This article explores whether, how, and what young men in interwar Britain heard about the Great War from its veterans.
This article explores whether, how, and what young men in interwar Britain heard about the Great War from its veterans. Oral histories are used to enable the first detailed examination of the hitherto largely unexplored topic of the intergenerational transmission of representations of the Great War in interwar Britain. It shows that although many veterans were reticent about their war experiences, young men heard about Great War experiences from veterans more frequently than has previously been acknowledged. What they heard was heterogeneous, like representations in popular culture, but tended to emphasize positive and rewarding elements of wartime service rather than disillusion. While veterans’ narratives could be fleeting and ephemeral, this examination of their character shows they should be considered an important component of the wider body of representations of the Great War in interwar popular culture through which young men might ‘know’ about the Great War. As well as examining what young men heard, consideration is given to alternative ways that young men learned about familial service, and to what triggered veterans’ narratives and why some remained silent. Reasons for the trope of the silent veteran are suggested, and its strength in contemporary popular memory is illustrated in discussion of the ‘discomposure’ it could cause some interviewees.
Morley, J. (2018). Dad ‘never said much’ but… Young Men and Great War Veterans in Day-to-Day-Life in Interwar Britain, Twentieth Century British History, Vol: 29 (9). p.199-224.