Fighting The People’s War: Extraordinary Hopes and Extraordinary Men

Throughout the spring semester and while in London, we focused on how the English saw World War Two as the “People’s War.” In this mentality, every person was a part of the war effort and contributed to it in some way. This was evident in all of the historical sites that we visited while exploring the British capital. In the Churchill War Rooms we saw the feelings of the people embodied in one extraordinary man. Though Churchill would probably not be considered one of the common people based on his parentage and life experiences, he truly prided himself on taking the mood of the people and being a source of inspiration. The museum at the War Rooms had an emphasis on why Churchill was a great leader and great Englishman and how he was the one who got the rest of the people through the tumultuous times of war. There were interactive displays entitled, “Why Churchill Was a Great Leader” where historians discussed why Churchill was able to be successful and a well-loved. I felt that these were very telling of the way that Churchill was thought of then and remembered now.

The principle of the “People’s War” was the most obvious at Bletchley Park. What amazed me at Bletchley was the dedication of those who worked there before they even knew what they were doing. All they knew was that they were being brought in for a government job that would be helpful to the war effort and they stepped up to do it. It was interesting to see how this huge operation was made possible through the work of so many extraordinary yet ordinary citizens.

The Imperial War Museum combined many of the principles demonstrated at the War Rooms and at Bletchley. An exhibit that stuck out to me was a poster of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and also the picture of Hitler that hung in his field office. The caption explained that the British people were enamored with Montgomery and would hang the poster outside of the cinema when they were playing war footage. So while the war was truly an effort of all the people we can still see how their hopes and inspiration often laid in a few extraordinary men.

Overall my experience in England showed me that World War Two is still remembered as the “People’s War.” While there were similar feelings about the war in the US, I have never gotten the feeling of collective sacrifice here that I did while visiting the sites in London. The war was personal in England. They were being berated with bombs and losing their homes family members in such a different way than the Americans.  It was very eye-opening to see how the effort of the people both at home and abroad made such a difference in the outcome of the war for the people of Great Britain.

Churchill’s military uniform

The bikes lined up at Bletchley Park, no one lived on site so thousands of people had to travel to and from the Park at all hours of the day and night.

The front of the Imperial War Museum

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