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Tag: Britain

Misinformation, Mass Observation and the Public Perception of the Norway Campaign, 1940

Written by Charles Taylor

If you ask the modern-day Briton about the Norway campaign of 1940, you will likely be met with a blank face or a simple shrug. Eclipsed by the evacuation of Dunkirk and the fall of France, Britain’s involvement in this theatre has undoubtedly drifted into the background of British memory of the Second World War. Though little known, the campaign holds many significances for the armed forces. Erupting on 9 April 1940 with Germany’s Operation Weserübung, Norway was the first land campaign of the Second World War for Britain, the earliest meeting of British and German troops on the battlefield, the first joint Allied land operation, and the first modern sea, land and air campaign. Despite these considerations, Britain’s military involvement remains all but forgotten, condemned as a humiliating background episode and often glazed over in the history books.

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Ironic and Iconic: My relationship with Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory

Written by Mark Connelly

Every now and then a book comes along that meets truly the hyperbole of blurbs and testimonials found in reviews and adorning dustjacket covers. For me, one of those texts is Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. First published by Oxford University Press in 1975, it has achieved something rare for an academic text: global fame and global notoriety. His argument that the Great War ushered in irony as the dominant mode of modern discourse was ever-present set people talking, thinking and writing, some furiously, others ecstatically. My first engagement with it was as a teenager and through the lenses of others. The first was provided by an English teacher at school who, on finding out about my interest in the First World War, urged me to read it. With the persistence of a Great War general hammering away at a strongpoint regardless of cost, he kept returning to the recommendation. I noted his enthusiasm and realised there was something special about this work, but I had a pile of other war books to get through including Wyn Griffiths’s Up to Mametz and the diaries of Edwin Campion Vaughan published under the title Some Desperate Glory. My next encounter with it came at Christmas when my parents indulged me with another pile of First World War books as presents. Among them were two other seminal texts (if you’re unlucky, I’ll write about those in another blog!), John Terraine’s The Smoke and the Fire and The White Heat. Reading The Smoke and the Fire was epiphanic (that’s a great word, isn’t it?). I went from being a full-blown Joan Littlewoodite to a full-blown revisionist in one move. And of course, a significant casualty was my open-mindedness about Fussell. This Fussell chap now looked distinctly suspect and out of his depth. As Bertie Wooster might have said, ‘Fussell can eat cake as far as I am concerned’, and that was him struck from my reading list.

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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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The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History

Reviewed by Vittoria Princi

If the bicentenary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death has managed to make everyone agree on one thing, it is that the Corsican-born general-turned-emperor remains as much a symbol of his epoch (the “soul of the world on horseback”, in the famous definition by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel) as a deeply divisive figure. This was very true already in his intense life and times, and it is still so in the distant posterity of the 21st century, as even the celebratory speech given by French president Emmanuel Macron on 5 May 2021 had to acknowledge. Insisting on Napoleon as a “great man of history”, however, eclipses the bigger picture of a worldwide, two-decades-long conflict embroiling Europe and whose ramifications spanned nearly all over the global order of its times. A helpful book to keep this wider context in mind is The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History, by Alexander Mikaberidze.

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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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A Personal Reflection on the Recent War Graves Controversy

Written by Mark Connelly I first visited a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery when I was sixteen years old. It was Dud Corner Cemetery and the Loos Memorial in France. I can remember the moment vividly. Having developed a deep interest in the First World War, I was on my first battlefield trip. Although my reading had made me aware of the work of the Commission, nothing prepared me for the beauty, calm and dignity of…

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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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Lord Rennell and Military Government

Written by Philip Boobbyer.

The collapse of the Italian empire in North and East Africa in 1940-41 created a major headache for British administrators, even while it was a great success for the military. Policymakers had to come up with a way of controlling vast, far-flung territories in a rapidly changing situation. There were only a tiny number of competent people available to manage negotiations, run the finances and police the rule of law. This kind of problem was nothing new for an advancing army. It is one thing to win battles, another to govern defeated territories efficiently in a time of transition.

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