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‘When Nothing Happened’: History, Historians and the Mundane

Abstract: This article explores the way perceptions of the past are distorted by the popular taste for the unusual, the exciting or the bizarre. As a result, history seems to be characterised by catastrophe, or, at the very least, by constant dramatic change. Historians have played to this popular taste by concentrating on the unusual. The past has been distorted further by the popularity of historical documentaries: unscrupulous producers often place greater emphasis upon the dramatic quality of a program than on its historical accuracy. As a result of these distortions, we fail to appreciate the importance of mundane events and the tremendous influence that stability and tradition have in the shaping of our lives.

A few years ago, a friend in publishing thought of a new idea for a history series called ‘The Year Nothing Happened.’ Authors would pick a year free of wars, revolutions, or depressions, and look at ordinary people–the food they ate, the books they read, the houses they built. The idea, of course, was to give the reader a feel for the mundane nature of human existence and, in the process, demonstrate how important the commonplace is in shaping people’s lives.

Don’t bother looking for these books on Amazon; they were never written. My friend’s boss killed the proposal. You can imagine the discussion:

‘What? Books about ordinary people doing everyday things?’
‘Well … yes.’
‘But that’s boring.’
‘I know, that’s the point.’
‘But that’s crazy, we’re in the business of selling books.’
‘But it’s the way life really was. It’s the truth. Surely it deserves to be written.’
‘Don’t be stupid. And don’t go all noble on me by mentioning the truth. Get me books about kings and queens, preferably at war with each other.’
‘Yes, sir.’

My friend’s idea illustrates the difference between history and the past. The past is what actually happened–-including the way people lived their often mundane lives. History, on the other hand, focuses on the extraordinary–the often bizarre events which disturb normality. Great events are like fireworks displays on the 4th of July–loud, colorful, and exciting, but very brief disturbances to the quiet calm that surrounds us. Visions of the past are distorted because bizarre events are given disproportionate attention. Since history is one of the building blocks of personal and national identity, we end up with a warped image of ourselves.

We live on a high-octane view of yesterday. For example, we’ve been led to believe that the Wild West was dominated by gunslingers who left a trail of bodies in their wake. In truth, Billy the Kid and Jesse James were anomalies. Cowboys were peaceful chaps and few pioneers had guns. Americans want to believe otherwise because they want the past to be exciting. The gun-toting cowboy also fits in well with America’s image of itself and thus reinforces that image: he’s an independent, self-willed type who took fate by the scruff of the neck and carved out a life for himself on the rough frontier. It is unsettling to believe that the West was settled by bankers, accountants, land speculators and lawyers who spent more time behind a desk than astride a horse. In a more practical sense, the belief that the frontier was rough leads naturally to an assumption that life remains rough today and that, in order to survive, cowboy qualities remain essential. America’s obsession with guns (and the belief that they are essential to survival) is a direct manifestation of this cowboy myth.1

The cowboy myth also feeds a hunger for vicarious violence. No one likes violence close at hand, but most people have a fascination for it when it happens to others. It’s exciting. This explains why so many films have violence as a central theme; if they were an accurate portrayal of real life, there would not be much hope for mankind. This fascination with violence encourages a warped view of the world, one encouraged by the media’s obsession with the subject. News broadcasts invariably begin with stories of one individual killing another or one group carrying out unspeakable crimes upon another. We seem to forget that, even in the most violent cultures, actual violence is quite rare. Take Northern Ireland. Thanks to the media, the accepted image is one of constant gunfire and exploding bombs. Few people realise that, even at the height of the Troubles, Belfast was a reasonably peaceful city with a surprisingly low crime rate.

I should backtrack here and qualify my condemnation of the media. It may be a demon, but it is one created by its consumers. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it reflects the proclivities and fascinations of a society, though perhaps in grossly exaggerated form. It might rage out of control but that is because society has endowed it with the power to do so. The media shows little interest in the mundane for the very understandable reason that the public craves action. The media uses its power to create a caricatured view of the present and the past, thus distorting perception of the world outside.

These distortions are evident in common perceptions of war. Make no mistake: wars are horrible. But if they were as horrible as individuals tend to assume, or as Hollywood tends to portray, then they would not last as long as they do – all the available soldiers would be annihilated within a matter of weeks. Wars last long because most soldiers do not actually fight.

