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“The Band of Brothers”: The Mobilization of English Welsh Dual Identities in Second World War Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2021


In the run-up to the Second World War, the War Office agreed to organize territorial units that recruited specifically on the grounds of English Welsh dual identities. These formations, which comprised the 99th London Welsh Heavy Anti-Aircraft regiment and the 46th Liverpool Welsh Royal Tank Regiment, began recruiting in 1939 from English cities with significant Welsh populations. This article explores the mobilization and performance of English Welsh identities during the Second World War and reflects upon why, at a time of global conflict, some English men opted to enlist on the basis of Welsh antecedents. Relatively little attention has been paid to the plurality of British identity in wartime or to how the existence of what historian Thomas Hajkowski has called “hybrid ‘dual identities’” within the constituent countries of the United Kingdom informed the functioning of Britishness during the Second World War. Making use of previously unpublished and original life-writing sources, this article illuminates the significance of dual identifications across two nations at once—in this case, Wales and England—within the multinational state of Britain at war. Overall, by examining the intersectionality between subjective wartime constructions of kin, home, and nation(s), it points to how a sense of dual identifications could feed into recruitment patterns and potentially bolster combat motivation and morale. By highlighting the interconnectedness between constituent nations of Britain, and the complexities of identity formation within Britishness, this article adds to the literature that complicates the notion of fixed singular national identities and underscores the importance of dual identifications within and across the borders of the constituent nations in advancing our understanding of twentieth-century Britain.

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Copyright © The Author(s), published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the North American Conference on British Studies

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32 Davies, History of Wales, 578–79.

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40 Jones, 35.

41 Advertisement in Y Ddolen (newsletter for the London Welsh Centre), March 1939; Scully, “Discourses of Authenticity,” 15.

42 See Walter, “English/Irish Hybridity,” 20, 21; Ugolini, Experiencing War, 3.

43 Robbins, Nineteenth-Century Britain, 36.

44 Thanks to Matt Houlbrook for this observation. Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory, vol. 1, Past and Present in Contemporary Culture (London, 1994), 247; Ugolini, Wendy, “The ‘Welsh’ Pimpernel: Richard Llewellyn and the search for authenticity in Second World War Britain,” Cultural and Social History 16, no. 2 (2019): 185–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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49 Heather Streets, Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857–1914 (Manchester, 2004), 11.

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51 “Mr. Lloyd George and the London Welsh Battalion,” Cambrian News, 4 December 1914.

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53 “Mr. Lloyd George and the London Welsh Battalion.”

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57 Its bilingual title also signals dualism: David Jones, In Parenthesis: Seinnyessit e gledyf ym penn mameu (London, 1937).

58 David Jones, The Dying Gaul and Other Writings (London, 1978), 23.

59 David Jones, In Parenthesis (London, 2014), xv.

60 Jones, x.

61 T. S. Eliot, “A Note of Introduction,” in Jones, In Parenthesis (London, 2014), vii–viii, at vii. See also Paul Robichaud, Making the Past Present: David Jones, the Middle Ages, and Modernism (Washington, DC, 2007).

62 Jeremy Hooker, Imagining Wales: A View of Modern Welsh Writing in English (Cardiff, 2001); Ariane Banks and Paul Hills, The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory (Farnham, 2015).

63 Gary Sheffield, “Englishness in the British Army of the Second World War,” in Ugolini and Pattinson, Fighting for Britain?, 49–64, at 51.

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66 Grimwood, Little Chit of a Fellow, 75.

67 Owen, “London Kelt,” 123.

68 Wendy Ugolini, Wales in England, 1914–1945: A Social, Cultural, and Military History of the Two World Wars (Oxford, forthcoming).

69 King, Combat Soldier, 75.

70 99th London Welsh Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 1939–1945 (n.p., 1945), 15, LBY K. 75915, Imperial War Museum. (Hereafter this repository is abbreviated as IWM).

71 Colonel Arthur Evans, Speech to the House of Commons, 5 August 1943, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 391 (1943), col. 2509.

72 Letter from R. V. Nind Hopkins to War Office, 8 May 1939, The National Archives, T 161/861. (Hereafter this repository is abbreviated as TNA.)

