'She Wants a Gun not a Dishcloth!’: Gender, Service and Citizenship in Britain in the Second World War

Title'She Wants a Gun not a Dishcloth!’: Gender, Service and Citizenship in Britain in the Second World War
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsSummerfield, Penny
EditorGroot, Gerard J. de, and Corinna M. Peniston-Bird
Book TitleA Soldier and a Woman: Sexual Integration in the Military
Pagination119 - 134
PublisherPearson Education
CityNew York

 In the Second World War, mobilization of the British population was extensive. Nearly 5 million out of a working population of 15 million men, plus at least 1.5 million men from the colonies, were conscripted or volunteered for the armed forces. In addition nearly 500,000 women, out of a female working population of 7 million, joined the women’s auxiliary forces, organized for the support of the male military. Some women volunteered; others were called up under National Service legislation which made war service compulsory for young single women from the end of 1941. This wartime militarization of British society made more than usually tenuous the claim on citizenship of those who refused or did not qualify for military service, and specifically for combatant status. Civilian identity in wartime was uncertain even though both regulation and cultural norms for specific groups justified the non-combatant position. Thus the Schedule of Reserved Occupations prevented people in particular categories of skilled work from being called up, and it was not considered appropriate (as we shall see) for women to have combatant roles. In practice the distinction between combatant and non-combatant roles was hard to maintain because air attack, bombing and the threat of invasion dispersed the front line and brought it home. But the heroic status of the military citizen in wartime political rhetoric and popular culture polarized the two identities and increased the insecurity of the civilian. [Taylor & Francis Group]

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