England’s Homefront: Civilian Courage in World War II

Julie Taddeo
Julie Taddeo
University of Maryland

Dr. Julie Anne Taddeo is Research Professor of History at University of Maryland, College Park.  She is the author and editor of several books, including Lytton Strachey and the Search for Modern Sexual IdentityDiagnosing History: Medicine in Period Drama TelevisionConflicting Masculinities: Men in Television Period DramaUpstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama Television from “The Forsyte Saga” to “Downton Abbey.”

Overview

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British government propaganda dubbed World War II “The People’s War.”  In this war, there would be no sharp distinction between a soldier and civilian, as air raids targeted those once considered “off limits”:  women, children, and the elderly.  This talk will look at the many ways in which civilians participated in the war effort, from “Dad’s Army” and housewives told to “make do and mend,” to child evacuees and those raising rabbits and collecting scrap metal.  But did all people experience the war in the same way?  Age, gender, class, and race all factored into one’s wartime experience. We will also look at Prime Minister Churchill’s radio speeches and how war time films like “Mrs. Miniver” (1942) encouraged the “keep calm and carry on” spirit.  Lastly, we will see how memories of “the people’s war” live on in British TV shows and films in the 21st century, so much so that Queen Elizabeth II invoked the war as a rallying call for unity during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Recommended Reading:

The Myth of the Blitz, by Angus Calder

The People’s War: Britain, 1939 – 1945, by Angus Calder

Nella’s Last War: The Second World War Diaries of “Housewife, 49,” Suzie Fleming and Richard Broad, Eds.

Blitz Diary: Life Under Fire in the Second World War, by Carol Harris and Mike Brown

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did the propaganda of “The People’s War” successfully unite the nation, or did such divisions as class inequality persist?
  2. Did the recruitment of women in the war effort spur on women’s liberation, or was this merely a temporary situation?
  3. Why does the idealization of the “keep calm and carry on” wartime spirit persist even though historians repeatedly try to debunk it?

 

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