'Mixing It: The Changing Faces of Wartime Britain' at IWM North

If you've read Crinoline Robot for any length of time, you'll know I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet about our nation's multicultural history being forgotten or ignored, especially around November when the 'My granddad didn't fight for [insert minority group here]' brigade get going in the run up to Remembrance Day. Because of that, I was really pleased to see that from the 12th of September 2015 IWM North, part of the Imperial War Museum, is going to be running a display entitled 'Mixing It: The Changing Faces of Wartime Britain'. It's showing research conducted by the University of Huddersfield into the stories of people who came to Britain because of the Second World War: a Jewish teenager, a tot from the Kindertransport, the first Nigerian pilot to serve with the RAF, Czech airmen and more.

My great-grandmother,
Mary Florence de Solminihac, in uniform
I think it's important for us to remember and acknowledge how many different faiths and nationalities were involved in the war. My own grandfather, who was born in Burma, would probably have ended up in Britain anyhow – he was already in the British Army when war broke out, and had already met the girl who would become my grandmother. I don't know if the rest of the family would, though; I doubt they'd have stayed in Burma post-independence, but perhaps they'd have moved to India (my great-grandmother was from Calcutta) or even Australia. As it was, my great-aunts married soldiers, and my great-grandmother was, to go by her uniform, in the Women's Auxiliary Corps (India), and all of them ended up in England. I now live in a town where the oldest Polish residents have lived since the war. And that's just one story; look at the wartime history of people round you and you'll find other tales of people who came to this island and left traces behind, or who came and stayed on, as a result of war. Sometimes it feels to me as though the story of the Second World War is being cut down in scale, reduced to a narrative about white men fighting for one nation. Displays like this new one show how far it reached, and how much it changed Britain and the world.

To accompany the exhibition there are special dramatic performances on the 12th, 13th and 20th of September (first performance at 11:15am, last one at 2:15, free), plus there's an opportunity to meet Professor Wendy Webster and the researchers from the University of Huddersfield on the 4th of October at 2pm.


  1. Good stuff, there are too many whitewashed versions of history!! x

  2. That BNP flyer from many years ago featuring a Spitfire still makes me smile (It bore the markings of a Polish squadron)

    I think we have a much better appreciation these days about all the soldiers who fought on our side in WW2, it's not perfect but I suspect 10 or 20 years ago the picture would have been much bleaker. We just have to keep reminding people.

  3. We do need to be reminded of all the different nations that fought with us. My grandfather joined up in Cyprus, and spent most of the war in a POW camp in Italy, where he learnt the language. I know one Jewish woman, now in her 90s who got out of Poland by the skin of her teeth and got to Russia where she worked in a munitions factory. Another who escaped Austria in 1939 as a baby with her mother. So many stories.

  4. It's hard to say "it wasn't just about young, white men you know" without seeming ungrateful or seem like you just want to upset people. Around 3000 indigenous Australians were in active service in WWII which is an incredible act of loyalty to a country that wouldn't even let them vote until 1965.

  5. Definitely too much "whitewashing" done to suit people's agendas these days. I always find this interesting as the British are a bastard mix of many different faiths/nationalities anyway with a German-heritage monarchy. Still those kind of comments are usually made by people that would need instructions to tie their own shoes, just look at Britain First. I suspect that they weren't strong on history at school. There were many Polish servicemen billeted in Edinburgh during the war. I think that there might have been a convalescent home there for the wounded. I asked Mum and she thought that was what it was. Xx

  6. I'm going to try and get to this exhibition, it sounds like it will be really interesting and is probably long overdue.


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