Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War
Englishness in the British army of the Second World War
The concept of ‘Englishness’ was of little importance in the British army of the Second World War except in very specific circumstances. In the era of a unitary state, when dominant ideology was unionism and England could still be used as a synonym for the United Kingdom, there was little incentive to promote Englishness or an English identity in an army in which Celtic units were exotic additions to an organisation that was largely English.1 Instead of Englishness, regimental or other unit identities were assiduously cultivated in units that were based in England, and this identity often had a regional dimension. ‘Englishness’ is a slippery term. I am not concerned here with the myth that the essence of England is ‘rural, agricultural, tranquil and unchanging’ rather than urban and industrialised.2 Rather, ‘Englishness’ here is defined as a combination of ‘values, traits and stereotypes that are held to be intrinsic and unique to English people, and are measured against perceived external and internal significant “others”.’3 At the risk of tautology, Englishness is at its core an individual’s or group’s sense of being English. The British national community, paradoxically, is both one nation and at least four nations, but the English ← 49 | 50 → often conflate ‘Britain’ and ‘England.’4 At the time of the Second World War, English nationalism was largely subsumed in a wider British identity, with the rest of the UK being seen as, in effect, Greater England. In the Second World War, the Union Flag (or ‘Union...
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