fighting the People’s WAR
UNCOVERING THE BRITISH AND COMMONWEALTH ‘CITIZEN ARMIES’ OF WORLD WAR II
Author: Jonathan Fennell Publisher: Cambridge University Press Price: £25.00
With the centenary of Word War I now drawing to a close, it’s possible to take stock of the plethora of books that have been published on the conflict in the past four years. While many have simply gone over old ground, some have offered the reader interesting new perspectives and questioned many of our long-held beliefs that stretch back to 191418. Of particular interest are those titles examining the experiences of the ordinary soldiers from across the British Empire who fought in the war. It is, therefore, pleasing to see that similar treatment has now been given to the soldiers of World War II by author Jonathan Fennell.
The main focus of Fighting The People’s War is on the ‘citizen armies’ of Britain and the Commonwealth countries of Australia, Canada,
India, New Zealand and South Africa. It does not solely focus on the professional soldier, who, despite his higher levels of training, morale and professionalism, made up only a small percentage of the fighting men. This focus on the civilian in uniform is the principal strength of this fascinating new study.
Once into the book, the reader will find it is divided into six parts, which work in chronological order.
For example, Part I begins with the political and military context, examining issues such as the interwar period, the training of soldiers and mobilisation. Part II then takes the reader into the so-called ‘Phoney
War’, the ill-fated campaign in Norway, the Battle of France and the equally disastrous events in the Middle and Far East. By the time the reader reaches Part VI they are presented with the immediate post-war world and the often-uneasy transition of the citizen soldier back to civilian life.
While Fennell examines numerous political and social aspects of the war, of particular interest is his challenge of the long-held view that the war created social cohesion and united the people in a common cause. In reality, while there was of course some degree of this, there was in fact much division and friction in society. As the author states, the conflict “tore communities apart” and the “divisions of class, age, gender, ethnicity and race persisted” or were even amplified.
Indeed, Fennell quite rightly points to the outright rejection of the pre-war status quo by those who served in uniform as well as civilians who spent the war at home, as evidenced by the shock landslide Labour victory in the 1945 general election. In the wake of World War II, Britain would see its empire fast disintegrating, while at home the notion of the welfare state became firmly established.
Fennell is well-placed to write this considerably in-depth study, being a senior lecturer at the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London. He is also the author of Combat And Morale In The North African Campaign, a book shortlisted for the Whitfield Prize of the Royal Historical Society.
As such, Fighting The People’s
War is a highbrow, academic piece of work and an indispensable volume for anyone with a serious interest in World War II. It is incredibly well-researched, brilliantly written and quite frankly an outstanding book. NMS
“THIS FOCUS ON THE CIVILIAN IN UNIFORM IS THE PRINCIPAL STRENGTH OF THIS FASCINATING NEW STUDY”
Men of Britain and the Commonwealth rushed to join the ‘civilian armies’ during WWII
Australians undergo a medical examination as they join the military, 1940