Gender, Citizenship, and the Non-Combatant at War in a Democratic State: A Case Study of Civil Defense in Twentieth-Century Britain

Collaborative Group

Dr. Susan R. Grayzel, Dr. Lucy Noakes




What does it mean to be a civilian in wartime? How is non-combatant citizenship gendered in times of war and conflict? From the First World War to the nuclear age, changing forms of warfare have made new demands on civilian populations: they can be called upon to defend, and, on occasion, die for their country. This project traces the changing impact of conflict on civilians through a historical case study of twentieth-century Britain, considering the ways that wars and preparations for war have shaped the relationship between gender, citizenship and the state. Civil defense, which first emerged in an informal manner during the First World War, was codified in the aftermath of that war so as to prepare the civil population for a war to come. During the Second World War its parameters grew enormously and civil defense work played an essential role practically and symbolically in the “People’s War.” Civil defense then continued in a different form throughout much of the Cold War. Given its longevity across the twentieth century, civil defense in Britain provides a lens through which to examine the changing impact of warfare, and the ways it has shaped gendered notions of citizenship. Drawing on a range of sources—from government plans to personal diaries—this historical study explores how a modern, imperial state came to terms with the emergence of modern, total warfare, conflicts where no place and no one could be made “safe.” This project will produce a monograph entitled Serving the Nation, Safeguarding the Home: Civil Defense, Citizenship, and Gender in Twentieth-Century Britain, a social and cultural history that investigates the relationship between civil defense, gender and citizenship. Grayzel and Noakes have previously collaborated on panels at international conferences and used some of their collective research on the topic in a jointly authored essay, “Defending the Home(land): Gendering Civil Defense from the First World War to the War on Terror,” in the edited volume Gender and Conflict Since 1914 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Award period: September 1, 2014 - August 31, 2016