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BRITISH AND FRENCH SERVICEMEN IN THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY AND THE INDOCHINA WAR, 1945-1960: EXPERIENCE AND MEMORY

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Between 1945 and 1960 the British and French governments sent thousands of regular and conscript soldiers to Malaya and Indochina. There, assisted by locally-raised troops and units from other parts of the British Commonwealth and the French Union (or the former empires respectively), they attempted to suppress communist-inspired insurgencies.

This thesis examines responses of British and French army personnel, both male and female, to these conflicts, the territories and local communities. It begins with an analysis of the forces’ composition and the international context they operated in. It then asks whether soldiers labelled the conflicts as local disturbances, wars of decolonisation or Cold War theatres. In parallel, it inquiries if they saw their enemies as bandits, nationalists or communist agents. The last two chapters investigate military views on centres of population, infrastructure, environment and peoples, or rather, the extent to which they occupied soldierly minds. Behind this scrutiny lies an attempt to identify imperial affinities, pre-conceived colonial images and pronouncements on Britain’s and France’s imperial records.

In scrutinising these issues the thesis seeks to verify the often-cited, but insufficiently supported, claim that Britain’s and France’s armed forces were strongly linked and attached to the colonial empires through conquest, policing and defence. More specifically, the project seeks to fill a gap in the existing literature in regard to military reactions to the end of empires. It does so through a comparative and interdisciplinary approach, drawing from and feeding into imperial, military, political, social, European and Southeast Asian history.

The project has relied to a large extent on oral sources. Careful consideration has therefore been given to the ways, in which events have been remembered, how this memory has been shaped over the decades and how it compares to academic studies.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2011

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