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Foreign fields: identity and location in soldiers' writings of the First World War



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Pegum, John Michael Christopher 


This thesis explores the central importance of locations to the soldiers' experience of the First World War. In particular, it examines the ways in which place forms their sense of identity during the War, and colours their memories after it. The Western Front, through years of concentrated bombardment, became a vast and confusing broken landscape. For the soldiers who inhabited this landmark-barren terrain a new geographical context was required to explain their condition and situation. As villages, woods and roads were beaten into non-existence the interlocking system of trenches was the only remaining geographical construct that held any meaning. The soldiers discovered and developed a geography of identity based on proximity to the front line. This new map of the trenches is not plotted through cartography, but through the literature the soldiers produced. Using trench journals (magazines written by and for the soldiers of a particular unit), popular fiction by serving soldiers, and the memoirs of war correspondents, I examine the ways in which the soldier identity is constructed and represented. While the landscape of the trenches is stringently associated with this soldier identity, it also acts as a topographical barrier to accurate and authentic observation of the 'real' soldier. The end of the war and the aba donment and reconstruction of the Western Front did not diminish the significance of the trenches for those who had fought there. I examine the writings of ex-servicemen, both fiction and memoir, and analyse the passing of their war-time identity, as well as the dislocation involved in considering a place that no longer exists. The thesis charts the relationship between the soldier and the geography of the trenches both during and after the war in an effort to understand the contrasting associations and dislocations that the landscape of the Western Front created as presented in the writings of soldiers.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge