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- Author: Emma Newlands x
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Civilians into Soldiers is an examination of British Army life during the Second World War. Drawing on a wealth of official records and servicemen’s personal testimonies it explores the ways in which male civilians were turned into soldiers through the techniques by which they were inducted into military culture. The book demonstrates that the body was central to this process. Using strict physical regimes, the military authorities sorted men into bodily types that reflected their cultural assumptions and sought to transform them into figures that they imagined to be ideal. However, soldiers’ bodies were often far from ideal and served to frustrate these designs. While recruits were willing to engage in practices and routines that they found desirable they also resisted the army’s demands by creating subversive bodily cultures. The book follows the chronological experiences of army personnel, from their recruitment and training to their confrontations with wounding and death, tracing the significance of the body throughout. It analyses the extent to which the British Army organised compliance and relied on consent to achieve its objectives, the ways in which resistance was manifested and experienced, and what can be drawn from these instances by way of larger observations about wartime society in general. By examining soldiers’ embodied experiences it also illuminates broader issues of gender, class, national identity and emotional life. As such, it makes a major contribution to military history, medical history and the social and cultural history of Britain in the Second World War.
This chapter explores the army’s physical selection process, the first point in the transformation from civilian to soldier. It describes the various medical grades that men were assigned and discusses the qualities that were considered desirable for recruitment. It then looks at individual instances of examination to suggest that the medical inspection was not an objective assessment of the body but was shaped by wider social and cultural assumptions. The experiences of men who entered into this sorting system also reveal that examination could be a moment of contest and negotiation between the individual and the State. While some men tried to avoid enlistment by feigning illness or disease, others attempted to hide their disabilities in order to be recruited into the ranks. Moreover, these were negotiations in which individual members of the authorities were often complicit, as some examining doctors knowingly let unfit men pass through the selection process.
This chapter investigates the processes by which civilian bodies were converted for military purposes within the first sixteen or so weeks of army life: the phase of basic training. It suggests that there were two key principles to this process. Army instructors had to achieve control over the recruit’s body in order to subject him to the authority of the regime. Thus, men were told what to eat, when to rest, what to wear and how to behave during their free time. Instructors also proceeded to transform the recruit’s body into an effective military machine by making it, fit, ordered and productive. This was achieved through a strict regime of physical exercise, field exercises, team sports and military drill. Soldier’s testimonies suggest, however, that while some men came to identify with the army’s ideals and worked hard to transform their bodies, others found ways of circumventing the army’s rules. In the safety of their barrack rooms both officers and men got drunk, dressed as women and had sex with each other. By drawing on these experiences this chapter therefore considers the dynamics of compliance, resistance and participation in modern regimes of the military through corporeal transformation.
This chapter explores the medical and scientific experiments that were conducted on army personnel between 1939 and 1945. These included trials of therapeutic drugs, synthetic stimulants and exposure to chemical agents. It examines the aims and objectives of agencies like the Medical Research Council and the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment at Porton Down, which conducted wartime research. These provide glimpses into the mind-set and decisions made by experimenters regarding the types of bodies that were considered most useful and the levels of risk to which they were to be exposed. The chapter then explores how servicemen encountered medical and scientific experiments. It shows that while some men were forced to take part in human trials by military superiors, many others willingly volunteered. They did so for extra money, time off or to enjoy an enhanced sense of status. Participants also had clear ethical expectations for their bodies, such as being informed about the nature of tests, providing voluntary consent and receiving safeguards to protect their health. This chapter therefore highlights the active role that soldiers played in shaping wartime research as they engaged, and indeed withdrew, their bodies in the demands of experimental science.
This chapter explores body cultures in the British Army in the field of active service. It suggests that a new set of ideals and perceptions operated in theatres of war, which were informed largely by the colonial past. The soldier was considered as physically vulnerable, both to the new environment and to the indigenous people that he encountered there. Thus, an array of techniques and practices emerged in order to protect the British physique. The chapter then explores how the authorities sought to achieve their ideals for men’s bodies in the combat environment. This included a mixture of traditional disciplinary methods and a campaign of health education and propaganda, which encouraged men to look after their own health and fitness. Soldier’s testimonies reveal, however, that men often disregarded official advice, particularly about sexual promiscuity, deciding instead to visit brothels that had been placed out of bounds or not making use of their prophylactic kits. These behaviours were often driven by wider cultural norms and assumptions and well as a desire to satisfy their bodily needs. As such, this chapter reveals the changing nature of military life within the field of active service and the new expectations that men had for their own bodies once released into theatres abroad.
This chapter explores the place of the body in official and individual responses to fear, wounding and death. It examines how the army sought to control men’s emotions through bodily channels and how the sick and injured were processed through a series of strict medical administrative arrangements. It also explores official cultures of burial and remembrance, which were designed to remove the physical and symbolic threat posed by the military corpse. This chapter then explores soldiers’ recollections of fear, wounding and death. These show that when confronted with the enemy, injured, or faced with the sight of dead comrades, men often had no control over their bodies and were unable to fulfil their military roles. Thus, the body remained an unstable object, even at the moment for which it had long been prepared. The final section of this chapter examines the pensions system that was put in place to compensate dead and wounded bodies. How awards were worked out, how soldiers applied for pensions and how they contested official decisions all demonstrate the state’s surveillance of men’s bodies after military service was over. Furthermore, these procedures show that the body remained a disputed terrain upon which struggles over control and resistance were fought out once soldiers had returned home.