The Test of War: Inside Britain, 1939-45

By Robert Mackay | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven

Morale

Among the legacies of the First World War was the belief, widely held-especially in Germany-that Britain and her Allies had triumphed because of the collapse of civilian morale in Germany and Austria-Hungary. The implication was that in modern war the prowess of the armed forces was in itself insufficient for victory: if the “home front” did not hold firm then all was lost. And not just the war. Where morale crumbled, social unrest followed and governments fell: the two revolutions in Russia in 1917 and those in Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1918 were an alarming reminder to governments everywhere in 1939 of the political consequences of failure to sustain the spirit and commitment of the people.

While the civilian “stab in the back” could be seen as a selfjustifying myth, assiduously promoted by the German military, there remained within it the basic truth that in wars of nations the fighting spirit of the people was important. In a short war, perhaps, advance build-up of war matériel and the momentum of the offensive might make a significant role for the civilian unnecessary. But what the First World War had demonstrated was that in a longer conflict the servicing of the needs of mass armies demanded a sustained willingness on the part of the civilian population to endure hardship, sacrifice, anxiety and danger. Total war meant the summoning into the armed forces of a large proportion of the country's able-bodied adult males. Almost every family was thereby torn apart. Those members who remained at home were burdened with fear for the safety of those dispatched to the fighting, fear which the increased lethality of modern war would often turn into grief and despair. Total war also

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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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