British Way and Purpose

The British Way and Purpose

The Army Education Corps was central to the political education of British soldiers in WW2 (and later for servicemen and women in navy and airforce). It’s work helped shape the polticial awareness and attitudes of the generation who created the Labour government of 1945. I only discovered the depth and scale of the work when I came across a copy of “The British Way and Purpose” in an Oxfam shop.

From 1943 all serving soldiers were expected to receive an hour a week of citizenship education. Instructors were provided with a series of booklets, consolidated in 1944 into this 600 page manual. It provides a fascinating insight into the thought which went into preparing for the peace, long before the end of the war was in sight. It must also be one of the largest ever attempts at the political education of an adult population. By the end of the war almost 5 million people were (at least notionally), receiving education designed to make them better informed citizens in the post war world. It not only sheds light on how important adult education was seen to be to peace and democracy, but it also represents an extraordinary attempt to describe a coherent and hopeful vision of the whole post-war world.

Much of the detail has changed, but many of the ideas here have shaped the world we have lived in for the last 70 years. At the beginning of a new decade, Britain is making a historic break with some of the key structures which were informed by that vision. It is worth asking how far we now want something different.

The attachment (the Preface and Table of Contents), gives some sense of the scale and ambition of the work .

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