During the First World War the soldiers’ greatest enemy was boredom. They stood for days on end in miserable trenches while nothing happened. It is no wonder, then, that many of them craved a fight, if only to get the sense that they were doing something and to assert their individual power over the mind-numbing monotony. Trench raids, which were ostensibly for the purpose of collecting intelligence from the enemy, were in fact mainly designed to keep the minds of soldiers sharp by giving them something exciting to do – in other words, to combat boredom.2

The war was horrible, but it was not unremitting horror. Offensives lasted months, but fighting was not constant. On the Western Front, the great offensives took place along relatively short stretches of the line. While some soldiers endured a terrible struggle on the Somme, others simultaneously experienced a quiet time in Picardy or Flanders. Charles Carrington, who is generally agreed to have had a tough war, analyzed how he spent 1916:

I find that …I spent 65 days in front line trenches, and 36 more in supporting positions close at hand. …In addition, 120 days were spent in reserve positions near enough to the line to march up for the day when work or fighting demanded, and 73 days were spent out in rest … 10 days were spent in Hospital … 17 days … on leave. … The 101 days under fire contain twelve ‘tours’ in the trenches varying in length from one to thirteen days. The battalion made sixteen in all during the year. We were in action four times during my … tours in the trenches. Once I took part in a direct attack, twice in bombing actions, and once we held the front line from which other troops advanced. I also took part in an unsuccessful trench raid.3

Since Carrington’s experience was pretty typical, it is safe to say that the average British soldier spent more time in a French estaminet eating eggs and chips than actually fighting the Germans. On the Eastern Front, soldiers spent the majority of their war manoeuvring for battle (or trying to find the enemy). Actual battles were short. In Salonika over 200,000 men waited nearly the entire war for commanders and politicians to decide how and where they were to be deployed. Allied troops landed on Gallipoli on 25 April, fought ferociously for a few days, after which the battlefront settled into stalemate. The monotony was finally broken the following December when the invasion force was withdrawn. Though the fighting was short and the stalemate long, subsequent perceptions of Gallipoli are of horror, not boredom.4

Recent wars are hardly different. The average Viet Cong guerrilla spent only a few days out of every month actually fighting. The rest of the time was spent in what was called ‘armed propaganda’ which in truth meant proselytyzing the local population, all in the interests of spreading the revolution. Tasks as mundane as building latrines and planting crops served the revolution. On the American side, by even the most generous calculation, only 15 men out of every 100 were actually engaged in combat. Most men were safely ensconced in rear echelon base camps where their task was to supply the combat machine in the hinterlands, or supply those who did the supplying, or supply those who supplied those who did the supplying. (You get the picture.) When the Americans left, they abandoned 71 swimming pools, 90 service clubs, 159 basketball courts, 30 tennis courts, 55 softball diamonds, 85 volleyball pitches, 337 libraries and 2 bowling alleys, all of which had to be staffed, during the war, by ‘soldiers’ who did no fighting.5

Among those assigned to combat, contact with the enemy was rare. Troops were sent on search and destroy missions, but these consisted of much more search than destroy. Fewer than five percent of patrols found the enemy and fewer still resulted in a firefight. Yet, somehow, every night, the evening news presented film of soldiers in action, thus giving the impression that every soldier was fighting constantly.

The past is, in other words, extremely mundane. We might even call it boring. Each human being experiences dramatic events in his or her everyday life–mini-crises that make the heart race. But, most of the time, these crises are too particularised to receive much attention outside that individual’s closed circle and therefore do not make it into the history books. No one really cares, for instance, that Henry McToople nearly hit a bicyclist at an intersection in Topeka in 1963, even though the incident was deeply unsettling to both Harry and the bicyclist at the time.

History is fascinating precisely because it concentrates on the extraordinary–weird events or larger than life individuals. Books are populated with scoundrels, megalomaniacs, psychopaths, manipulators and sadists–and those are just the politicians. We read very seldom of genuinely good people, for two reasons. Firstly, good people don’t usually make it very far, except when their goodness is itself extraordinary, as was the case with Gandhi. Secondly, goodness simply isn’t interesting, except to the congenitally sentimental.

Social historians will howl in protest that they indeed focus on the ordinary. The discipline, which has flourished since the late 1960s, supposedly seeks to uncover those hidden from history. Some very noble, illuminating research has been produced, but all too often historians who set out to study the ordinary somehow settle on the extraordinary. There are simple explanations for this. Even the most earnest social historian has a low tolerance for boredom. Ordinary people in 19th century Britain might have spent a lot of time doing the laundry, but who wants to research a book about washing clothes, much less read one? How much more fascinating it would be to research gambling, even if few people actually gambled. No wonder, then, that we have lots of books about the fringe activities in which a few workers engaged, and very little about what most people actually did.

