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  • Men in Reserve: British Civilian Masculinities in the Second World War by Juliette Pattinson, Arthur McIvor, and Linsey Robb
  • Wanda Ellen Wakefield
Pattinson, Juliette, Arthur McIvor, and Linsey Robb. Men in Reserve: British Civilian Masculinities in the Second World War. Cultural History of Modern War series. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017. Pp. xiii–384. Illustrations, charts, index, and bibliography. £80, hb. £90, eb.

In Men in Reserve, Juliette Pattinson, Arthur McIvor, and Linsey Robb explore the wartime experience of British young men in "reserved" occupations, who were not allowed to serve in the Armed Forces during World War II. Using new interviews of men in their eighties and nineties, along with older memoirs and oral histories, they examine the extent to which men assigned to civilian jobs felt a loss of masculinity due to their inability to fight. Acknowledging the valorization of men in the armed forces, both during the war and after, the authors establish a new narrative that emphasizes alternative masculinities embraced by the "reserved" in which they saw themselves as important cogs in the war machine. They demonstrate their interviewees' beliefs that they, too, served, by doing hard, dirty work, making good wages, and supporting their families during the crisis. This emphasis on "hard" work distinguished these men from their female counterparts who were assumed [End Page 269] to do the physically less-taxing work necessary at the shipyards, mines, and engineering firms that were building the means for military success.

The authors make a significant contribution to the study of the homefront during war by debunking the common myth, developed in literature and the movies, that wartime Great Britain was denuded of young men and that factories were operated primarily by women. The authors also make it clear that, in many ways, life on the homefront remained essentially unchanged. Despite poverty and bombing campaigns, young men in reserve enjoyed sports and spending time with their mates.

As Pattinson and her coauthors explain, despite the Scottish and English Football Associations' decision to suspend play immediately after the outbreak of war, they quickly changed their minds so that soccer remained a part of the sporting scene throughout the conflict. To be sure, many of the best players ended up in service, but the associations were able to field credible teams nonetheless, using part-time and amateur footballers. Although the government viewed sport as essential to good civilian morale, some sports, such as boxing and horse and dog racing, were de-emphasized for the duration, but government and civilian support for football remained strong. While the government initially hoped to limit the number of fans at matches, an international friendly game between Scotland and England drew a crowd of 78,000. Large numbers of fans also attended interservice games put on by members of the armed forces. Reflecting the importance of sport, "reserved" young men often explained that they were absent from work to attend football games and similar entertainments. Finally, as we might expect, many men on the reserved list of jobs played sport themselves in their leisure time on an informal basis.

While Pattinson and her colleagues briefly discuss the role of sport during World War II, the bulk of their analysis concerns the changing hierarchy of masculinities during wartime, with the fighter pilot standing at the top as a perfect example of bravery, commitment, and skill. Even in civilian employment, a hierarchy based on the assumption that anyone closer to the front is stronger and more masculine than men "behind lines" grew that recognized men in the mercantile marine and in the firefighting services as being especially courageous. Physicians and others whose occupations were critical to the needs of the homefront were also recognized for their unique contributions to the war effort. However, as Pattinson, McIvor, and Robb recognize, no matter what their contributions, workers in reserved occupations tended to be ignored during the war and fell from the public consciousness afterward. Thus, they point out that World War II monuments recognizing the accomplishments of so many never speak to the work done in the factories and shipyards and on the farms. Nor is there public acknowledgment of the extreme danger faced by men...


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pp. 269-270
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