Men at War

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781474618861

Price: £18.99

ON SALE: 27th April 2023

Genre: Humanities / History / Military History / Second World War

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As a child, Luke Turner was obsessed with the Second World War. He spent hours watching Sunday war films, poring over stories of derring-do and relishing in birthday trips to air museums. Lying in bed beneath Airfix fighter planes suspended from his ceiling, he would think about the men that might sit in their cockpits, and whether he could ever be one of them. Now, as an adult who has come to terms with a masculine identity and sexuality that is often erased from dominant military narratives, he undertakes a refreshingly honest analysis of his fascination with the war.

In Men at War, Turner looks beyond the increasingly retrogressive and jingoistic ideal of a Britain that never was to recognise men of war as creatures of love, fear, hope and desire. From writers, filmmakers, artists and ordinary men – including those in his own family – Turner assembles a broad cast of characters to bring the war to life. There are conscientious objectors, a bisexual Commando, a pacifist poet who flew for Bomber Command, a transgender RAF pilot, a soldier who suffered in Japanese POW camps and later in life became an LGBT+ activist, and those who simply did what they could just to survive and return home to a complicated peace.

As the conflict moves beyond living memory and the last veterans leave us, we are in danger of missing the opportunity to gain a true understanding of this rich history. By exploring a wartime experience that embraces sex, lust and the body as much as tactics and weaponry, Turner argues that the only way we can really understand the Second World War is to get to grips with the complexity of the lives and identities of those who fought and endured it.

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Reviews

The storytelling is beautiful, the research present but not intrusive: this book takes a familiar story of war and personalises it in new, sensitive ways
BRISTOL LIFE
Nuanced and thought-provoking . . . As the war recedes, its public memory is inevitably simplified: this book makes the case that only by becoming more varied and capacious can it remain relevant
Dan Todman, BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE
Beautiful . . . Luke Turner's tender account of servicemen's transgressive private lives, transforms our understanding of the Second World War . . . The mix of memoir, encounters with veterans and historical research is engaging and surprising. It is difficult to encapsulate the tender, forthright sensibility of Men at War; it is a loving, important work
Erica Wagner, NEW STATESMAN
Outstanding. A visceral, vital reassessment of masculinity during the Second World War, with sex in a dogfight versus death: the tenderness of flesh thrust up - and prevailing - against the cold machinery of warfare
RICHARD MILWARD
A bracingly compassionate, unapologetically sensual and profoundly personal reclamation of a part of our national heritage that is all too often hijacked. Turner was obviously born to write this book
LIAS SAOUDI
The army which fought for the Allies was largely composed of conscripts who were not necessarily respectful of military mores and martial manners. Their often gruesome situation was alleviated by a kindredly gruesome humour which infects Luke Turner's pages like a malevolent tonic: this indeed is the stuff the troops gave us, coarse, brutal, offensive, unsentimental - qualities which have vanished with the disappearance of an entire generation
JONATHAN MEADES
Profound, moving and complex, Men at War is a powerful reflection on trauma and love, on humanity in adversity
BRETT ANDERSON
From the opening page of this fascinating book I was captivated... It's written with a transparency and forthrightness that I found compelling and humbling... [a] brave book.
Lord Leslie Griffiths, METHODIST RECORDER
Very few writers understand the complexities of modern masculinity; even fewer can articulate it with such insight and sensitivity. Across an expanding body of work, Luke Turner boldly goes where few others dare to
BENJAMIN MYERS
Men at War is must-read. A breath of fresh air - human and extremely compelling
JOE COLES, author of THE HUSH-KIT BOOK OF WARPLANES
I hate war, and am not at all interested in glorious battles, or martyrs, or feats of derring-do, yet Luke Turner's passionately researched delve into the lives and lusts of queer men in the Second World War was fascinating
JUSTIN MYERS, AKA THE GUYLINER
This tribute to the outliers and oddballs of the Second World War is a reminder that, in the very best of ways, not all men are created equal
Dan Jones, THE TIMES
Armed with the knowledge of a war aficionado, Turner cements his seat at the table alongside those who might resist his queer narrative of World War II. By liberating these men of their wartime closet, Turner is also attempting to free the war and its effect on Britain from the revisionist clutches of a growing nationalist right-wing political agenda
Alim Kheraj, THE i PAPER
Turner's book reclaims these witnesses from the shadows, rescues them from abandonment. He refuses their dismissal from memory and offers their testimonies as evidence that many were true innocents abroad. He asks us simply to remember them.
THE NATIONAL
Turner provides an original, distinctive and extremely human insight into the war
Hugh Russell, BUZZ MAGAZINE
[A] vibrant book . . . By turns eye-opening and moving, this is a refreshing attempt to look again at the war's social and cultural legacy
HISTORY REVEALED
An intensely personal examination of manliness and sexuality in WW2 by a man who comes clean about his lingering Airfix habit. Turner fearlessly interrogates the war-obsession of 1970s boyhoods and unearths some extraordinary testimonies and stories from the frontlines. This is lovely, tender, subversive stuff
PATRICK GALE
Men at War is a thoughtful, empathetic and necessary examination of the impact of the Second World War on British culture. By looking at those who fought with honesty, rather than idolatry, it offers a powerful and overdue reframing of recent history
JOHN HIGGS
When the violence has ceased but the normal order of society has collapsed, Wanker Bill is in us all. Brilliantly researched and written by Luke Turner
JASON WILLIAMSON, Sleaford Mods
So original and surprising I am all but speechless with admiration
THE REVEREND RICHARD COLES
The real strength of the book is in how it demonstrates the power of desire as a driving force: in intellectual curiosity, national myth-making and in writing history. Men at War is a commendably vulnerable argument for desire as unapologetic historical methodology. As the Second World War recedes from living memory, critical reflections like this - about what we do with our inheritance, both the one we are given and the one we choose - stand to become all the more important
Jack Doyle, HISTORY TODAY
I loved this book. Luke Turner is such great company in this rich and very human history. Men at War never stopped surprising me
HANNAH ROSE WOODS
A brave and honest writer . . . if we want to understand our past whilst embracing the Britain of today with all its latent vibrancy and rich socio-cultural promise, we should read and reflect on Turner's book
LOUDER THAN WAR
Turner explores the quiet and sometimes unheralded heroism of men who resist our existing conceptions of martial valour, and in doing so, seeks to understand his interest in a war in which he did not take part, yet was shaped by in ways that are unexpectedly touching
TARIQ GODDARD
A dynamic and engaging account
John Sturgis, THE CRITIC
It is about time somebody re-examined our assumptions about the masculinity of the Second World War, and Luke Turner does it with much care and respect as well as judgement and critical insight
PATRICK WRIGHT