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Fighting for Britain?

Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War

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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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Englishness in the British army of the Second World War

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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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