Browned Off and Bloody Minded

Browned Off and Bloody Minded

Not me: a new book by Alan Allport from Yale University Press: Browned-Off and Bloody Minded: the British soldier goes to war 1939-1945:

More than three-and-a-half million men served in the British Army during the Second World War, the vast majority of them civilians who had never expected to become soldiers and had little idea what military life, with all its strange rituals, discomforts, and dangers, was going to be like. Alan Allport’s rich and luminous social history examines the experience of the greatest and most terrible war in history from the perspective of these ordinary, extraordinary men, who were plucked from their peacetime families and workplaces and sent to fight for King and Country. Allport chronicles the huge diversity of their wartime trajectories, tracing how soldiers responded to and were shaped by their years with the British Army, and how that army, however reluctantly, had to accommodate itself to them. Touching on issues of class, sex, crime, trauma, and national identity, through a colorful multitude of fresh individual perspectives, the book provides an enlightening, deeply moving perspective on how a generation of very modern-minded young men responded to the challenges of a brutal and disorienting conflict.

Here is the Contents List:



Colonel Lawrence and Colonel Blimp

Gentlemen and Old Sweats

Strange Defeat


Army of Shopkeepers

Britain Blancoes while Russia Bleeds

Get some service in


Into the Blue

Come to Sunny Italy

Fighting Bloody Nature

Second Front


Teeth and Tail

The Grammar of War

Categories of Courage


Them and Us

“What a colossal waste of time war is”

Here is a video preview:

There’s also a perceptive review by Victoria Harris here:

Allport’s latest work is far more than a revolutionary narrative of the (British) war effort. It is a window into the psyche of Britain – male Britain, it has to be said – and into the clashes between the classes, generations and masculinities that comprised it and attempted to defend their particular version of it. The British patrician class’ aversion to training the lower classes as officers, Winston Churchill’s disparaging view of the enlisted generation as weak and effeminate, tired soldiers with 300 days of continuous battle under their belts deserting en masse before D-Day; all of this is a “shock to us today”, we who have been fed a near-exclusive diet of a meritocracy fighting for democracy, backed by a prime minister confident in the toughness of this “greatest generation”. But the muddy, frustrated, sometimes downright incompetent reality Allport presents us with is far more powerful, revealing as it does how a diverse, independent-minded group of men fought, whether in a trench or at a depot or from behind a desk, despite immense fear or through tears, not from a nebulous sense of righteousness but out of a deeply human love for the man beside them.

If there is a criticism to be made of Browned Off and Bloody-Minded, it is how male and front line orientated this story remains…

I’m interested in approaches like Alan’s not least because they intersect with what I’ve tried to do in ‘The Natures of War’ (DOWNLOADS tab).  I’ve read endless first-hand accounts written by those who served on the Western Front in the First World War – and will be reading even more for my current work on casualty evacuation – but there seems to have been less interest in recovering the experiences of soldiers in the Second World War.  Alan’s work has involved excavating the archives in the Imperial War Museum, where I will be heading soon.  This time I will be switching gears to explore the lifeworlds of those who fought in the deserts of North Africa (‘the Blue’ of Part Three above).  Again, I made some headway on this in ‘The Natures of War’  – here too Part Three is of exceptional interest for me – but now I need to know much more about casualty evacuation.

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