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Britain in the Age of Total War
Total War. This phrase is used to describe that everyone was involved in war, civilians, soldiers and women. Every citizen had the experience of a close death or an attack. In the case of Britain, we know that Germany had attacked London’s population, only to ‘revenge’ what the British did to the town. In Total War, everyone contributed, civilians were in charge of their own security and protection, soldiers (from civilians) were sent to the battlefield and the working population, including women, were all to contribute to the war effort and the manufacture of ammunition for war.
From Source A we learn that the ‘British People’ showed ‘courage and unshakeable determination’. The source is a very positive one; we get the feeling of a sense of unity and comradeship between the people. Even during the time of the war it seemed as if everyone was happy as if they faced the war squarely and stared at it without any fear of what would happen next. But, we also know that this book was published half a decade later to celebrate the war, would this mean that everything is unreal and totally over exaggerated? Notice though, they celebrated this event, even with the knowledge of how many people whom died, even with all the destruction. To celebrate something like this, the author must have been very proud of what happened and filled with pride that these people had survived through the ‘terror and tragedy’ of the Blitz.
Both sources B and C are photographs taken during the war. Each shows conflicting expressions to the war, yet the similar sense of ‘brokenness’. Each gives us valuable information on the effects of the Blitz.
Source B It is very obvious to notice that there is a very negative tone to it. It pictures bodies of victims from a bomb lying on the floor and the grim sense of those four placing the bodies in bags as if they were too scared from the bomb to be identified. One sad thing is that we also know that this was a school, ‘Catford Girls’ School’ which had been hit by a bomb, meaning the sacked bodies are those of little girls. We also know that this source was censored from public view by the government, could this mean that the government was controlling the media? Meaning that this photo is very a very reliable source in showing what really happened. Source B is useful in showing that everyone was affected, and bombs targeted everywhere and everyone.
Source C In complete contrast to Source B the photo has a very positive tone to it. Here we learn that even in the aftermath of a bombing people were all happy and they showed unity. But, of course with pictures like this it is pretty obvious that this photo was staged.
Both sources are very useful in helping us understand how it was like in Britain during the Blitz. From source B we know that even the most innocent were attacked and from source C we have proven that the government had a major role in what the media published. Though sources B and C are conflicting, they both agree on one thing the government was controlling the media.
Sources D. Picturing the aftermath of a bombing, the picture has a caption ‘sorting personal property’. Goods lay strewn on the floor and people are wondering on streets as if bewildered by the destruction. This photo was censored at first, but published later on.
Sources D and B. Both sources have negative tone and both show the aftermath of a bombing. But in some ways they conflict each other. In source B, the bombing had indeed saddened the four who were captured sacking the bodies; yet in source D two men in the foreground seem to be angry at ‘whose property’. B shows the four working together as a group, showing a great sense of unity and acceptance of the attack, but in D the two are not together and are separated by the shouting and anger of the attack. Both sources B and D were censored, implying the same evidence, shown in question , that the government controlled the media. But unlike source B, D was later published. Both sources B and D support each other that all buildings were targeted.
Sources D and C. From these two pictures there is definitely a sense of confliction. Source C is a very positive one whilst D is very negative. C shows a group of happy smiling people and D shows the total opposite. Though C may be a staged photograph it still does show the same sense of unity that source D seems to not have. Yet similarly each had been published, eventually. Also, the mess in the background of source C also seems to be that of ‘personal property’, very much like what had been strewn all over the ground in source D.
All sources do support each other in very subtle ways. From the knowledge that Source D was at first censored, we can relate that to Source B and wonder the same question was it thought by the government that the impact that these pictures would have on the people be too great? Source D also supports C in showing what were targeted (homes) and the fact people still worried about what was theirs. Back to the censoring, if we notice the dates of which each photo was published (if it ever was) we notice that source D was released and taken earlier then source B, could this have meant what was shown in D had a very terrible effect to its publishing that source B just had to be censored?
Each of these sources does support each other in separate ways, but each gives more information the other had left out.
Source E An extract from a secret report made to the government by the ministry of information, this explains what happens during an air raid. Mentioning that when sirens signal bombing, civilians would run away or try to retreat from the city.
Source F An extract from a diary of a man with close ties with the government. It mentions civilians from the ‘east end’ of London (the more industrial area) were all bitter, even to the point of booing the King and Queen. Similar to E, it is centred on the East end civilians.
Source G Also an extract from a book (Don’t you Know There’s A War on?) it was published in 1888 talking all about the ‘trekking’ of civilians. Trekking, meaning a form of retreat from bombing was generally a ‘un-moral’ thing to do in the government’s view. The extract also mentions that these ‘trekkers’ always came back to work straight after the bombing was over.
Each of these sources focuses on a main group of people in London, those from the East end. These people were the one’s who worked in factories producing planes, tanks, etc. All of what was needed to aid the war. It was these people that the government needed to keep happy, otherwise the war, which was already very one sided (America only joined after 1941), would have been lost.
From sources E and G, we can assume that the morale of the people was waning from each bombing as Londoners would retreat to the countryside. It was this that the government had feared, ‘trekking’ was seen as a retreat or a way of showing fear of the enemy. This fear would be seen as sign that Britain was weak. Source F showed the people were not happy with their present situation.
The government had to keep the public happy as they were the main workforce for producing and keeping national pride. It was these people that were needed in the front line soldiers, doctors / nurses and of course they were needed to keep order at home. During the 1940’s Britain was alone at war, France had just fallen and not to mention the looming danger of the Japanese attacking British colonies of the East. Without the people’s support losing would have been inevitable.
“The impression that the British faced the Blitz with courage and unity is a myth”
From each of the sources given, the statement above seems to have its limits to how far it could be used. Yes, in sources A and B they do mention or show unity, but were they really?
Source A An extract definitely supporting the statement, it states; “Out of terror and tragedy came courage and an unshakeable determination.” But we have to ponder its reliability in reporting this; after all, this extract is from a book published to celebrate the war.
Source B Again, this picture supports the statement by showing that these people worked as a group in doing their job and they have the courage to do this type of work. But it is a wonder, no matter how good the morals were shown in this picture was, why this photo was censored from public view.
Source C Though it is staged, the picture shows one thing, the unity of all these peoples photographed together.
Source D In this picture it shows the obvious sense of disarray as the two men in the foreground argue over whose property is whose. Implying that during the bombing that these two must have been out, maybe hiding, courage is not shown.
Source E Talking about the panicking population of London, this extract does not support the statement. It mentions civilians would flee from the city at every attack, causing some sense of confusion.
Source F Similar to source D, people were not happy at what had happened to them. The bombings greatly demoralized the people, making them bitter and causing them to separate.
Source G Very much like E, this source describes ‘trekking’ of civilians into the country. As if they were retreating, this did not show courage, but shows the total opposite. Unity is not something to be found here, as retreating, they run away from a community to go on their own. Yet there is a good side. The people would return to go back to work.
From the textbook (The Second World War by Neil Demarco) we are given further facts to prove that during the Blitz, morale of civilians faltered, as proof, there were more strikes during that time then any other in history and looting had been at an all time high.
Overall, it has come to my attention that during this time community morale and unity was falling every time a bombing had devastated the city. I agree with the statement. From what I have researched on, and investigated into, it is obvious that comments supporting the statement have over weighed those that don’t.
Britain, we must not forget, was all alone in the war. What ever trace of hope, unity, or even courage may have been way exaggerated.
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