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Week 9

A People’s War?

I. Did the Britain of 1939-45 see a ‘people’s war’?
II. Why was the Labour Party elected in 1945?
III. What role was played by post-war film and television portrayal of the Second World War in shaping national identity?

• For an overview: R. Weight, Patriots: National Identity in Britain 1940-2000 (2002), chapter 1 ‘Warriors’ & Chapter 2 ‘Citizens’.
• For the idea of the ‘people’s war’: Angus Calder, The People’s War.
• Challenging some of the assumptions of a ‘people’s war’: Sonya Rose, Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Wartime Britain, 1939-1945 (2003).
• For an attempt to capture the mood of the nation in 1945: P. Hennessy, Never Again (1992); and for a critical examination of Britain ‘standing alone’ in 1940: M. Smith, Britain and 1940: History, Myth and Popular Memory (2000).
• There are differing views of the extent of popular radicalism and social solidarity in wartime Britain, and on whether this led to 1945. The conventional view of a changed environment is presented in Paul Addison, The Road to 1945: British Politics and the Second World War (1975/1994). However there has recently been a tendency to emphasise limitations: Tony Mason & Peter Thompson, ‘“Reflections on a Revolution”? The Political Mood in Wartime Britain’ in N. Tiratsoo (ed.), The Attlee Years (1993), pp. 54-70; Steven Fielding, ‘What did the “People” want? The Meaning of the 1945 General Election’, Historical Journal, 35 (1992), 623-9; S. Fielding, ‘Don’t know and Don’t Care: Popular Political Attitudes in Labour’s Britain, 1945-51’, in N. Tiratsoo (ed.), The Attlee Years (1991); and S. Fielding, N. Tiratsoo & P. Thompson, England Arise: The Labour Party and Popular Politics in 1940s Britain (1995). For criticism of this position: J. Hinton, ‘The Apathy School’, History Workshop Journal, 43 (1997), 266-72. On this theme see also: D. L. Prynn, ‘Common-Wealth - A British Third Party of the 1940s’, Journal of Contemporary History, 7 (1972), 169-79; R. Mckibbin, Classes and Cultures: England 1818-1951 (1998), pp. 528-36; A. Calder, The People’s War (1969); Jose Harris, ‘War and Social History: Britain and the Home Front during the Second World War’, Contemporary European History, 1 (1992), 17-35. On class: P. Summerfield, ‘The Levelling of Class’, in H. Smith (ed.), War and Social Change (1988).
• For explorations of the way that wartime circumstances fostered new images of national identity within British culture: Sian Nicholas, ‘From John Bull to John Citizen: Images of National Identity and Citizenship on the Wartime BBC’, in R. Weight & A. Beach (eds.), The Right to Belong: Citizenship and National Identity in Britain, 1930-1960 (1998), pp. 36-58; Toby Haggith, ‘Citizenship, Nationhood and Empire in British Official Film Propaganda, 1939-45’, in R. Weight & A. Beach (eds.), The Right to Belong: Citizenship and National Identity in Britain, 1930-1960 (1998), pp. 59-88; D. Matless, ‘Taking Pleasure in England: Landscape and Citizenship in the 1940s’, in R. Weight & A. Beach (eds.), The Right to Belong: Citizenship and National Identity in Britain, 1930-1960 (1998), pp. 181-204.
• On continuities between wartime and earlier visions of the ‘English’ nation see the discussion of ‘Deep England’ in A. Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (1991); also C. Barnett, The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation (1986).
• The Mass Observation movement attempted to measure the national mood in wartime and has provided valuable albeit problematic material for historians of this subject: T. Harrisson, Living through the Blitz (1976). See also the MO contemporary reports such as: People in Production (1942); War Factory (1943); and The Journey Home (1944).
• For thoughts on the relationship between gender and wartime national identity: L. Noakes, War and the British: Gender and National Identity; S. Rose, ‘Sex, Citizenship and the Nation in World War II Britain’, American Historical Review, 103 (1998), 1147-76; H.L. Smith, ‘The Effect of the War on the Status of Women’, in H.L. Smith (ed.), War and Social Change: British Society in the Second World War (1986); P. Summerfield, Reconstructing Women’s Wartime Lives (1998);
• The image of wartime national unity and radicalisation may owe something to the contrasting image of the decade which preceded it. The idea of the thirties and shifting interpretations of this decade are explored in: J. Baxendale & C. Pawling (ed.), Narrating the 30s: A Decade in the Making, 1930 to the Present (1996). There is disagreement among historians as to the seriousness of social divisions in the 1930s. Some point to social misery provoking political radicalisation and building the foundations for the victory of Labour in 1945: see for instance, Charles Webster, 'Hungry or Healthy Thirties', History Workshop Journal, 13 (1982), 110-29. Others have suggested that in comparative terms there was relative prosperity, social harmony, and a lack of attraction towards political extremism: John Stevenson, Social Conditions between the Wars (1977).
• For depiction of the war in film: Jeffrey Richards, ‘National Identity in British Wartime Films’, in P.M. Taylor (ed.), British Cinema in the Second World War (1988); Anthony Aldgate & J. Richards (eds.), Britain can Take it: the British Cinema in the Second World War (1994); A. Higson, Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain (1995); S. Harper, ‘Popular Film, Popular Memory: The Case of the Second World War’, in M. Evans & K. Lunn (eds.), War and Memory in the Twentieth Century (1997); G. Hurd (ed.), National Fictions: World War Two in British Film and Television (1984).
• Also on the long-term cultural legacy: Penny Summerfield, Dad’s Army, the Home Guard and the Memory of the British War Effort’, in M. Riera and G. Schaffer (eds.), The Lasting War: Society and Identity in Britain, France and Germany after 1945 (2008); Penny Summerfield, ‘Film and the Popular Memory of the Second World War in Britain, 1950-59’, in Philippa Levine and Susan Grayzel (eds.), Gender, Labour, War and Empire (2009); Geoff Eley, ‘Finding the People’s War: Film, Collective Memory, and World War II’, American Historical Review, 106 (2001).