Exercise 4.2: The British landscape during World War II

Task: Read A Dream of England: Landscape, Photography and the Tourist's Imagination. Summaries the key points.

George Orwell's 'The Lion and the Unicorn' is used to illustrate how feelings of patriotism conjure up past feelings and emotions. Orwell believed that the threat of a Nazi invasion of Great Britain forged bonds of unity across a divided society, who were adjusting to the effects of the Great Depression and the threat of unemployment. The strength of this connection to the land was attributed to the interpretations of literary greats, such as Chaucer and Shakespeare, who have provided an alluring commentary of the British landscape.

In 1926, C. F. G. Masterman claimed that the British landscape provided the viewer with a visual chronology of how the history of England unfolded. 'Black blots on the landscape', a legacy of the Industrial Revolution, threatened what remained of the prehistoric jungle. Since the nineteenth century, this type of view, that the fragile landscape would be devoured by human development, was a common reaction to the political and economic landscape. 

Conversely, this tiny island is bereft of any scars of recent conquest. Since William I and his army stepped foot on England's shore in 1066, and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings, its green pastures have enjoyed being farmed by close-knit village communities. These circumstances have contributed to Great Britain's inhabitants having a close affinity to the land, which has been echoed through folklore, art and culture.

Subsequently, if a Nazi invasion was attempted, it was believed that this strong community would be triumphant. This is a view shared by journalist C. Henry Warren, who wrote a book called England  is a Village in 1941. Even if England's defences were breached during the Second World War, Warren (1941, ix) believed that 'England's might is still in her fields and villages...' The very identity of England the country, is deeply ingrained in the land, and this would be impossible for any occupier to eradicate.  

In order to confuse any potential invader, all signage was removed from the landscape, to make it unnavigable. With even town names removed, the landscape was stripped back to its raw, physical nature. The pastoral beauty of England's green and pleasant land had to be remembered, every curve and contour. Pre-war recollections of a bye-gone era were aided by Batsford topographic books, published in 1941-42. They reminded their readers of a diverse English landscape. It was the strength of this diversity that would see England through the war - history in the form of feeling. This strategy preserved the romantic view of an English scenery that was worth fighting, and making sacrifices, for.