Creating the people’s war

Civil defence communities in Second World War Britain

Author: Jessica Hammett

This book is the first to consider how the ‘people’s war’ was created and lived by groups of ordinary people: how did civilians in everyday life understand and represent their ideas, feelings and behaviour in line with wartime ideas about civil duty? A political and cultural narrative about citizenship and national identity was developed during the conflict, which was vague enough to encompass most civilians but, nevertheless, reinforced hierarchies and inequalities. This book considers the ‘people’s war’ from a fresh perspective and argues that, to fully understand the power and resilience of the ‘people’s war’ mythology, we need to investigate its use by local social groups. Examining national identity through a local lens shows how individuals and groups used elements of this narrative to write themselves into the war effort, how they framed their experience and how they explained their status and value. The ‘people’s war’ is a narrative which was created from the bottom up as well as top down; within social groups civil defence personnel created a version of civil duty which bolstered their own status by embracing some aspects of the ‘people’s war’ narrative and rejecting others. Community was both central to these representations and vital for their production.

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