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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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It is now exactly forty years since the appearance of J.G.A. Pocock’s famous plea for a self-consciously ‘British history’ that would recognise not merely the interaction between the four constituent nations of the British Isles, but also how this ‘four nations’ narrative was framed by the broader contexts of empire and the Atlantic world.1 In the decades since this pivotal intervention, an extensive historical literature on the topic of Britishness has emerged, although most of it has been dedicated to the internal and multinational, rather than the external and trans-national, dimensions to Pocock’s call for a more pluralist understanding of the nation’s past. However, there has been relatively little sustained attention to the operation, expression and reception of Britishness during the Second World War. This is despite the significance of both national and regional difference as a category of analysis in Sonya Rose’s landmark study of the identity politics of wartime Britain, Which People’s War?, and the central place held by the Second World War in British national myth and memory, mapped in Lucy Noakes’ pioneering War and the British.2 The chapters that constitute Fighting for Britain therefore are a welcome addition, not merely to the historical literature concerned with wartime Britain, but to the broader questions of how national identity functioned in Britain throughout the twentieth century. ← ix | x →

Why then has Britishness during the Second World War not received more attention? One answer may lie in the legacy of Linda Colley’s highly influential Britons,...

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