Cold War frontier? British military communities in Germany, 1945-2020

Wednesday 16 November 2022 (14:00-15:30)

Dr Kate Smith (


Germany was the most common posting for generations of British service personnel after 1945 and home to hundreds of thousands of British service personnel, dependents and civilians during the Cold War. These bases played a pivotal role in British military thinking after 1945; they acted as staging posts for interventions in the Middle East, Northern Ireland and the Balkans; and they were used by politicians and ‘VIPs’ to put forth an image of British national identity or to underline a particular international stance.    

But base communities also developed a distinct culture of their own, one which shines a light of some of the tensions in post-war, post-imperial and Cold War Britain. For some, bases were 'British Islands set within the German mainland', largely cut off from their West German neighbours and even regarded as a ‘replacement for the Raj’ (Beevor). Others made a purposeful effort to meet local Germans and to counter the anti-German sentiment which had become part of British ‘postwar folklore’ (Wittlinger). Life on these bases was a break from the difficulties of post-war Britain for some, yet others found their outdated social hierarchies stifling. These bases also formed the frontline in Britain’s changing Cold War, where residents lived or worked alongside some of the conflict’s most deadly weaponry; yet at the same time, Germany became the epitome of ‘boring’ peacetime soldiering and frequent scandals over British soldiers’ behaviour caused many to reflect on what Cold War warfare meant in reality.

Based on 60+ life-history interviews with a range of former base residents, conducted as part of the AHRC-funded 'British Military Bases in Germany' project, this paper will use insights from oral history to explore these tensions and complexities at the heart of the British military presence in Germany. More broadly, it will also ask how people narrate long-term change, habitual action and quotidian life.

Dr Grace Huxford is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Bristol. She is a social historian of warfare and an oral historian and has recently been Principal Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded fellowship, 'British Military Bases in Germany: Living with the Cold War and its Legacies, 1945-2000' project. She is author of The Korean War in Britain: Citizenship, Selfhood and Forgetting (Manchester, 2018) and numerous articles on Britain’s Cold War, veterans’ history and oral history. Twitter: @grace_huxford 

This event has been organised by the Centre for War Studies (CWS) in collaboration with the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures (BRIHC).

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