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English patriotism and the implicit nation: homelands and soldiers’ national identity during the Great War

Mayhew, Alex (2024) English patriotism and the implicit nation: homelands and soldiers’ national identity during the Great War. English Historical Review, 138 (594-595). 1277 - 1306. ISSN 0013-8266

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Identification Number: 10.1093/ehr/cead180


This article explores the patriotism and national identity of English soldiers during the First World War. Using this conflict as a case-study, it draws together work on Great War mentalities and scholarship on Englishness. It argues that individuals’ national identity focused on and formed around the ‘implicit nation’, which was primarily concerned with communities and parochial local (or regional) spaces. There was no ‘essential’ England: the homeland could be rural or urban, natural or human. English national identity embraced this plurality. Using published material, soldiers’ newspapers and private letters, diaries and postcards, this article highlights the ways in which allegiance to an ‘implicit nation’ was nurtured by a military that championed local and regional identities. As subjects, not citizens, soldiers naturally centred their attention on the communities and landscapes of their homeland. The war did not diminish men’s emotional connections to these homelands; in fact, it made them all the stronger. In concentrating on the subjective and emotional features of patriotism, this paper suggests that Englishness was inherently heterogeneous and drew its strength from this. Rather than a commitment to abstract structures such as the state, or theoretical political principles, it argues that English national identity embraced a composite, or patchwork, of mutually supporting patriotisms attached to particular homelands. It was a sense of these homelands that underlay men’s identification with Britishness, the Empire and the monarchy. Importantly, soldiers’ experience of the First World War gave this a new (or at least more vocal) articulation.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author
Divisions: International History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2023 10:54
Last Modified: 28 May 2024 18:12

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