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Tag: 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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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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Reflections on the Christmas Truce: Myth, Football and the Christmas of 1914

Written by Natasha Silk.

The Christmas Truce forms one of the central focal points for the modern memory and commemorations of the First World War. Terri Blom Crocker in her exploration of the subject, has suggested that behind this myth that all soldiers ceased hostilities in rebellion against war is actually a complicated story. She argues that through its mythology and position in modern memory it has become a reflection of modern anti-war sentiment. Within the cultural memory of this event, the idea that British and German soldiers played football up and down the frontline is the dominant narrative. As Stanley Weintraub explored in Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914 (2001), there is evidence to suggest that there were a number of football matches in no man’s land between the British and the Germans, however, it was not widespread. Weintraub pointed to examples where the Germans refused to participate and the British played the matches alone. Yet, the idea that soldiers ceased hostilities and played football during the season of peace and goodwill to all men holds a certain charm for modern audiences. It allows for the myths and widespread interpretations which have existed since the war to endure. This being, that the soldiers of 1914 were just ordinary men fighting a war that they did not want, forced to fight by politicians who did not understand, or care, about the horrors of war.

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Belgian Neutrality and its Reinterpretation ahead of the First World War

Written by Mario Draper.

Léon Arendt will not be a familiar name to most readers. His role as the Political Director at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1896 to 1912 was hardly likely to make him a household name beyond Belgium’s borders. Yet, his conceptualisation of these borders and of Belgium’s wider relationship with neutrality – imposed in perpetuity by the Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia) in 1839 – marks him out as a singularly important figure in defining the strategic paradigm at the outbreak of the First World War. For here was a man who proposed the controversial view in 1911 that neutrality was but a tool of independence and not an end in itself. In other words, were neutrality to jeopardize continued independence, Belgium was within its rights to reinterpret its duties and forgo its strict adherence to the 1839 Treaty of London. 

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