73 99th London Welsh Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, LBY K. 75915, IWM. Johnes notes how the presence of non-Welshmen serving in Welsh regiments during the Second World War did not diminish regimental Welshness. Indeed, “what on the surface might appear to be national symbols”—such as “eating the leek”—“were in practice driven more by the need to create personal relationships and a common bond between diverse sets of men.” See Martin Johnes, “Welshness, Welsh Soldiers and the Second World War,” in Ugolini and Pattinson, Fighting for Britain?, 65–88, at 73.

74 David Jones, Dai Greatcoat: A Self-Portrait of David Jones in His Letters, ed. René Hague (London, 1980), 26–27.

75 Western Morning News (Plymouth), 19 July 1939, 7.

76 Kenneth Lunn, “Reconsidering ‘Britishness’: The Construction and Significance of National Identity in Twentieth Century Britain,” in Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe, ed. Brian Jenkins and Spyros Sofos (London, 1996), 83–100, at 87.

77 Western Morning News (Plymouth), 19 July 1939, 7.

78 Y Ddolen, June 1939, 17.

79 Christopher Westhorp, introduction to The Wipers Times: The Famous First World War Trench Newspaper (London, 2013), n.p.

80 On Target 1, no. 1, April 1940, E.J.3487, IWM.

81 Helen B. McCartney, Citizen Soldiers: The Liverpool Territorials in the First World War (Cambridge, 2005), 5, 26.

82 On Target 1, no. 1, Apr. 1940; On Target, 1, no. 2, May 1940, E.J.3487, IWM.

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86 Rhys, The Van Pool, 37–38.

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89 Private Papers of J. R. Davies (hereafter PPD), letters to parents, 13167, IWM. Thanks to Mary-Lynne Jones for permission to cite from these papers.

90 Margaretta Jolly, “Myths of Unity: Remembering the Second World War through Letters and Their Editing,” in Arms and the Self: War, the Military, and Autobiographical Writing, ed. Alex Vernon (Kent, 2005), 144–70, at 159.

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100 Ugolini, “The ‘Welsh’ Pimpernel.”

101 PPD, letter to parents, 30 September 1944, 13167, IWM.

102 PPD, letter to parents, 7 June 1944, 13167, IWM.

103 PPD, letter to parents, 1 July 1945, 13167, IWM.

104 PPD, letter to parents, 17 April 1945, 13167, IWM.

105 PPD, letters to parents, 22 November 1942, 6 October 1943, 31 August 1945, 13167, IWM.

106 PPD, letter to parents, 1 March 1943, 13167, IWM.

107 PPD, letter to parents, 1 March 1944, 13167, IWM.

108 Hajkowski, BBC and National Identity, 182–85.

109 Hajkowski, 182–85.

110 PPD, letters to parents, 18 and 23 June 1943, 11 August 1943, 13167, IWM.

111 PPD, letter to parents, 23 July 1944, 13167, IWM.

112 PPD, letter to parents, 20 September 1943, 13167, IWM.

113 PPD, letters to parents, 18 March 1943, 6 December 1944, 13167, IWM.

114 Martin Johnes, A History of Sport in Wales (Cardiff, 2005), 109.

115 PPD, letter to parents, 27 December 1942, 13167, IWM.

116 PPD, letter to parents, 1 March 1943, 13167, IWM.

117 PPD, letter to parents, 6 October 1943, 13167, IWM.

118 PPD, letter to parents, 17 May 1944, 13167, IWM.

119 PPD, letter to parents, 14 August 1944, 13167, IWM.

120 PPD, letter to parents, 8 March 1942, 13167, IWM.

121 Lucy Noakes, “‘Deep England’: Britain, the Countryside and the English in the Second World War,” in Ugolini and Pattinson, Fighting for Britain?, 25–47.

