Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War
‘His Own Weapons to His Own Battlefront’: The civilian working man in British culture 1939–1945
In recalling her experiences of the Second World War during an oral history interview, wartime aircraft factory worker, Fiona Thomas, asserted that ‘There was no men. The men were all away, and like I say 18 to 45 was the call-up age and that. Most of them were older, over 45, or some who perhaps, something, they hadn’t passed the medical for the forces.’1 In making such a statement Thomas brings to light the predominant image of the British home front during the Second World War. It is largely perceived as a feminised space in which women donned overalls and uniforms to replace the men who had left to join the armed forces. Thomas also highlights another common belief: those who were not in uniform fighting for Britain were not ‘men’ or, at least, were not thought manly. Generally either because of their age or ill-health, these men were considered to be sharply distanced from the British wartime masculine ideal.2 Such an image is repeatedly drawn, and therefore reinforced, in contemporary popular culture.3 However, this ignores the many men whose essential war work did not place them in uniform but instead saw them working in factories, fields or building sites, fighting fires or transporting goods in the Merchant ← 287 | 288 → Navy. These men were largely in reserved occupations, those deemed by the state to be irreplaceably necessary in civilian life because of their skills, and therefore ineligible for conscription or voluntary enrolment into the armed services.4 Between four...
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