Heroism, Shame & Morality
: National Identity and the British Response to Poison Gas in the First World War (1915-1918)

  • Joseph Mellodew

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The use of poison gas, 1915-1918, is an element of the First World War that has been discussed for its barbarity, suffering and impact on soldier’s lives. However, research on the topic arguably neglects a key area of association between the use of gas and British national identity. This thesis will explore this link, and analyse the ways in which Britishness changed in response to poison gas, and the influence this weapon had on shaping national identity. Once the British had, themselves, used gas in September 1915, justifications for using a weapon with such heavy emotional attachment were required. It will be argued that the British presented gas as a weapon that only their men suffered and endured, and this perception was reinforced through artwork and poetry. Furthermore, as is revealed in soldier personal testimony, a hatred over the use of gas appears evident amongst many British soldiers, who found that both enduring and deploying gas were a heavy burden. They wished to remain patriotic, but were participating in a method of war they took issue with. Finally, the moral mission of Britain will be explored, or rather the attempt to remain and appear moral, in a war that was anything but. The British arguably understood their actions and purpose in the First World War to be founded in ‘good’ morals, but their use of gas challenged this. The British experience of the gas war, 1915-1918, was therefore arguably based heavily in maintaining appearances, and attempting to protect national identity from being tainted.
Date of Award14 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorChristine Hallett (Main Supervisor)

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