122 PPD, letter to parents, 10 July 1942, 27 February 1943, 13167, IWM.

123 PPD, letter to parents, 30 August 1942, 13167, IWM.

124 PPD, letter to parents, 24 October 1942, 13167, IWM.

125 PPD, letter to parents, 21 January 1944, 13167, IWM.

126 PPD, letters to parents, 8 August 1943, 12 September 1943, 13167, IWM.

127 PPD, letter to parents, 5 December 1942, 13167, IWM.

128 PPD, letter to parents, 31 March 1943, 13167, IWM.

129 Hickman et al., “Limitations,” 173.

130 Brah, Cartographies, 194.

131 PPD, letters to parents, 3 July 1944, 3 August 1944, 13167, IWM.

132 PPD, letter to parents, 23 July 1945, 13167, IWM.

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134 Davies attended Eighth Army reunions every year. Personal communication, 2012.

135 Moulton argues that Irishness can be viewed as “a constitutive element” of Englishness in the interwar period. Mo Moulton, Ireland and the Irish in Interwar England (Cambridge, 2014), 7.

136 “‘Talwrn's’ Cymric Causerie,” Liverpool Echo, 12 April 1939, 3.

137 “A Cymric Causerie,” Liverpool Echo, 22 March 1939, 14. See also A Short History of the 46th (Liverpool Welsh) Royal Tank Regiment (1949), RH87, 46 RTR 7431, Tank Museum Archive, Bovington, Dorset.

138 Benbough-Jackson, “Negotiating National Identity,” 286.

139 Jones and Jones, “Welsh World,” 62, 68.

140 Belchem and MacRaild, “Cosmopolitan Liverpool,” 344–45.

141 Katie Pickles, Female Imperialism and National Identity: Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (Manchester, 2002), 37.

142 Ronald Clare, “L'pool Welsh Disband near Corinth,” Liverpool Echo, 22 February 1946, 4.

143 “‘Macs’ Join the ‘Joneses,’” Liverpool Daily Post, 31 May 1939.

144 Hickman et al., “Limitations,” 178.

145 See “Liverpool Scottish Regimental Association,” Liverpool Daily Post, 19 June 1939; “Honour for Irish Battalion,” Liverpool Daily Post, 20 December 1939; “Welsh-Irish TA Units,” Liverpool Echo, 21 April 1939.

146 Streets, Martial Races, 181, 4, 169.

147 See “Call to Welshmen,” Liverpool Echo, 7 June 1939.

148 RH87, 46 RTR 7431, Tank Museum Archive.

149 “Liverpool-Welsh Battalion Developments,” Liverpool Daily Post, 22 April 1939.

150 Jones, “Liverpool Welsh,” 36–37.

151 Johnes, History of Sport, 109.

152 “Brisk Start of Welsh Battalion,” Liverpool Daily Post, 15 May 1939.

153 “Call to Welshmen,” Liverpool Echo, 7 June 1939; “Welsh Tank Unit Recruiting,” Liverpool Daily Post, 13 June 1939.

154 “Lull in ARP Recruiting,” Liverpool Daily Post, 7 June 1939.

155 O. E. Roberts's Undeb Cymru Fydd Papers, Circular from O. E. Roberts, 14 April 1943, GB 0222, BMSS OER, Bangor University Archive, Bangor, Wales. Thanks to the Edinburgh Welsh Society for providing a translation of this material.

156 Letter from Meurig Walters, 25 April 1943, GB 0222, BMSS OER, Bangor University Archive.

157 Davies met his wife at chapel in London, and they married in 1941. Personal communication from Mary-Lynne Jones, 19 August 2012; Murray, “A Diasporic Vernacular?,” 80.

158 “‘Liverpool Welsh’ on View,” Liverpool Daily Post, 31 July 1939.

159 Nigel Scotland, Squires in the Slums: Settlements and Missions in Late Victorian Britain (London, 2007).

160 Jones, “Liverpool Welsh,” 22.

161 Letter from Adams, September 1942, BA194209SEPTb, Shrewsbury House Archive Shrewsbury House Youth Club, Liverpool. (Hereafter this repository is abbreviated as SHA.)

162 “I. G. Barr Adams (O.S),” SHA.

163 Thanks to Shrewsbury House and to the archive team for permission to cite from this material. I also acknowledge the work of the archive team in transcribing this material.

