|The land the heroes wanted: soldiers' views of the city in letters from the Western Front|
|In November 1918, two weeks after the Armistice was signed, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George declared that the primary task facing the nation was “to make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in”. In the following decade the landscape of urban Britain underwent fundamental alterations as Lloyd George’s original call subtly shifted into his electoral slogan of “Homes fit for Heroes”. These physical changes symbolised other shifts between the social, political and cultural structures of pre and post-war Britain.
Historical engagement with the post-war urban landscape has tended to place it within a narrative of post-war reconstruction. What is often neglected in such assessments is the key role that imaginings of the home city played in the lives of soldiers during the war. The voluminous correspondence which survives from combatants of all ranks stationed on the Western Front has tended to be read in terms of what it reveals about the experience of combat, trench life or the horror of war, separating the (foreign) front line from the (domestic) home. Much less attention has been paid to other themes although the letters offer a unique insight into the sensibilities of an entire generation of British men during their prolonged, enforced absences from home between 1914 – 1918.
This paper explores some of the ways in which the city figured in writings from the Western Front. It will suggest that as well as imagining the post-war city as a site of reconstruction and social progress, there was a tendency for soldiers to romanticise their pre-war memories of the urban landscape, looking much more for continuity than change. Comparisons with foreign cities encountered in France and Belgium will also be considered, and the extent to which these were shaped by the classed experiences of pre-war life.