Limelight Soldiering? The Cold War and the Experience of British Military Personnel in Berlin, 1945-1971

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis interrogates what it meant to be a British soldier in Cold War Berlin between 1945 and 1971. It argues that British military authorities, conscious of Berlin’s place in the international limelight and its operational constraints, promoted a specific idea of soldiering in Berlin for soldiers to emulate. This ‘limelight’ role emphasised the importance of visibility and image, through conventional duties such as ceremonies, patrolling, and training, as well as through their general conduct both on- and off-duty. Contemporary military newspapers played a key role in promoting this limelight role, which allowed individuals to fulfil their own expectations of what constituted soldiering, whilst also being highly visible ambassadors or representatives of Western freedom and democracy. This thesis demonstrates, however, that ‘limelight’ soldiering significantly challenged how men understood their military function in Berlin, both contemporaneously and retrospectively.

This thesis also scrutinises how important the idea of the Cold War was for British veterans, when composing retrospective personal narratives. Berlin was, and remains, synonymous with the Cold War and its ideological and cultural associations. This thesis argues that the military realities of the Cold War fundamentally differed from this wider, enduring collective memory, which affected how men later remembered their service in the city, and the conflict itself. The city’s physical location one hundred miles behind the Iron Curtain challenged how veterans imagined needing to defend Berlin, which in turn affected how they perceived their symbolic limelight soldiering role. This thesis therefore not only contributes to understanding a politically significant and symbolically important posting for the post-1945 British military, but also to wider literatures on Cold War memory, illustrating how men selectively drew on Cold War imagery when ascribing meaning to their experiences in this most iconic of locations.
Date of Award19 Mar 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJosie McLellan (Supervisor) & Grace Huxford (Supervisor)

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