164 Matthews-Jones, Lucinda, “‘I Still Remain One of the Old Settlement Boys’: Cross-Class Friendship in the First World War Letters of Cardiff University Settlement Lads’ Club,” Cultural and Social History 13, no. 2 (2016): 195–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 195.

165 News Sheet 496, 1 July 1940, SHA.

166 Letter from Adams to Reece, [19] August 1940, BA194008AUG19thBRb, SHA.

167 Matthews-Jones, “‘I Still Remain,’” 197.

168 Barr Adams, “The Club at War,” chap. 2, SHA.

169 John Hartigan, “Volunteering in the First World War: The Birmingham Experience, August 1914–May 1915,” Midland History 24, no. 1 (1999): 167–86, at 175–76.

170 Adams, “Club at War,” chap. 1, SHA. An additional five “Old Boys” subsequently joined.

171 “‘Macs’ Join the ‘Joneses.’” On the BBC People's War website, veteran Arthur Johnstone recollects, “I signed up with the Liverpool Welsh Territorials (46th RTR) declaring a Welsh grandmother.” “My War Years and Being a POW,” Article ID A2146015, contributed 17 December 2003.

172 News Sheet 501, 7 July 1940, SHA.

173 McCrone, David et al. , “Who Are We? Problematising National Identity,” Sociological Review 46, no. 4 (1998): 629–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 651.

174 News Sheet 419, 17 February 1940, SHA. See also Johnes, “Welshness.”

175 Letter from Adams to Reece, 19 August 1940, BA194008AUG19thBRa, SHA.

176 News Sheet 481, 6 June 1940, SHA.

177 News Sheet 545, 8 September 1940, SHA. As I am focusing on a negative but slender aspect of an extensive six-year correspondence for the purpose of this article, I have assigned pseudonyms to some of the “Old Boys.”

178 Adams, “Club at War,” chap. 43, SHA.

179 News Sheet 429, 4 March 1940, SHA; News Sheet 485, 10 June 1940, SHA; Adams, “Club at War,” chap. 18, SHA. In his letters, J. R. Davies also makes reference to the Italian “Fascist” troops as “wogs.” PPD, letter to parents, 22 March 1943, 13167, IWM.

180 Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (Oxford, 1989), 127.

181 Fussell, Wartime, 117.

182 See also Chris Hopkins, English Fiction in the 1930s: Language, Genre, History (London, 2006), 62.

183 Adams, “Club at War,” chap. 43, SHA.

184 Adams, chap. 29.

185 Chris Williams, “Problematizing Wales,” 5. See also Prys Morgan, “Early Victorian Wales and Its Crisis of Identity,” in A Union of Multiple Identities: The British Isles, c.1750– c.1850, ed. Laurence Brockliss and David Eastwood (Manchester, 1997), 93–109.

186 Murray, “A Diasporic Vernacular?,” 76; Brah, Cartographies, 149.

187 Adams, “Club at War,” chap. 45, SHA. Watts was killed at age twenty in June 1941 and is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial, Egypt.

188 News Sheet 481, 6 June 1940, SHA.

189 News Sheet 470, 23 May 1940, SHA.

190 News Sheet 530, 20 August 1940, SHA.

191 Lucy Thomas, introduction to Hilda Vaughan, The Soldier and the Gentlewoman (Dinas Powys, 2014), 1–19, at 7.

192 “Liverpool Welsh Comforts Fund,” Liverpool Daily Post, 21 February 1941.

193 “Britain Proud of Its Fighting Regiments,” Union Jack: Newspaper for the Fighting Forces, 16 June 1944, 2.

194 McCartney, Citizen Soldiers, 21.

195 RH87, 46 RTR 7431, Tank Museum Archive.

196 Clare, “L'pool Welsh Disband,” 1.

197 Clare, 1.

198 Scully, “Discourses of Authenticity,” 234.

199 Jeremy Hooker, John Cowper Powys and David Jones: A Comparative Study (London, 1979), 30.

200 Hickman et al., “Limitations,” 178.

201 Ford, “Art of Union,” 14.

202 Hickman et al., “Limitations,” 178.

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