'A different existence altogether' constructing, conditioning and controlling the British soldier's body in the First World War

  • Simon Harold Walker

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis examines the processes by which British male civilians became soldiers during the First World War. It contributes to the historiography on the British experience of the war by placing the human body at the centre of the analysis and considering the impact of bodies under the control and care of the British Army. It expands upon the sociological literature of 'the body' by establishing how these theoretical concepts are evident within the empirical research.Through an analysis of official records and publications, it explores how the state sought to transform the male civilian body for military purposes. A significant aspect of this research stems from the personal experiences of the men who served by painstaking consideration of their letters, diaries, and oral testimonies.This research illustrates that the body was a core concern for the British military as well as being central in perceptions of physical worth within British society during the First World War. Between 1914-1918 British men's bodies were assessed, categorised, improved, damaged, recovered, repaired and destroyed. From enlistment to the end of service, soldier's bodies were repurposed for the pursuit of victory as the British military and the government focused on constructing, conditioning and controlling the bodies of regular, territorial, volunteer and conscript soldiers.In a letter to his mother, Lieutenant Godfrey classified the war as a 'different existence altogether' and indeed it was for many men whose bodies became fitter, healthier, and more skilled, while paradoxically also allowing them to resist military control, be wounded, harm their own bodies, and die. This work, therefore, explores the male military body within the chaos of the First World War, not simply as a faceless man in uniform but an individual whose body was a site of conflict focused on agency, indoctrination and military service.
Date of Award1 Jan 2018
LanguageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde & ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council)
SupervisorJames Mills (Supervisor) & Emma Newlands (Supervisor)

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