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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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‘Excellent Irishmen’: Irish volunteers and identities during the Second World War


In one of the first examinations of Irish volunteer identity during the Second World War, Geoffrey Roberts argued that the estimated 70,000 men and women who left neutral Eire to join the British forces during the conflict1 represented a shared Irish-British identity, which existed in the middle ground between the two competing ideologies on the island: unionism in Northern Ireland and nationalism in Eire. Northern Ireland, still within the UK, participated in the war while Eire, under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, remained neutral. The unionist leadership in Belfast used the conflict as a demonstration of their loyalty to the Crown, while de Valera’s policy of neutrality was partially driven by his wish to demonstrate Eire’s independence from Britain. Throughout the war, the Fianna Fáil government took the opportunity to promote its own vision of Irish history and identity, one that emphasised Eire’s distinctiveness from Britain. The contrasting experiences of the war drove the two Irelands further apart and partition of the island became entrenched. However, Irish service in the British forces during the conflict generated a specific sense of Irishness, one that contradicted de Valera’s nationalist narrative of the war. By incorporating uncontroversial and easily recognisable signifiers of Irish identity, such as harps, shamrocks and wolfhounds, into Irish units, going to great lengths to accommodate the religious differences of Irish recruits and the use of Irish nicknames, the British forces created a space for Eire volunteers to express their nationalism, but also fashioned a...

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