Annual Booklist 2018-2019 : Dr Clare Makepeace

Dr Clare Makepeace is an Hon. Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of Captives of War. British Prisoners of War in Europe in the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2017) – runner-up for the 2018 SAHR Templer Best First Book prize.

At risk of appearing highly unoriginal and terribly cliched, my first choice has to be the book that drew me into studying the history of warfare: The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1975). If there is anyone out there who has yet to read it, then, where have you been? Yes it has come in for criticism over the decades – it places too much emphasis on the writings of a few privileged British subalterns and pays little regard to military facts – but how many books can claim to have re-opened interest in the First World War and given birth to a new field of memory studies? Oh, and did I mention it is just a bloody good read?

Second up has to be The Secret Battle. Emotional Survival in the Great War by Michael Roper (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009). Be warned, there is a bit of psychoanalysis in there, which you can either embrace, or just skip (don’t tell him I said that). The Secret Battle is moving, poignant, tender. The stories it contains will reduce you to tears. And it spear-headed a whole new focus in war histories. Suddenly we have all realised what now seems bleedin’ obvious: that the battle front and the home front were intertwined.

Thirdly, I’d like to recommend Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain and the Great War by Joanna Bourke (London: Reaktion, 1999). Published almost two decades ago, it put gender into warfare, which is exactly where it should be. Gender affects all our behaviour and experiences but, at times of war, what it meant to be a man was inexorably heightened. This, in my opinion, makes gender an essential component of war studies. I’m always a little perplexed when it does not feature. Mutilation, malingering, shell-shock, male bonding, memory, it is all in here.

My fourth choice is Army Wives: From Crimea to Afghanistan: the Real Lives of the Women Behind the Men in Uniform by Midge Gillies. This book covers an impressive breath of history - from the Crimea to today - but navigates this broad period with wonderful detail by focusing on the lives of a number of army wives. It is a compelling read and I particularly appreciated The Prologue and Epilogue, which allowed me to enter into the lives of army wives in the present, a world we are all aware of but of which, I now realise, I knew very little.

Finally, and yes, I’m going to do it (why not? Modesty? Fooey!), there’s this book called Captives of War. British Prisoners of War in Europe in the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2017). I’m not overly familiar with it, but I hear from others that it takes the POW experience into new territory and would be suitable for anyone interested in psychology of war, warfare and survival psychology. (And yes, this final recommendation makes me SAHR’s equivalent of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf on Desert Island Discs. Well, not quite, she chose seven of her own recordings, but then again, I’ve only written one book…).

For the book that has yet to be written, I’d love to know more about the experiences of captivity of ‘nonwhite’ troops (sorry, an appalling description, but it pretty much sums up the problem). I’m currently working on a broad history of captivity in World War Two, and I’ve been appalled at how little has been written on Indian or Filipinos taken prisoner in the Asia-Pacific region, or other native labourers who were forced to endure horrendous conditions. This omission is particularly striking when one compares it to the literature on British, Australian, Canadian and Americans. It feels as if our imperialist past still has a hold on historical writing in the present.