadened and the ‘spatial turn’ is becoming an important line of enquiry for historians. But, as Nicola Whyte has questioned, what does space do for our understanding of the past? Indeed, utilising a spatial methodology reminds us that spaces are complex, social and temporal; that they both shape social experience and are shaped themselves by the lived experience of individuals within them. Therefore, the study of space is integral to the study of history as it enables greater analysis to be placed upon the relationship between people, places and environments.

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The Distortion of Private Space in Wartime London, 1939–1941

Written by Oliver Parken.

In Post D (1941), a loosely fictionalised account of his personal experiences as a London air-raid warden, John Strachey picked up on the extraordinary ordinariness of life during the Blitz. ‘What a domestic sort of war this is. It happens in the kitchen, on landings, beside washing-baskets…Even its catastrophes are made terrible not by strangeness but by familiarity’. For Strachey, it was war’s ability to transform once familiar spaces which defined its jarring nature.

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Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Collaborators: Conference Report

Written by Kate Docking. There has been a lack of meaningful scholarly engagement with the utility of the terms ‘victims’, ‘perpetrators’, ‘bystanders’ and ‘collaborators’ as historical concepts. Too often, the word ‘perpetrator’ is used by historians without any explanation as to its meaning. But what exactly makes a ‘perpetrator’? How do we define a victim? Have the connotations of these terms changed over time or been overly politicised? Is it the job of the historian…

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