In which we serve

"In Which We Serve" was released in December 1942. The film is about the determination and heroism in World War two. The film was produced by Noel Coward who also plays the lead role in the film as Captain Kinross or Captain D. He expresses his views of the Britain as a patriotic country. He was devoted to his country and so delivered us this film with seriousness and as a propaganda film. World War two began on the third of September in 1939 when Hitler refused to retreat from Germany. The Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany. This war was being fought for many social change and inequalities in Britain's future, and national unity. At this time class was a major issue which is dealt with throughout the war, also false prophecies such as Hitler's peace in our time. Throughout the film we see how leadership works within society, a depiction of patriotism, the life of women and children at home and most importantly the relationship of the marines, navy and their homes.

After WW1 women's lives changed for the better, the government started providing jobs for women. According to Arthur Marwick by the time WW2 came around the government knew the significance of employing women during desperate times. Women were being employed to do all sorts of jobs which would have been regularly done by the men. They helped build ships, drove tanks, drove ambulances, mechanics and were air raid wardens. During the film women are housewives but in fact it was only a few years after the film in 1941 women were employed to do manual work such as engineering and in 1944 that 320,000 women were employed by the Civil Service. Women aged 19-24 could also serve in auxiliary services once they were not married and did not have children. There were under half a million women employed in the Women's Navy Service as well, they would do secretarial work, and similar work to being at home such as providing meals and cleaning. Women's skills were used for the wars advantage and they were also used as "morale boosters" for troops in WW1 however this is not the case in WW2 as all the men seem happily married and care for their families. This showed us that there was a slow shift in the lifestyle of women which would only improve as time went on and traditions were only going to change. By the end of WW2 two new things had been introduced the first being equal pay for men and women. Women would do the same jobs as men but they would receive a less amount of shillings per week for the exact same tasks. Secondly the employment of married women, it was a tradition that once a woman had married that she would give up her job to become a housewife and care for her husband, children and home. This meant there was an economic and social freedom for women; they now had a sense of independence. This film is significantly different to The Dam Busters which is a post war film which gives us no idea of what was happening at the home front, it is solely based on the relationship between the fighter pilots.

The film begins with a voice over which tells us that it is a story about a ship, the H.M.S Kelly which was sunk by dive bombers at the Battle of Crete. We see the headlines in The Daily Express which state no was this year which was on the 23rd of May. The relationship between the marines, the navy and their families is ever present throughout the film. The film begins with ships shooting at each other, then air craft squadrons dropping bombs into the water. A missile hits the ship and they are all forced to jump overboard. This is when a few of the troops swim to a dingy and the flashbacks begin. Captain Kinross is struggling under the water and is the first person to give us a look through the window into his home life and the preparations which were made for this war. We see him speaking to a member of his squad in his office; the officer asks him if he want the picture of his family on his desk or on the shelf. The officer puts it on his shelf and then Kinross puts a picture of his wife Agnes from their wedding day on his desk. This straight away gives us an insight into how important marriage was to him. Then an officer is driving Kinross home and the two continue to talk about their wives. When Kinross arrives home, we are presented with this idyllic picture perfect home and family. He is immediately greeted outside by his two children, his son Bobby and his daughter and of course his devoted wife Agnes who calls him "darling". The children continue to tell Kinross how much they have missed him and awaited his homecoming. The children have a lot of respect for their father as they do what he says and run off upstairs bed to await their parents for a story. The relationship between him and his wife is a loving one, as they sit down together he compliments her by asking her is she wearing a new dress and telling her that she looks as good as new. They express to each other that they missed one another. They discuss whether they think there will be a war, while they are having a drink they say "here we go... cheers"[1], this marks the beginning. The there is a flash to the Captain Kinross having a meeting with his troop at the docklands saying that the ship has to be repaired and even though the ship would usually take three weeks to repair that he wants a rush job of commission done in three days. The troop is close and intimate; it is as they are each other's family whilst away from home. Kinross recognises marines which he has served with before such as Reynolds, Blake, Parkinson and Adam's. This shows us that the people he serves with are not just another marine or number they are all individually memorable. The two things that he asks of his squad are that his ship is a happy and efficient ship that it cannot be one without the other, he is an ambitious man.

