Sacrifice in the Second World War II

September 25, 2009

A belated juxtaposition to the Waugh quote below:

Inequality of Sacrifice

There is growing evidence of a feeling among certain sections of the public that ‘everything is nto fair and equal and that therefore our sacrifices are not worthwhile’. In particular, there is some belief that the rich are less hit by rationing than ‘ordinary people’ for the following reasons:

a) they can eat at expensive restaurants

b) they can afford to buy high priced goods in short demand, such as salmon and game

c) they can spend more on clothes and therefore use their coupons more advantageously

d) they receive preferential treatment in shops, as ‘people giving large orders are favoured and the poorer people wanting ‘little bits’ are refused.

e) They receive preferential treatment as regards petrol rationing. To quote a postal censorship report: ‘ We can see Big Bugs riding in their posh cars and poor beggars can’t get petrol for business’.

The feeling of ‘inequality of sacrifice’ between the services and civilians, frequently mentioned in these reports, continues. Ill-feeling between the two is said to be growing as tales of slacking in factories, high wages and black markets increase the belief among servicemen that civilians are not pulling their weight.

(Ministry of Information, Home Intelligence Division Weekly Report No 77, 25 March 1942, National Archives, Kew, INF 1/282)

There are some problems with the way that these reports were assembled, but as Ira Zweiniger-Bargielowska has shown, these were far from isolated or unjustified sentiments. What interests also interests me here is the mention at the end of the perception at the time of a service/civilian split.


Teaching Bomber Command – online sources – can you help?

November 6, 2008

In two months, I’ll have finished my sabbatical and be back to teaching and writing at the same time. The prospect is pretty terrifying. I will also be putting on two new courses – since I’m coming back half way through the academic year, I needed to offer one-semester units. One of these will be on the British army on the Western Front, and the other on Bomber Command in the Second World War. I am currently constructing a wordpress blog to support the latter, and I’ve been looking for good online sources to put on it or link to from it.

Some thoughts on the first ones to pop up on Google

The RAF’s Bomber Command 60th Anniversary site is a useful starting point, if predictably focused on units, commanders and famous raids. The ‘Background’ section has some good basic points and orders of battle. I rather like the cutaway picture of the Halifax bomber, which could be a good way to get students to visualise the fighting environment for Bomber Command aircrew (not too sure about the UFO come dinghy flying next to it though!)

Bob Baxter’s Bomber Command site is slightly more cluttered, but more obviously a labour of love. As well as details of planes and airfields, it also has quite a lot of veteran testimony and some interesting aiming point photographs from later on in the war.

The Bomber Command Association’s website is extremely professional looking. It focuses on individual stories – many of which are accessible in pop ups on different pages – and particularly the staggering nature of Bomber Command’s losses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t engage too deeply with some of the more potentially morally troubling aspects of British strategic bombing – which is presented here implicitly as purely a reaction to German aerial attacks and national crisis in 1940.

I’ll also be adding plenty of links to online sources for primary research on Britain in the middle part of the 20th century.

Has anybody got recommendations for sites they think are particularly good, or useful for teaching? I’d be particularly interested in collections of images, or German or American sites.

‘War’s a psychological thing, Perkins…’

November 6, 2008

An audio track of the sequence ‘Aftermyth of War’ from Beyond the Fringe.

I had forgotten how dense in allusions this is – everything from Robb Wilton to Diary for Timothy. It’s also interesting to hear where the audience are laughing – what had, by the early 1960s, achieved the sort of mythical status that made it common knowledge. How many of these jokes would still work, I wonder? Much of the humour is quite gently paced and reliant on the shared experience of those who’d experienced the war or its immediate aftermath as children, then had it reinterpreted back to them on screen. Today, if you’re not a fan of Humphrey Jennings, quite a lot of this sketch falls flat.

BSA Memorial

October 6, 2008

Tomorrow night, I’ll be speaking to the Birmingham War Studies Seminar about British casualty figures for the Second World War. As a connected point of interest, therefore, here’s a site about the attempt to create a memorial to the workers killed when the BSA factory in Small Heath was bombed in November 1940. It’s an interesting example of the work of local commemoration, and I wonder whether the campaigners will enjoy more success as the Second World War slips over the boundary of lived memory.

So, what are you working on?

February 6, 2008

I’ve spent the last week or so working on tabulating British armed service and civilian casualties over time during the Second World War, as a means of getting to grips with telling the story of the war as a whole. Quite aside from the depressing nature of the topic – I do feel a bit like Brian in the clip above – it’s not easy: getting hold of good consistent data is hard, not least because the different services defined casualties in different ways, and the files at the PRO are often frustratingly incomplete. But I still think it’s a worthwhile project, and one that I’ll keep posting on as I work at it. When I’ve got the tables sorted out, I’ll get the QM History Dept to put them up on its research webspace.

Here’s the easy bit of it – there is a Home Office file that details civilian casualties by month. So here, to compare to Brett’s First World War equivalent, are those figures as a graph.


Here, killed is those killed outright or died of wounds, and seriously injured entails admission to hospital. Whilst this doesn’t give a day by day account, which even if I had the information would probably be too complex graphically, it does show the concentration of British civilian casualties in the winter of 1940-41, with a second bulge when the V weapons started to hit in 1944. In between those, it could be argued that more civilians were killed each year in traffic accidents than by enemy bombs (the document in which I found the Vice Chief of the General Staff making that just that argument is worth a post in itself). Looking at it quickly now, I wonder whether we can draw any conclusions from the small number of children relative to adults?

What working on all these figures – but particularly the service ones – has made me realise is just how politicised the issue of casualties was, internally and externally. I’m toying with the argument that this itself explains some of the differences between published sources for the two wars. What I want to do when I’ve got good national figures up is to compare these to the experience of individual civil and military communities.

Things that are interesting me…

January 23, 2008

Working out comparative rates of British civilian and military casualties during the Second World War, by service and over time. Making tables and drawing graphs.

The Defence of Britain Project, with its images, maps and records, particularly on the anti-invasion defences constructed in 1940. A very rich site, with much useful material for all sorts of research. And, via the Archaeology Data Service, a download that allows you to locate sites on Google Earth.

The newish Times Higher site, and particularly Alex Danchev’s review of  Darius Rejali’s Torture and Democracy.

How they made ‘Bloody Omaha’

January 18, 2008

Three men create a not too bad at all version of Omaha for the BBC. It seems from this that D-Day involved a lot of running round and some falling over. Bit of a broad brush summing up, perhaps, but not totally inaccurate. I would say that the noise you can hear is John Reith rolling in his grave, but I can’t see any other sort of history making it to third on the Guardian’s list of viral videos this week.