World War II remembrance 
in the UK

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Classe(s) : Tle ES - Tle L - Tle S | Thème(s) : History and remembrance
Corpus Corpus 1
World War II remembrance
in the UK




Great Britain won World War II. Therefore, official remembrance celebrated actors in the War. Historians had to collect sources to create a rounded* and more objective version of WW II history, sometimes different from the British collective memory. How do historians rescue from oblivion certain aspects of the war?

1 Historians and the heroic memories of WW II

A The Battle of Britain (July-September 1940)

 In July 1940, the German Air Force aimed to destroy the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the British aircraft industry to take control of the Channel and southern England. The Battle of Britain was fought entirely in the air.

 The myth of the Battle of Britain came from Winston Churchill’s speech called “The Few”. He explained that 2,500 young British officer pilots flying Spitfires gained the victory.

quotation “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” W. Churchill, 1940

 However, since 1958, the British historians Duncan Grinnell-Milne and Stephen Roskill have proved that the RAF couldn’t win alone: the air and maritime dimensions were necessary to thwart* the invasion of England.

B The myth of the Blitz spirit (September 1940-June 1941)

 From September 1940 to June 1941, Nazis continued to pound* British cities. In total, 43,000 civilians died and more than 70,000 were injured. Every day brought more buildings reduced to rubble. However, people went about their daily lives creating the myth of the Blitz.

 Despite this fortitude*, the British historian Juliet Gardiner (The Blitz: The British under Attack, 2010) explained that people exploited the crisis for their own gain, selling places in the Tube (as a shelter) to sleep at night. Strikes increased because working-class people suffered the most in the Blitz. They lived near their work place, factories or docks, which where the first targets of the German bombers.

 British politicians have frequently reached for the memory of wartime. After the bombing attacks of July 7th, 2005 in London, politicians often invoked the capital’s quiet demeanour*. In his first statement about the terrorist attack, Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute* to “the stoicism and resilience of the people of London”.

2 A forgotten history

A Jewish immigration during WW II

 The historical investigation of Jewish immigration into Britain began with the opening of government archives in the 1970s.

 The first historical book was Island Refuge, written in 1973 by Allan James Sherman. It concluded that Britain had been lenient* in permitting entry to as many refugees as it did. But a more recent book, Whitehall and the Jews, 1933-1948, published in 2000 by Louise London, emphasizes the government’s reluctance* to admit Jewish refugees during the war.

B The Channel Islands

 Hitler considered the Channel Islands – i.e. Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, etc. – a valuable landing stage for the invasion of France. Winston Churchill decided to leave them undefended. On July 1st, 1940, a detachment of German troops arrived on Guernsey.

Four concentration camps were built on Alderney – the only ones on British territory. The atrocities perpetrated on the inmates* (Jews, Poles, Spaniards and Russians) have been known since 1997 but the chief of these camps, Max List, has never stood trial.

  • rounded = complet
  • fortitude = le courage
  • a demeanour = une attitude
  • lenient = indulgent, clément
  • reluctance = la réticence
  • an inmate = un détenu
  • to thwart = repousser
  • to pound = pilonner
  • to pay tribute = rendre hommage


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