As has been well documented, images of the British landscape performed an important propagandist role in the Second World War, particularly after the fall of France in June 1940, when Britain faced the prospect of both aerial attack and all-out invasion by air or sea. In what Angus Calder has called ‘the myth of the Blitz’ the nation’s landscape, framed by war, played the role of backdrop, target, refuge, dream, and prize. An advertisement for F. J. Harvey Darton’s books English Fabric, Alibi Pilgrimage, and The Marches of Wessex, which appeared in Country Life in August 1940, made a familiar association when it asserted that at ‘no other time in our long island history has the spirit of the English Countryside made such an appeal to us as now’. In illustrated publications like Country Life and Picture Post, the landscape was repeatedly presented in its most idyllic form of ‘Beautiful Britain’ as—explicitly or implicitly—‘what we are fighting for’. An article entitled ‘The Beauty of Britain’ which appeared in Picture Post on 22 June 1940, for example, included picturesque shots of hay-harvesting in the Lake District, captioned ‘The Dream Men Carry With Them’, and a lake in Caernarvonshire, captioned ‘The Peace That Will Come Again’. ‘This is Britain’, ran the accompanying text. ‘This is the soil we are fighting for.’ Pre-war anxieties that the distinctive characteristics of the British landscape were disappearing beneath a tide of modernization were largely eclipsed under the immediate impact of the threat of enemy bomb attacks. For the sake of the rhetorical power of these morale-boosting images, it was imperative to stress the continuing presence of that which was in fact feared by many to be disappearing. This development did not mark a great U-turn so much as a change of emphasis. There was a continuity of rhetoric, as we shall see, for Britain under threat of modernization could easily be rewritten as a country under threat of aerial bombardment or invasion. And by relocating the threat in the war machine of a nation—Nazi Germany—that seemed to embody the forces of an aggressive mechanization, this was not hard to do.
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