Then we get a glance into another life, Walter Hardy is pulled into the float and has a swig of whiskey before whispering his wife's name Kath and passing out. His flashback is to his home and his family like Captain Kinross telling us that their families were of real importance to them. Here Hardy is sitting in the living room reading the headlines of the paper. Newspapers are constantly being read throughout the film, people are waiting for news. His wife comes in and Hardy then has a cup of tea. Tea is also a significant symbol throughout war time which indicates a method used to settle the nerves and of finality which reoccurs many times. It is important to note that we also see this in "The Solider Looks For His Family" which is a short story. The solider says in the very last line, " I could do with a cup of tea myself"[2]. A hot drink is like a symbol for comfort. Like Kinross Hardy also compliments his wife telling her that she will always be young to him. Kath's mother is also a part of his life he tells her to look after Kath for him before he departs.

Back in the water Captain Kinross has a flashback again to Christmas time, when there are carollers singing and they are all celebrating with their families. Walter and Kath have Christmas dinner and Walter makes a speech which he shows his true dedication to his country, and his number one priority, the H.M.S ship. This is how things were at the time we can see clearly that Walter and Kinross love their families dearly but there was no other option at the time war and battle had to come first, their county must be protected. He says that "civilisation is trembling" as they are on the verge of war and they are happy to be together. No one wants to go to war but it must be fought as a means to an ends, it is the only solution.

We then get a glimpse of Kinross' Christmas with his family. Here we see that Marie is engaged to a marine and Agnes is asked by her husband to make a toast. This is one of the most memorable scenes of the film as Agnes tells us the harsh realities of being a marines wife, the truth how women really feel is depicted here and it comes to the for front which is rare as women did not speak much of their concerns during the war, they usually suppressed their emotions for their families sake. She tells us that the wife of a sailor has no stability in her life, which they are often pitied for their lifestyle, and they are constantly moving from houses to flats always trying to protect themselves and their children. Agnes tells us that wives of marines, soldiers, navy constantly have to juggle their domestic duties. They always try to remain busy as it is too painful to think of what is really happening in the war and will their husbands ever return. She then makes it known that between the home front and battle front there is always an undefeated rival no matter where you go. She explains that even though women know that they are loved by their husbands that their marriage and their children always come second to their main priority that is battle. This is why they reside to the inevitable so she ends the speech by toasting the ship saying that she fond and proud of all that sail with her.

Back at the float Shorty says " do you know what I would like right now? A nice cup of tea"[3]. Here we have the image of the cup of tea again to settle the nerves, to make everything alright. Even today it is the one thing that everyone wants and offers during a time of tragedy. The air squadron fly over again the troop tries to get down low but Shorty is shot in the arm as he is pulled into the float we see the tattoo of the name Freda on his arm before he passes out at the sight of blood. Frieda Lewis Shorty's wife, we see that they met on a train and he gives her a cigarette from the H.M.S canteen. She explains that her uncle is also an officer on a destroyer, the same one which Shorty and Joey are on. Once they get off the train they go to a cafe and have another cup of tea. This is like type of ritual and formality of the time. They arrange a date, they agree to meet under the clock at Victoria Station the following day as he must leave at the weekend again. Shorty tells her that he is going to bring her dancing. Dancing, theatre and cinema were the main forms of entertainment at the time which troops thoroughly enjoyed when they were not at war. Other hobbies of people were knitting, smoking; drinking, reading newspapers and drinking cups of tea were all traditions of for them at home. We see the relief of Shorty's mother when he returns home she screams, and is overwhelmed that he is alright signifying the worry and distraught lives that women experience whilst men were away. They sat together drinking tea with Fred who is Shorty's father. Freda and Shorty get married and they go off on the train on their honeymoon to go Torquay. Captain Kinross enters their cabin and Agnes wishes the pair the best of look as she knows how tough women's lives are. Kinross and Agnes have their dinner and they speak about their honeymoon which gets slightly sentimental when Agnes says it went rather quickly reinforcing the issue that her husband is never around as he is always at war.

Whilst away they act as each other's family, before the ship sank we them beneath deck playing cards, smoking pipes and drinking port. The alarm is sounded, once this happens all the men man their stations. When the bombs get close and one hit the bottom of the ship one man leaves his station and when the captain gives the orders to carry on shooting he is not there. Once the ship returns home for repairs the captain makes a speech, he says that thirty six men lost their lives and that there will be a memorial for them. He tells all the men that they performed well under the pressure when the torpedo hit. He said that two hundred and forty two did as he wanted but one man left his post without permission. He said that usually he would punish this behaviour but in this circumstance he would only issue a warning as he never made it clear that this was not to happen.

