‘Man, Lunatic or Corpse’: Fear, Wounding and Death in the British Army, 1939–45
During the course of the Second World War the British Army put in place a range of physical interventions that were designed to control, shape and standardise men’s bodies—from their recruitment and training to their engagement with the enemy, where their damage and destruction were imminent. This chapter explores official and individual responses to fear, wounding and death in the field of operations between 1939 and 1945. By examining the army’s medical administrative instructions and burial regulations, it highlights a range of methods used by the authorities to maintain manpower efficiency, even when bodies were injured and killed. Importantly, this chapter also draws upon the personal accounts of front-line troops who were regularly exposed to danger and death. In doing so, it shows that in the difficult conditions of combat, bodies could remain unruly and hard to control. In an environment characterised by noise, discomfort and constant threats to their survival, men often struggled to cope with threats posed to their bodies and the damage inflicted on others around them. Analysing the first-hand accounts of soldiers in this way opens up a range of issues, including control, agency and resistance, gender identities and emotional responses to war.