Glyn Potter


After the trench warfare of the Great War the development of aerial warfare and widespread urbanisation meant that military doctrine in any future conflict would likely bring unprecedented death and destruction to non-combatants. Therefore, war prevention became the most important foreign policy issue in Britain, and after the collapse of the disarmament conference in 1934 and the Spanish civil war (1936-1939), war preparation became the dominant concern for the decision makers and the public. Both were hotly debated at all levels of British public life in the 1920’s and 1930’s. This dissertation uses Plymouth as the case study for an exploration of the debates in the public arena, mediated by the local press, in a period when pacific supporters of disarmament were countered by calls for rearmament; and in the context of fears about the nature of modern warfare (aerial bombardment and rapid collapse of civilian morale). By exploring how a future peace and war were being imagined by city planners, decisions makers, military men, and the civilian population, the dissertation seeks to understand the complexities of how both peace and war were being imagined as those in positions of leadership and responsibility, were often responsible for imagining both peace and war. Plymouth had a significant military presence with the Royal Naval Dockyard Devonport, the Citadel and Mount Batten Air Base; and was identified as a target for aerial bombardment in the First World War, although it never witnessed an air-raid. Plymouth’s history, culture and economy are closely tied to the armed forces and consequently created a city divided on issues of peace and war, for Plymouth had both successfully conquered and suffered through war and peace. Future peace and war were being imagined during a time of vast technological and scientific advancement; creating speculation and a wide divergence of opinion. The first chapter (imagining and working for peace 1918-1935) investigates how peace was being imagined detailing the challenges, failures, and successes in working for peace in city designed for war and conquest. The second chapter explores how the terrors of ‘the next war’ were being imagined and prepared for. It seeks t understand why the horror of ‘gas’ that dominated the fears associated with modern warfare, and why the city was so divided on how to protect themselves from high explosive bombs- which was revealed as the most likely form of attack after the aerial bombing in Spain (1936-1939). It was a debate which subsequently exposed a nation and city divided on how war and peace should be imagined and ultimately prepared for. Therefore, the dissertation explores the competing visions of peace and war in Plymouth from 1918 to 1939.

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