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Public Schools and the Second World War (Hardback)

Military P&S History > Social History WWII

By Sir Anthony Seldon, David Walsh
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 352
ISBN: 9781526750396
Published: 7th August 2020



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Following their ground-breaking book on Public Schools and the Great War, David Walsh and Anthony Seldon now examine how those same schools fared in the Second World War. They use eye-witness testimony to recount stories of resilience and improvisation in 1940 as the likelihood of invasion and the terrors of the Blitz threatened the very survival of public schools, and they assess the giant impact that public school alumni contributed to every aspect of the war effort.

The authors examine how the ‘People’s War’ brought social cohesion, with the opportunity to end public school exclusiveness to the fore, encouraged by Winston Churchill among others. That opportunity was ironically squandered by the otherwise radical Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government, prolonging the ‘public school problem’ right through to the present day.

The public schools shaped twentieth century history profoundly, never more so than in the conduct of both its world wars. The impact of the schools on both wars was very different, as were the legacies. This book is full of profound historical reflection and is essential reading for all who want to understand the history of modern Britain.

This fascinating book draws widely on primary source material and personal accounts of inspiring courage and endurance.

As featured in

The Times 19/11/21

This book is incredibly well researched. I enjoyed the journey the book took me through.

NetGalley, Elizabeth Herr

An excellent and important addition to the extant literature on both the Second World War and the development of the public school system.

Journal of the History of Education Society

I highly recommend this publication to you.

Prep School Magazine

As featured in article 'Public schools and the public' published by

New Statesman, 17th March 2021 - words by Peter Wilby

Sir Anthony Seldon and David Walsh are well-qualified to have written this examination of the public schools' influence on and contributions to the Second World War. Both have public schools in their blood and both co-authored 'Public Schools and The Great War' in 2014.

Highly readable, this is a thoughtful examination of the Second World War which begins with the 'long shadow' of the First World War and ends with the missed opportunity to, in Winston Churchill's words in 1940, "establish a state of society where the advantage and privilege which hitherto have only been enjoyed only by the few [public schools populations] shall be far more widely shared by the many and the youth of the nation as a whole." That this failed to materialise is viewed, ruefully, by the authors as "The Opportunity Lost".

The book benefits from extensive notes, a comprehensive bibliography and an index which allows those with an interest in particular schools to quickly find those schools' contributions to the war effort.

5 stars

Read the full review here

Paul Nixon

This actually a very good book, well written and full of excellent detail. The book is further improved by having a very good bibliography, notes and reference section. So in conclusion this is a very good social history book and will go down well with a lot of readers.


Read the full review here

UK Historian

A new book argues that far from being a 'People's War' Britain's role in the Second World War was dominated by public schoolboys

The Telegraph 27/09/20

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This follows about public schools during world war 2 and about world war 2 itself as well as the changing of social and political landscapes during this time. this shows about the study in how public schools shaped the way the war was told and interpreted culturally and how they responded to victory in 1945!

5 stars a real enjoyable read as i love history!!

NetGalley, Shannon Wadlan
Sir Anthony Seldon

About Sir Anthony Seldon

Sir Anthony Seldon is Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University having previously been the inspirational Master of Wellington College and Headmaster of Brighton College. He has written or edited over 35 books including the standard works on Prime Ministers Major, Blair and Brown. He is the authorised historian to 10 Downing Street. He was knighted in 2014. His wife Joanna died of cancer in 2016.

About David Walsh

David Walsh is former Deputy Head of Tonbridge School and has taught in Australia. He co-authored Public Schools and The Great War (Pen and Sword Military 2013) with Anthony Seldon.
He leads battlefield tours. He is married and lives at Oxted, Surrey.

Perfect Partner

Public Schools and The Great War (Hardback)

In this pioneering and original book, Anthony Seldon and David Walsh study the impact that the public schools had on the conduct of the Great War, and vice versa. Drawing on fresh evidence from 200 leading public schools and other archives, they challenge the conventional wisdom that it was the public school ethos that caused needless suffering on the Western Front and elsewhere. They distinguish between the younger front-line officers with recent school experience and the older 'top brass' whose mental outlook was shaped more by military background than by memories of school. The Authors argue…

By Sir Anthony Seldon, David Walsh

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