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Category: Britain

The Palgrave Handbook of Britain and the Holocaust

Reviewed by Ellis Spicer

This new volume, edited by Tom Lawson and Andy Pearce, includes contributions from authors of a wide range of backgrounds and expertise. It does not shy away from awkward truths or confronting representations of the past that serve the interests of the present. The editors emphasise how the past is used to understand and shape the present. History is memory in action and it is fascinating that this book places the recent events of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, legacies of slavery in statues, and Brexit as paramount to the ways in which history is consumed, reacted to and communicated in our modern society.

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Britain’s War: A New World, 1942–1947

Reviewed by Chris Smith

This book, the second volume of Daniel Todman’s mammoth history of Britain’s Second World War, picks up where the previous volume left off in 1941. Unlike the majority of histories of Britain’s conflict, which tend to focus on only one aspect of the war, Todman’s work aims to be completist – or rather as completist as any single history (even in two volumes) of Britain and the Second World War can hope to be.

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Art, Men, and Masculinity in the Great War

Written by Laura Waters

People have been drawing people for millennia. Art is crucial to how we perceive ourselves, it both forms us and we form it. So when we think about identity during wartime, especially masculine identity as it relates to the male body, art is a vital source, often giving us as much information as written primary documents. Going into the Great War, we know that masculinity and gender expression were sometimes hotly contested in British society. The rise of eugenics, the classical body aesthetic, and the numerous debates over sports and exercise in schools all pushed and pulled at an ideal image of the male body, cementing its importance to one’s masculinity. As an added concern, men were expected to fulfil the role of heterosexual patriarch, to be domestic, to emote (but only within specific parameters).

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The Dig (Netflix, 2021)

Reviewed by Oliver Parken

The sleepy Suffolk village of Sutton seems an unlikely backdrop for a major feature film. The Dig, starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Lily James brings a true story well known to Sutton’s locals to the big screen for the first time. Based on John Preston’s literary adaptation of the same name (2007), The Dig recasts one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century on British and European soil––the excavation of a Dark Age ship, packed with a priceless collection of treasure, in the late-1930s.

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Sounds of War: Music in the British Armed Forces

Reviewed by Dominiek Dendooven

While reading Sounds of War I was reminded of my late grandma. Born in 1908, she spent the war years in Café Transvaal near the station of Poperinghe, next to a large storage hall. Maybe this was the very same place the Guards converted into a theatre, as related by Emma Hanna in her fine book. Much chance then that the child later to become my granny witnessed British army bands performing there. Anyway, ‘oma’ often recollected how the British troops marched towards Ypres preceded by a band and singing loudly, adding: “But when they returned from the trenches they were no longer singing. Oh no”.

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Britain at Bay: Past and Present

Reviewed by Oliver Parken

Memories of Britain’s war continue to soothe a fragile national psyche. Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic, two of the greatest political challenges in living memory, have often been unambiguously linked with the myths of Britain’s war. Given the recent turn to the right in mainstream British politics and the conservative underpinnings of Britain’s war memory, politicians and commentators draw freely from the past to provide stability in the present. Britain ‘stood alone’ in forging a Brexit deal as it did against continental Europe in 1940. Beating Covid-19 demands a pulling-together and sacrifice of civil liberties of society reminiscent of the ‘Blitz spirit’ (itself part of a larger, more egalitarian framing of the war which nonetheless feeds into right-wing narratives).

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