Another reason why ‘real’ history is not written has to do with evidence. Suppose we have a sincere historian who wants to write about what life was really like for the working class in 19th century Britain. All historians need evidence, but where is the evidence to be found? True, there is census data and government reports, but this kind of material does not give much texture to history. Unfortunately, richer repositories of evidence exist, but too often they are rich precisely because they deal with the unusual. Police reports provide great detail, but about whom? Criminals are fascinating, but not typical. It is perhaps no wonder that books on 19th century crime abound, even though crime itself was not a huge problem. In contrast, we wait in vain for the definitive book about dishwashing.

The historian might, of course, collect letters and memoirs to get a feel for what life in the 19th century was like. But how representative is this evidence? Illiteracy was high and, even among those who could read and write, letter writing was rare because there was no real reason to correspond in this fashion since those of importance to one’s life usually lived just a few blocks away. Thus, those letters that do exist are unrepresentative because they were written by people who were themselves extraordinary. The fact that they have survived renders them even more special, unusual and untrustworthy. In other words, is the coal miner who somehow managed to leave behind an eloquent testimony of his life in any sense typical? Can his description of his life be taken as an accurate account of the way other miners lived? Probably not.

Or, to return to the First World War, are the famous poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen reliable witnesses of the war? Their poetry undoubtedly provides a hauntingly evocative picture of the trenches. But they all came from privileged backgrounds, went to elite private schools and had high expectations of life. No wonder the trenches seemed horrific to them. But are they spokesmen for their men, the great majority of whom lived pre-war lives of drudgery, ill health, and dire poverty? We judge life’s circumstances by the extent to which they deviate from our expectations. For Sassoon the deviation was great, for the ordinary soldier it was not. For the latter the Army meant strong boots, a good set of clothes, three meals a day and regular medical care.

The problem of evidence is huge. We tend to preserve that which seems to be important, and we equate importance with uniqueness. So, even if the historian did want to study the mundane, he might find it hard to do so. Like the physicist in search of the electron, he is certain of its existence but can’t actually see it. But there is a solution to this dilemma. While it might be difficult to find evidence about a particular individual at a particular time, we can write the history of those deemed typical. Their story is recoverable, if only by picking up a piece of evidence here, and another from over there, and in the process building up a composite picture of what life was like for ordinary folk. The result would be the history of Everyman (or Everywoman)—by no means an accurate portrayal of one person’s existence, but a pretty true to life reconstruction of the way the multitude fared.

The Importance of Important Events

But who cares about the typical? Many historians would argue that the unusual is by definition important; therefore it is only right that we should devote disproportionate attention to extraordinary events. But is that true, or is it just a feeble attempt to justify an obsession? Let us look again at war, which Lenin once called ‘the locomotive of history.’ Historians used to put a great deal of store in what Lenin said, but now we’re not so sure. (He was, after all, the same guy who thought communism a good idea.)

Historians in the 1960s, starting from the Lenin premise, developed a whole school of thought devoted to the assumption that war is a great engine of social change. They armed themselves with a set of principles (really just theories plucked from the sky) that explained how wars, by taking people out of their accustomed circumstances and thrusting them into big jobs of national importance (a journey from the mundane to the sublime), served to ‘liberate’ marginalized groups—in particular women and the working class.

But that was a theory well suited to the sixties, the decade of hope and progress. Nowadays, those ideas seem as outdated as flared trousers and love beads. Granted, society has changed, but the change has not been as drastic or profound as the ‘war and society’ school believed. Historians like Stansilav Andreski and Arthur Marwick failed to give due respect to the power of tradition and the dead weight of habit. They failed to notice that, for most people, war is a dramatic event of limited duration. Granted, there were a few people, like Vera Brittain, author of the egocentric Testament of Youth, who were deeply affected by the war and whose lives were changed irretrievably. But they weren’t representative. The turbulence of wartime existed only in Brittain’s mind and in the minds of the unrepresentative, overly sensitive elites to whom far too much attention has been devoted. The real world was much more prosaic and boringly stable. War was tragic, in some cases catastrophic. But for most people it was an extraordinary event of limited duration, which, as much as it brought change, also inspired a desire to reconstruct according to cherished, familiar patterns. It is well to remember that, in every culture, wars are usually fought to preserve the status quo, not to change it. The re-establishment of old patterns is considered fitting testimony to the dead.

