Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War
‘Deep England’: Britain, the countryside and the English in the Second World War
In September 1941, two years after the outbreak of war, the British social survey organisation Mass Observation (MO) asked its panel of writers to ‘let yourself run with pen or pencil’ and reflect on what Britain meant to them.1 The key issue that came through in what remains of the responses from the MO National Panel (much of the material from 1941 being lost) was that Britain, largely, meant very little to them. Very few of the panellists identified themselves as British – the majority were English and either unproblematically conflated Englishness with Britishness or went to great lengths to explain that they felt and identified as English, not as British. They also, overwhelmingly, understood the England they felt this emotional attachment to as being best symbolised by the countryside, especially the rural areas of Southern England. Many of the respondents were from the South of England, with approximately 50% of those recorded as writing for MO at the end of its first year living in the Home Counties. A substantial minority however came from other regions and nations of Britain.2 This chapter draws on the surviving material collected by MO, together with contemporary representations of the nation, to explore two, interlinked, questions: why did so many of the English respondents to the MO Directive identify themselves as English rather than British, and why did they largely articulate this Englishness through an attachment to a particular version of rural England? ← 25 | 26 →
At the heart of these...
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