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Masculinity, Intimacy, and Mourning: A Father’s Memoir of His Son Killed in Action in World War II

Ruxton, Sandy (2020) 'Masculinity, Intimacy, and Mourning: A Father’s Memoir of His Son Killed in Action in World War II.', Genealogy, 4 (2). p. 59.


Emotional restraint was the norm for the bereaved during and after the Second World War. Displays of individual grief were discouraged, and overshadowed by a wider concern for mass bereavement. There is limited archival evidence of the suffering that fathers of sons killed in action endured. This article draws upon and analyses a powerful memoir written by my grandfather, lamenting the death of his only son killed in action near the end of the War. While most men contained their emotions in such circumstances, this extended lament expresses a range of deep feelings: Love and care for the departed son, tenderness towards other family members, guilt at sending his son away to boarding school, loss of faith in (Christian) religion, and a sense of worthlessness and personal failure. Of particular interest is the impact of geographical distance over which this narrative is played out, and what it reveals about the experience of one white British middle-class family living overseas, but strongly interconnected with ‘home’ (and specifically Scotland). It also documents the pain of prolonged absence as a result of war; often boys sent ‘home’ to board were separated from their parents for much of their childhood, and were forced to ‘become men’—but not as their parents had envisaged. The article concludes by exploring the implications of this private memoir and what it reveals about memoir, masculinity, and subjectivity; gender and grieving; connections with ‘home’; and constructing meaning after trauma.

Item Type:Article
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Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.
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Publisher statement:This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (
Date accepted:08 May 2020
Date deposited:10 November 2021
Date of first online publication:15 May 2020
Date first made open access:10 November 2021

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