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Fighting for Britain?

Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War


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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‘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 →

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