Recently, historians have begun to respect the power of tradition and are therefore much more cautious when writing about social change. Unfortunately, this change of heart has not been copied by those who produce historical documentaries—for understandable reasons. Dramatic change makes great television. The public loves to watch programs about heroes, villains, catastrophes and conquests. As a result, though academic history admittedly distorts, television history is like one great carnival mirror. Those who get their history from television (and that includes most people) are taken on a roller coaster ride through the past. It is no wonder that myths develop.6 About a year ago, a producer sought my help on a documentary to be called ‘Love, Sex and War.’ She started from the premise that the sexual revolution usually associated with the 1960s actually occurred a generation before, when millions of women (particularly those who joined the services) shed inhibitions (and clothes) during World War II. Lusty soldiers roamed the streets in search of sexual distraction and (according to the misguided producer), an understanding government made prostitution a reserved occupation.7 I’m afraid I was forced to throw cold water on these assumptions. My own research has revealed that the vast majority of women remained chaste. Joy Harwood, who served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, expressed a typical opinion:

Most of the men we met, young and fit for military service, would at some stage pose the question, ‘Do you?’, but usually they were willing to accept ‘No’ for an answer … Fear of The Consequences meant for most of us that we carried our virtue around like albatrosses, longing to shift the burden if only we could be sure it were safe to do so, hovering in a half light of indecision. …

As far as I was concerned, passion was bound in any case to fight a losing battle in the face of the extreme discomfort of it all; the back seat of a car was the wrong shape, a cornfield prickly and alive with small black insects, the weather always too hot or too cold, and the boy friend too hasty or too casual. Then again, we had to be back in billets by midnight, or else we had to report for duty just as the big film was coming on, and one way and another it was surprising there was any romance in our lives at all.8

Virtually all of the women I interviewed described an atmosphere of upright moral behaviour and strict discipline in which the opportunities for adventure were rare. They may have been naive, but they could not have been blind. One suspects, therefore, that this picture of restraint is closer to the truth than the licentiousness preferred by gossipmongers at the time and television producers since. As the Markham Committee–a government body commissioned to look into the ‘problem’ of licentiousness–concluded: ‘virtue has no gossip value’.9

The sense of restraint is yet another rebuttal of those who believe that war, that ‘great locomotive’, brought profound social dislocation. These women found war tragic, exciting, romantic, but also temporary. While adventures proved tempting, they understood that when peace came traditional morality would be revived and that the penalties for a momentary lapse of virtue might be a lifetime of woe.

Undeterred, the producer pressed for names of lascivious women whom she might interview. When I tried again to correct her misconceptions, she politely terminated the conversation and never called back. Needless to say, the documentary went ahead. A sufficient number of women were found to give the impression that the war was one continuous orgy. The critics subsequently expressed delight at the program’s gritty portrayal of the ‘real’ war.

Though the documentary was a distortion, the producer was faced with a real dilemma. It is difficult to make a film about something that did not happen, in this case women who did not shed their inhibitions. But that merely reveals the common problem of starting from the assumption that the past was exciting and that the mundane is therefore insignificant. By a queer process of logic, the unusual becomes customary and those who ‘did nothing’ appear strange. Yet all around there are people today doing nothing in the sense of refusing to defy convention and carrying on with accepted routine. No one seems to wonder: if the past was so exciting, why is the present is so dull? I recall seeing a brilliant cartoon in a magazine of a housewife doing the dishes and listening to the radio. The announcer on the radio asks: ‘do you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot?’ In her mind, the housewife conjures up an image of herself years before – doing the dishes and listening to the radio. A more honest portrayal of social stability would be difficult to find.

A year ago, I was asked to consult on a documentary about conscientious objectors in the First World War. The fascination with COs is understandable. The two world wars have inspired great abhorrence of conflict and consequent admiration for those who resisted. But to elevate them into importance now simply because we admire the moral stand they took years ago seriously distorts our vision of the past, and also imposes a modern moral code on previous generations. To ordinary Britons at the time, the COs were freaks totally out of step with the way the country felt about the war. They had virtually no effect upon the government’s conscription policies and did nothing to cushion conscription.

