‘Remembering with advantages’: British military memoirs of the Second World War, 1950-2010
Houghton, Frances Eileen
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Since the end of the Second World War, numerous British veterans of that conflict have made the decision to publish a memoir of their military experiences on the front-line. This thesis investigates the contribution of these sources to the historical record of warfare between 1939 and 1945. Contending that these documents reveal something unique and important about the ways in which former combatants participated in and interpreted battle, the thesis focuses on two core research questions. First, it explores what these narratives reveal about the experience and representation of combat, examining the interplay of the authors with the natural environments in which they operated, the machines with which they fought, the enemy they tried to kill, and the comrades with whom they served. Second, it inquires into the intention and function of these texts, assessing why and how they were created. In order to address these questions, this thesis draws on a wide pool of veteran memoirs, written by former front-line personnel from the RAF, Royal Navy and Army, and published since 1950. It also draws, where appropriate, on unpublished sources such as those to be found in the Archive of British Publishing and Printing at the University of Reading. Through these lines of inquiry, the thesis identifies the ways in which veterans lived, remembered, understood, and communicated their experiences of combat during the Second World War, and argues for the merit of the military memoir as a historical source.