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Commentary: Serving the nation, serving the people: echoes of war in the early NHS
  1. Roberta Bivins
  1. Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
  1. Correspondence to Prof Roberta Bivins, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK; r.bivins{at}


It is something of a cliché to speak of Britain as having been transformed by the traumas of World War II and by its aftermath. From the advent of the ‘cradle to grave’ Welfare State to the end of (formal) empire, the effects of total war were enduring. Typically, they have been explored in relation to demographic, socioeconomic, technological and geopolitical trends and events. Yet as the articles in this volume observe across a variety of examples, World War II affected individuals, groups and communities in ways both intimate and immediate. For them, its effects were directly embodied. That is, they were experienced physically and emotionally—in physical and mental wounds, in ruptured domesticities and new opportunities and in the wholesale disruption and re-formation of communities displaced by bombing and reconstruction. So it is, perhaps, unsurprising that Britain’s post-war National Health Service, as the state institution charged with managing the bodies and behaviour of the British people, was itself permeated by a ‘wartime spirit’ long after the cessation of international hostilities.

  • cultural history
  • medical humanities
  • popular media
  • politics

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  • Contributors RB is the sole author of this work.

  • Funding This study was funded by Wellcome Trust ( and grant number: 104837/Z/14/Z.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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