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Fighting for Britain?

Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War

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Edited By Wendy Ugolini and Juliette Pattinson

This edited collection focuses on the negotiation of national, geographic and cultural identities during the Second World War among the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Adopting a four nations approach, it contributes to our understanding of how pluralistic identities within the multinational state of Britain informed the functioning of Britishness during the conflict. In particular, it explores the ways in which Wales, Scotland and England related to the overarching concept of Britishness and analyses the relationships between Britain and the island of Ireland. This volume addresses wartime Britain as both a site of cultural contestation and of shared experience, exploring what «fighting for Britain» meant for those who served in the British armed forces as well as for those who did not fight in active combatant roles.
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Transnational communities of allies

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In January 1941, the novelist Rose Macaulay wrote about the consolations of war:

The pageant of life is enormously enriched by the presence of so many foreigners in our midst … the uniforms of Polish soldiers mingle with those of Czechs, Norwegians, Dutch and Free French … And not only foreigners. Driving in the country, you are continually hailed by the rich accents of young men in battle-dress from Alberta or Montreal, who seldom know where they are and always want to go somewhere else. They are, as a rule, enormously charming.1

Macaulay was writing before America entered the war and GIs began arriving in Britain. Mollie Panter-Downes, in her regular ‘Letter from London’ for the New Yorker in June 1942, produced a similar description of the transformation of British scenes and soundscapes that encompassed their arrival:

Londoners are beginning to get accustomed to the uniforms of American troops, who are now seen in ever-increasing numbers in the streets. Middle West and Southern accents are heard in the crowds as frequently as the French, Czech, Polish, and Norwegian which make a blackout saunter down Piccadilly a nostalgic Cook’s tour.2

These observations draw attention to the diversity of the population in Britain during the Second World War. Unprecedented movements of people to Britain began before the war as Hitler’s rise to power prompted ← 209 | 210 → the arrival of refugees and émigrés. By the outbreak of war, some 78,000 refugees from Austria,...

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