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Tag: Second World War

On Reading an Account of the Battle of Britain without Words

Written by Tony Pratley.

The story of the Battle of Britain, when written down, almost always begins with a quote.  It is not a rule, more a convention.  ‘What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.’ Winston Churchill’s famous declaration even introduced the opening title sequence of the film Battle of Britain (1969).  Chroniclers in search of something less common do have plenty of choice.  King George VI, ‘I feel happier that we have no allies to be polite to and pamper.’  Air Chief Marshall Dowding, ‘thank God we are alone now.’  Even Hermann Goering, ‘we’d forgotten the English fought best with their backs to the wall.’ Any one of these quotes will do and it will set the narrative agenda, telling the reader that the story to follow will be about an extraordinary episode in the life of an exceptional nation.   It is an oft-repeated tale – a myth, a ‘memory’, a confection of fact and fiction. Whatever it is, though, is of little concern here. I am more interested in the story-teller.  This is because, since the beginning of the 1990s, there have been more and more occasions when words won’t do.  Such an occasion will be outdoors and involve a crowd numbered in the thousands, and then a Spitfire flypast will do very well instead.

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Fighting the People’s War

Reviewed by Oliver Parken. The notion of the Second World War as a ‘people’s war’ remains an established, and highly contested, tool for understanding the experience and representation of the conflict. Transmitted through wartime propaganda and cultural codes, scholars have tended to assess its workings in the home front context. In the British case, citizens were, after all, drawn into the front-lines of war as targets of enemy bombardment as well as forming the back-bone…

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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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New Publication: David Welch, World War II Propaganda: Analyzing the Art of Persuasion during Wartime

World War II Propaganda: Analyzing the Art of Persuasion during Wartime. Published in 2017 by David Welch (Professor Emeritus and founder of the Centre for War, Propaganda and Society at the University of Kent), World War II Propaganda explores many of the key themes of the Second World War through primary source material. Examples of propaganda disseminated by both Axis and Allied nations are considered, contextualised by accompanying analysis. Breaking free of Euro-centric confines, the…

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New Publication: Linsey Robb and Juliette Pattinson (eds.), Men, Masculinities and Male Culture in the Second World War

Men, Masculinities and Male Culture in the Second World War. In this new edited volume, Linsey Robb (Northumbria University) and Juliette Pattinson (Head of the School of History at the University of Kent) bring together collected essays exploring British masculinities and male culture during the Second World War. Focusing on combatants, prisoners of war, and civilians, the volume tracks the gendering of war through its varied male experience. The volume also considers how male culture…

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Mapping the Future: The Diercke Atlas in the Third Reich

Written by Mike Anderson.

Cartography has only become a tool for historical research in the past few years. Traditionally, geography and history have been separated – the old adage ‘geography is about maps, history about chaps’ meant that there were few interdisciplinary crossovers. However, in recent scholarship maps have begun to be viewed as tools to understand the worldview of historical cultures and historical actors in and of themselves. When applied to Nazi Germany, this new perspective on cartographic agency reveals a hitherto largely ignored method of instilling propaganda. This article examines how the portrayal of the conquest of Lebensraum in Eastern Europe in geography classrooms and the Diercke Schulatlas für Höhere Lehranstalten, the most popular German school atlas, eclipsed any scholarly or factual analysis of the area.

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Occupations in the Age of Total War: Conference Report

Written by Oli Parken.

The Centre for the History of War, Media and Society welcomed colleagues across Europe and the US to the conference ‘Occupations in the Age of Total War: Micro Perspectives and Transnational Research’ in June 2017. The aim of the two-day event was to bridge the gap between structural and micro approaches to the occupational history of both world wars, pushing past conclusions made within national boundaries. The conference came in response to the publication of Nico Wouters’ monograph Mayoral Collaboration under Nazi Occupation: Belgium, the Netherlands and North France, 1938–46 (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke/New York, 2016) (University of Ghent and CegeSoma). Thus, the papers given expanded on Wouters’ methodological innovation of approaching ‘occupations’ through the lens of the micro and macro in the age of ‘total war’.

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