Mixing it:Diversity in Second World War Britain

Project: Research

Project Details


The ethnic and national diversity of the population in Britain during the Second World War was unprecedented, but has played little part in public memories of war. The Mixing It project will produce the first cultural and social history of wartime diversity: a study by the Research Fellow (RF) which will:

- trace the rich transnational histories and encounters involved in unprecedented movements of people to Britain - chiefly from empire, Europe and America

- look at the role of ethnicity, language, gender and sexuality in shaping official and popular responses to different groups

- consider the experiences of those arriving, during the war and in its aftermath, their contributions to the Allied war effort and to British wartime culture and why these have often been forgotten

- examine portrayals of a transnational community of allies in the British media

- assess the significance of the Second World War in the making of multiethnic, multinational Britain

The project will also produce:

- a jointly-written journal article through an international collaboration between the RF and Thomas Hajkowski (USA) on BBC wartime programmes about Europeans continuing the fight from Britain.

- a jointly-written paper on Romanies in wartime Britain through a collaboration between the RF and Jodie Matthews (Huddersfield University).

The project's findings will benefit scholars and students working in twentieth-century British history, migration studies and media studies.

Research for the monograph will feed into a small exhibition produced through a partnership between the University of Huddersfield and Imperial War Museum (IWM) North. It will open for 6 months in September 2015 - the seventieth anniversary of the end of the war - and demonstrate the multinational military effort organised from Britain, focusing on people of diverse nationalities and ethnicities from empire and Europe who served with or alongside the British. It will pay particular attention to troops and airmen stationed in Lancashire and Yorkshire and what happened to them when the war was over. There are various compelling stories here. For example, Austrian and German Jews who came to Britain as refugees and subsequently served in the British army re-entered Germany as victors in 1945 and played an important role in the occupation of Germany. They were recruited to the Intelligence and Interpreters Corps where their work included interrogations and interpreting for trials of Nazi war criminals. Czech airmen who had served in the RAF received a hero's welcome when they first returned to Prague in 1946 but, after the Communist Putsch of 1948, were arrested and imprisoned as 'Western aviators'. The exhibition and its associated visitors' programme of talks, screenings and performances will draw attention to neglected histories and groups who are rarely commemorated.

One aim of the exhibition is to look at wartime diversity in the comparatively neglected context of the North of England. The project will employ a Research Assistant (RA) on a 0.5 post for one year who will undertake 15-20 interviews with people whose family histories are connected with the project - both the wartime generation and their descendants. Where respondents consent, these interviews will go into the IWM sound archive and contribute to the exhibition. The RA will also use local and regional newspapers to investigate the impact of wartime diversity on local communities. Talks to local history societies, drawing on the interviews and newspaper research, will look at connections between local histories and the wider history of wartime diversity.

A Workshop in the later stages of the project will bring scholars and museum professionals together to discuss how to bring questions of diversity into mainstream academic and museum work on Second World War Britain to produce more inclusive history and commemoration
Effective start/end date1/10/1431/03/16


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