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Contesting Home Defence: Men, Women and the Home Guard in the Second World War (Cultural History of Modern War): Men, Women and the Home Guard in the Second World War (Cultural History of Modern War) Paperback – 31 Mar 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press; First Edition edition (31 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719062020
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719062025
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 2.5 x 14 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 570,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Penny Summerfield is Professor of Modern History at the University of Manchester. Corinna Peniston-Bird is Lecturer in History at the University of Lancaster

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Format: Paperback
Immediate post-war unit histories, together with a recent rash of general and collectors' books, mean that the once sketchy knowledge we had of the Home Guard has now been replaced with quite a wide library of information. However, as university academics Summerfield and Peniston-Bird argue, one particular area of Home Guard history that has been overlooked is the role of women in the force.

Is this deliberate male chauvinism underplaying the role women played in the force? Arguing from a largely feminist viewpoint, their answer is perhaps unsurprisingly, mainly `yes'.

The authors also examine from a sociological angle the role TVs Dad's Army has had on popular memory of the Home Guard. They reveal the contradictory wartime portrayals of the force: on the one hand brave defenders of Britain, yet the butt of music hall jokes on the other. The struggle for influence on the force, between left- wing activists and the conservative military top brass is also explained.

As the author's reveal, prominent women such as MP Edith Summerskill lobbied hard to have women accepted into the Home Guard. But unlike Russia, where desperate need meant everyone who could fight was accepted, the arming of women in Britain went against social mores. As a result, Summerskill set up the unofficial Women's Home Defence organisation, in effect a women's volunteer force that trained with arms. It wasn't until 1943, after much wrangling and a deep manpower shortage, the War Office reluctantly allowed women into the Home Guard in a non-combatant role as Auxiliaries.

There is, however, a flaw to the authors' basic argument that women have been deliberately sidelined and written out of Home Guard history. They argue that the women's role in the force was as important as the men.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"This book" in the authors words, "seeks to explore the history of the Home Guard not through the lens of politico-military history but from the perspective of the debate about the cultural meanings of the Second World War." (p6) So debate on such issues as whether the Home Guard would have been militarily effectice in the event of invasion, are undertaken in the context of public perceptions of, and attitudes to, the force. The material for this is gleaned from contemporary wartime sources, including journalism, film, and other mediums of popular culture, and from an oral history project, with male and female veterans.
Written from a feminist perspective, the book is a thoroughly researched, readable, academic take on the subject, but the role of women in the Home Guard is by no means the only theme. Essentially, perceptions of the force resolve around two perspectives: the military value of the Home Guard, and its status as a repository of ideas of national identity. Thus, in popular culture and government information, the Home Guard was postulated as the embodiment of an idea of British moral values, defending an essentially southern, English conception of Britain. This not only is out of joint with the total industrialised war that was being fought, in a mobilisation affecting, of course, the remotest rural areas. It also was challenged by varying ideological visions of what was the purpose of the Home Guard, epitomised by left-wing activists such as journalist and Spanish Civil War veteran Tom Wintringham, and Labour MP Edith Summerskill. On a micro level, the personal experience of individual Home Guards is examined, in a pardigm of social group, and gender, roles and expectations.
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