‘Shirkers’, ‘Scrimjacks’ and ‘Scrimshanks’?: British Civilian Masculinity and Reserved Occupations, 1914–45

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Pattinson, Juliette S (2016)

In both World Wars, the state retained men with essential skills on the home front. Despite needing to mobilise industry and labour in order to supply the military and to maintain key services such as healthcare and food provision, those men who remained in civilian roles were susceptible to accusations of cowardice and being derided as shirkers evading their patriotic duty. While the manliness of the ‘soldier hero’ was secure, the civilian man was susceptible to having his masculinity called into question. This article utilises a range of sources including parliamentary debates, cartoons, Mass Observation records, written testimony and oral histories to examine the policies that were implemented affecting civilian male workers deployed in essential jobs in both wars and the perceptions of men to their reserved status. While there were haphazard attempts to raise an ‘industrial army’ in the First World War, by 1939, a more systematic approach had been implemented with a Schedule of Reserved Occupations drawn up retaining key men in their work. While men on the Second World War home front were potentially diminished by the ‘soldier hero’ and the female war worker, they defined and defended their contributions to the national war effort in written and oral sources in gendered terms, making reference to job security, valued skills, significant earning power, the auxiliary position of female dilutees, positive cultural representations and the added dangers from aerial bombing.
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