In other words, history reflects the present more than it reveals the past. We mine the past for gems that mirror our current obsessions and leave aside the bedrock of mundane normality. This explains why British and American historians have given disproportionate attention to left-wing groups like the Wobblies or the Communist Party, despite the complete failure of the far left to alter the political landscape. Historians attempt to imagine into existence a left wing culture that was in fact never more than a tiny tributary to the centrist mainstream. In The Revolutionary Movement in Great Britain (which surely fits the definition of a book about nothing), Walter Kendall speculates on what might have been in 1920, when victory over Germany seemed sour, workers were restless and jobs were scarce:

If socialist influence had existed within any of the services, if there had been, for example, a common front between soldiers and sailors …, if the soldiers had launched a coordinated movement, or established links with any of the trade union struggles pending, then the whole future of the state might well have been called into question.10

And if pigs had wings they might fly. Historians are supposed to analyse, not fantasise. The important issue is not what might have happened, but what did. There was no revolution because nothing happened; for most people mundane normality seemed preferable to chaotic uncertainty. The British people turned away from conflict; status returned to quo.

Does It Matter?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter that history deals disproportionately with the extraordinary. After all, every culture needs heroes and villains. Dramatic stories are the raw material of which national identity and civic pride are made. But what do our heroes say about our understanding of the past and indeed of ourselves?

Molly Pitcher supposedly fired a cannon during the American Revolutionary War. For this reason alone, she has become a heroic icon for generations of feminists. In fact, her story is hazy; she may not have been a real individual but rather a mythical archetype that represents those women who serviced the needs of male soldiers. Her name was perhaps an expression of the function she performed, namely that of water carrier.11 Had she only carried water, she would be forgotten to history. But that is unfortunate. Napoleon recognized that an army runs on its stomach, that the key to a unit’s effectiveness is its logistics system. Throughout history women have played enormously important roles in looking after armies, but have not been recognised for doing so. The problem lies not in the contribution women have made, but in the standard by which it has been measured. The great tragedy of Molly Pitcher is that she has been remembered because she might once have fired a cannon, not because she was a camp follower who carried much-needed water to thirsty troops. In fact, the latter function was far more important to the survival of her unit than the former.

Feminist historians have often paid homage to those freakish women who dressed as men in order to fight in wars, apparently unaware of the fact that, by doing so, they have merely demonstrated how gendered the military was. Because these extraordinary women were freaks, they have not made a convincing case for granting status to the multitude of ‘normal’ women who show no such inclination to challenge gender boundaries in such spectacular fashion. For instance, Trieu Thi Trinh, another feminist hero, was a mythical nine-foot tall Vietnamese giantess who rode into battle against the Chinese in the third century A.D. upon a massive elephant with her pendulous breasts slung over her shoulders. Yet, as icons go, she is safe precisely because few women share her physiognomy.

The point, I suppose, is that ordinary people live under the tyranny of heroes. The importance of the mundane, and the contribution which plain people make to the texture of everyday life has been obscured by the overemphasis upon ‘great men’ who supposedly disturb the equilibrium (but in fact hardly do so.) Heroes are elevated to god-like status, yet, because they have little relevance to real life, they contribute little to social progress and an understanding of the past.

Some years ago, Martyn Lewis, a newsreader for the BBC, complained that the stories he read everyday consisted of invariably bad news about extraordinary events. He proposed that a certain section of the nightly broadcast be set aside for good news. For that blasphemous suggestion Lewis was branded a right wing stooge of the Thatcher government, a media lackey keen to deflect the public’s attention away from its troubles.

Lewis had a point. News broadcasts do deal almost exclusively with disasters and tragedies that are not typical, even though they are immensely dramatic. But his solution was not really appropriate, since the sort of good news, which would have been included in his revamped broadcast, would arguably have been as extraordinary as the bad news it replaced. More typical events would be things like Johnny goes to school, Elmer delivers the paper or Molly delivers the water. But these would not really fit the definition of news.

There is a solution, or at least a way toward a more balanced, realistic view of the past. We will never rid ourselves of our fascination for the extraordinary, but we can nevertheless encourage an interest in the mundane. Last year, Channel 4 Television in Great Britain produced a brilliant social history documentary titled The 1900 House. A Victorian house in central London was ‘re-modelled’ to fit a 1900 style of life. The coal-fired range, gas lighting, and outside toilet were re-installed. A family was then found to live in the house, in costume, for three months. They were filmed going about the most mundane tasks, which suddenly became fascinating. The British were gripped by the story of a family nearly torn apart by the pressures of living a 1900 life.

