Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War
Welshness, Welsh soldiers and the Second World War
On the heights of El Rhorab, looking out through the Fondouk gap, and on the rocky hill that stands over Hammam Lif facing blue distances across the sea, two marble stones were raised later bearing the names of those who fell in battle, with the Regimental crest and motto ‘Cymru am Byth.’ Rupert Brooke wrote that where he fell would be ‘for ever England.’ So to the 3rd Battalion the hill tops by Fondouk and Hamman Lif are marked as ‘Wales for ever.’
— maj. l.f. ellis, Welsh Guards at War (1946)1
The Second World War is often thought of as a time when Britishness peaked. Some historians have argued that propaganda, bombing, the threat of invasion, the shared sacrifices of serving in the forces and enduring rationing all created a common sense of purpose amongst the British people, bringing together its different nations and regions. That sense of solidarity also cut across gender and class lines in a war where everyone was ‘in it’ together. This was a feeling that the state was only too keen to encourage and it helped ensure that the news and popular entertainment were dominated by the ‘shared national predicament.’2 Such perspectives ← 65 | 66 → have also been adopted by Welsh historians. John Davies’ seminal history of Wales argues that the war ‘did much to strengthen Britishness. At the same time, it seemed to be a death blow to Welshness.’3 Similarly, K.O. Morgan suggests that ‘Culturally the second world...
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