When they are in the water they all sing Run Rabbit Run and A Barrel of Laughs, this is a comfort to them as this is what they liked when they were at home. Walter remembers being in the theatre with Kath, Shorty and Freda as they enjoyed a production together. These songs act as a comfort factor to them as it reminds them of their lives with loved ones. Another thing which is apparent is the fact that we never see any major form of a public display of affection. When Kath and Freda go down to the gate at the docklands to say goodbye they peck each other briefly and share a short embrace. This shows us that it is not really intimacy which connects people together. It is left to the women to worry, but they never talk about how scared they are that they may never see each other again. Shorty says to Freda that there is no point of hanging about and bids her farewell by saying cheerio. It is important that we see the marines are always trying to keep in contact with their loved ones at home, they write letters explaining what is going on. On the ship the navy have soldiers as guests Shorty brings around the comfort hot drink of coco again with a few biscuits for the crew. We see again the consideration that they have for one another as one man's arm is injured and cannot drink by himself Shorty takes the time to feed him the biscuit and give him a drink. The ship is constantly back and forth from home for repairs but they are never with their loved ones for long periods of time of that time is precious and they are always in their thoughts. We see when they are on leave that they spend every minute with their loved ones. When Kinross is on leave we see him having a picnic with his wife, children and even the family dog. In Marwicks "The Home Front" we see that it was rare that the marines and navy would get leave.

During an attack on London we see Kath, her mother and Freda in their home knitting and Kath is fixing tea. The curtains are pulled and windows blacked out which was a tactic used during the war so that bombers would not see the lights in homes. Kath's mother says that men work and women weep which a very true statement during the war. Kath's mother is adamant that they evacuate and go to the shelter as the alarm has been raised. Freda is knitting at this point and she and Kath agree to stay where they are because if their husbands come home they will be expecting to find them in the house. She also mentions that the bulbs in the garden need looking after this tells us that the women put the true danger of war to the side as it is too hard to deal with the reality of it. Freda moves underneath the stairs and Kath says she will fix some tea, at this point the house is blitzed and Freda is the only one to survive. This is when Shorty receives a letter from home explaining that he now has a son and that Kath and Mrs.Hardy are dead. When Shorty goes to break the news to Walter he is in the middle of writing to Cath. When he tells him that Kath is dead Walter's reaction is simply "Oh, I see, thanks I am much obliged"[4] and "think I will go out on deck for a bit"[5]. Here we see the repressed emotions of Hardy; he is in shock and disbelief. This shows us that the upper class is self disciplined, they have emotional control on things such as death they try not to dwell on it. They have a stiff upper lip which seems to be useful at times of turmoil. When it flashes back to the dingy more men are shot before they are finally spotted by an ally troop. Again we hear the barrel of laughs song. At this point at the home front Shorty's mother receives a telegram and so does Agnes stating that Shorty and Kinross are safe and will be returning home shortly. They are all delighted and the weight of stress has been relieved.

At the end of the film Kinross once more makes a speech, he thanks all the marines for a job well done, he explains that they will all be sent to replace men who have died on other ships. We see that he is close to each individual as he tells them he would happily serve with any of them again as they made his job as a leader very easy. He takes the time to thank each marine separately, to bid them farewell and to wish them luck. This shows us that regardless of class they became united together and that he cared for each of his squad, they looked out for one another. The story ends with voice over blessing each marine who sails on every ship and saying that their service gives Britain eternal and indomitable pride.

The war time propaganda extended the language of the work place to the management of the home. This film has intense repletion at times to get its point across. This film is a war time film unlike post war films such as "The Dam Busters". This film shows absolutely no relationships the air force had with their wives of home life. The only women we see are the ones who provide a service to them such as cooking or providing meals at breakfast. This is how post war films differ from actual war films. The relationship between the home front and battle front is one which is never forgotten and from far away in Crete the navy, marines and soldiers are always thinking of their homes.


  1. Noel Coward and David Lean (1942), "In Which We Serve"
  2. Virilio, P. (1989) "War and Cinema, The Logistics of Perception" Great Britain: Bookcraft
  3. Aldgate, A. (1979) "Cinema and History, British Newsreels and the Spanish Civil War" England: Scholar Press London
  4. Gledhill,C. Swanson, G. (Eds). (1996)"Nationalising Femininity, Culture, sexuality an British cinema in the Second World War" Manchester : Manchester University Press
  5. Marwick, Arthur.(1976) "The Home Front", London: Thames and Hudson
  6. Michael Anderson (1995)"The Dam Busters"
  7. Prebble,J.(1915). "The Solider Looks For His Family"

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