The Test of War: Inside Britain, 1939-45

By Robert Mackay | Go to book overview

Chapter One

Going to war

It is a paradox that when Britain went to war in September 1939, it was, as in 1914, a result of her own ultimatum. For not only was the issue that prompted it on the other side of Europe, where Britain had few interests, but Britain was in a state of military unreadiness, pacifist sentiment was strong, and the government was in the hands of men determined to prevent the country from being drawn into other people's conflicts. “Never again” was the feeling at all levels of society in 1918; and yet, here again, when the memories of that time were scarcely faded, the call to total war went out.

In retrospect, the Second World War and Britain's participation in it has an air of inevitability. But creeping fatalism about another war did not properly begin in Britain until 1935-6. For a decade before then, foreign troubles seemed remote and unlikely to involve Britain directly. On the whole, international politics seemed less threatening than in the early years after the First World War. The League of Nations, established in 1919 to preserve peace through collective security, was steadily increasing its membership and was enhancing its credentials through its role in the settlement of international disputes. Franco-German antagonism, which in the past had been a chief source of instability and conflict, seemed to be giving way to reconciliation: at Locarno in 1925 France and Germany signed agreements that guaranteed the common frontiers of France, Germany and Belgium and committed them to seek arbitration in their disputes. At the same time Germany joined the League of Nations, thereby pledging herself to playing her part in disarmament and the peaceful solution of international problems.

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The Test of War: Inside Britain, 1939-45
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter One - Going to War 1
  • Chapter Two - Britain on the Eve of War 15
  • Notes 47
  • Chapter Three - Politics 49
  • Notes 66
  • Chapter Four - The Economy at War 68
  • Notes 94
  • Chapter Five - Aliens, Dissenters and Outlaws 96
  • Notes 112
  • Chapter Six - Defending the Land and the People 113
  • Notes 136
  • Chapter Seven - Morale 137
  • Notes 162
  • Chapter Eight - Adapting, Enduring, Escaping 164
  • Chapter Nine - Time for Change: the General Election 192
  • Chapter Ten - Taking Stock: Britain in 1945 204
  • Bibliography 236
  • Index 241
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