The most fascinating part of the series was how the mundane took on much greater importance than the big events of the time. The family was too tired with the strain of merely existing to take part in, or even pay attention to, the political developments of the era in which they were supposed to be living. In other words, it was difficult for the housewife to become a suffragette if she had to give all of her attention to the task of keeping the kitchen range hot. The series as a whole provided a valuable lesson in how the routine of daily life reinforces tradition and acts as a brake upon change.

Historians can do their bit to remind students and the general public about the great and the small – how ordinary people are often affected more by tiny events than by catastrophic ones. Recently I suggested to a large lecture class that the lives of women might have been changed more by the invention of the tampon than by the advent of universal suffrage. The remark provoked howls of derision, but mainly among male students. The females seemed, at least briefly, preoccupied with what life would be like without the convenient tampon. Granted, I might have been exaggerating the importance of one development at the expense of another. But the point was to get my students to think about how small things shape people’s lives.

The past (including the immediate past) is too often viewed from the wrong end of a telescope. The desire for unusual stories is not surprising, since there is entertainment in all things weird. But those stories are misleading. We study the past not for the purpose of understanding, but rather to find bits that harmonize with current obsessions. In this sense, we shape the past in our own image. But, in the process, we fail to gain a sense of ourselves.

Who are we? Most of us are normal people who live mundane lives and seldom disturb the status quo in any perceivable way. But there is great stability in the fact that almost all of us fit that pattern. The mundane is, for most people, happiness. Granted, there are crisis junkies who survive on an emergency a day, but most of us crave the simple life with just the occasional dose of unusual excitement. We all like fireworks, but would not want everyday to be the 4th of July. The fact that the mundane is pleasing explains the power of tradition; most of us do not want the world to change much. Most consider great events an aberration–an interruption that is exciting while it lasts, but great when it is over. If life really was the way the news, documentaries and history books would have us believe, it is doubtful that man would have survived as long as he has.

Like it or not, most of the time ‘nothing happened.’ But in nothingness there was stability. The renegades and misfits of yesteryear might make good copy for the historian and documentary producer, but they aren’t really the shapers of our world. The stability, tradition, and mundane normality of the past are the best explanation for who we are today.


1 For a fascinating discussion of the development of the gun culture and the way historians have colluded in the creation of the myth of the wild frontier, see Michael Bellesiles, Arming America: the Origins of the National Gun Culture, (New York, 2000).

2 The trench raid usually consisted of a small group of soldiers (perhaps ten) who would creep to the oppoising trench in the dead of night, kill or capture a few of the enemy, and then creep back.

3 John Ellis, Eye Deep in Hell, (Baltimore: 1976), p. 29.

4 See the film Gallipoli (1981), directed by Peter Weir.

5 William Hauser, America’s Army in Crisis, (Baltimore, 1973), p. 103.

6 I recently had a discussion with a producer for the BBC and asked why a particular historian, who commands little respect within his profession, get so much work on TV. ‘He’s young, intelligent, controversial and good looking’ came the answer. ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘but he’s also wrong.’ The producer looked me in the eye and retorted: ‘That doesn’t matter.’

7 ‘Reserved Occupation’ meant a job essential to national survival. The worker in such a job was exempted from conscription. In Britain, women were conscripted either into the services, or industry or the agricultural workforce.

8 Joy Harwood, ‘Green 232’, unpublished memoir, Imperial War Museum Mss 88/53/1, pp. 24-5.

9 Report of the Committee on Amenities and Welfare Conditions in the Three Women’s Services, (UK Parliament), August 1942, para. 199, p. 49.

10 W. Kendall, The Revolutionary Movement in Great Britain, (London, 1969), p. 187.

11 See Linda Grant DePauw, Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present, (Norman, OK, 1998), pp. 126-31, for a discussion of the myth of Molly Pitcher.

Author: Dr Gerard J DeGroot is an American who has lived and taught in Great Britain for the past twenty years. He is the author of eight books and hundreds of articles in the popular and scholarly press. His most recent works include A Noble Cause?: America and the Vietnam War (Longman, 2000), A Soldier and a Woman: Sexual Integration in the Military (Longman, 2000) and The First World War (Palgrave, 2001). Chairman, Department of Modern History, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland KY16 9AL

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