I've been awarded a small grant by the University of New England to fund research into 'Popular perceptions of the German threat in Britain, 1914-1918'. I'm very fortunate to have received this and very grateful. The basic idea is this:

This project will investigate the British public's reaction to the threat of German attack during the First World War, including invasion, air raids, and espionage. Broadly speaking, the anticipation of such attacks before 1914 has received occasional attention over the last few decades. However, the way these fears actually developed during the war itself is less well understood. From scattered evidence it is known that they included trekking to safe areas, spontaneous organisation of civil defence measures such as the occupation of Tube stations as air raid shelters, and anti-German riots, but no comprehensive study has been carried out, with the recent and partial exception of invasion fears in south-east England in 1914. These fears are important for several reasons. Firstly, because they played a role in strengthening or weakening popular support for the war. Secondly, because they played a role in the retention in Britain of substantial military, naval and aerial forces which could have been deployed on the Western Front and elsewhere. Thirdly, because during the 1920s and 1930s, memories of air raids by Zeppelin and Gotha bombers led to an exaggerated fear of bombing which in turn had significant psychological, political and military consequences.

This is designed to be a standalone project (i.e. and an article), but it's also designed to support my longer-term mystery aircraft research by establishing a sort of baseline for the effect and extent of other forms of scares. How I (tentatively) plan do this is as follows:

  1. Using a combination of distant and close reading techniques, survey the British wartime press to identify periods when fear was likely at its highest, which will likely include the period after the fall of Antwerp, October 1914; the battlecruiser and Zeppelin raids in December 1914-January 1915, the first London air raids in May 1915, the height of the Zeppelin raids in the winter of 1915-6; the daylight Gotha raids in the summer of 1917; the night Gotha raids in the winter of 1918; and the German spring offensives of 1918. This can be done via the Internet using digitised newspaper archives such as the British Newspaper Archive and Gale NewsVault, which between them give good coverage of national and provincial daily newspapers.
  2. The core of the research will be undertaken in London:
    I. 1 week research at the National Archives to examine the official understanding of public fears and responses to particular incidents such as riots and trekking.
    II. 2 weeks at the Imperial War Museum to survey diaries from relevant places and periods to ascertain privately held and expressed reactions to the German threat.
    III. 1 week in a provincial archive in a threatened area such as Hull or Norwich as a check of the predominant London bias of many sources, to gauge local government understanding of and responses to the German threat.
  3. Analysis of data and followup research, if necessary.

This is significant for a number of reasons. First, it's the first time I've won any substantial research funding. Second, it will be the first time I've moved outside aviation history to any real degree (even if I will still be mostly doing aviation history). And third, while my last research trip to the UK may not have been completely successful, I will be going back for more.

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14 thoughts on “More

  1. Congratulations on the grant and the new research project. I would recommend doing research in Hull. The Hull History Centre is nice, new and easy to get to. (I was surprised by how much construction and revamping there was in Hull when I was there in February by the way) But then again, Norwich is very nice too.

    I will be over there for the British Scholar conference in June (hopefully coinciding with the launch of my co-edited book on the British far left). Let me know if you'll be over at the same time.

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    Because of the way my teaching lines up next year, and for that length of time, it will pretty much have to be the same time of year as the trip I've just finished, i.e. November, if not December. At least I'll know what to expect this time, weatherwise...


    Thanks for the tips. The usability and availability of the relevant archives is obviously an important factor in choosing which one to use! But I'll also have to do some preliminary research to work out which area is more likely to be fruitful. Hull seems like the best bet at the moment -- it will be great for air raid fears as it was bombed on about a dozen occasions, and had many more alerts as Zeppelins passed by on their way inland. It was also not far from Scarborough etc, which were bombarded by German battlecruisers in December 1914. But I don't know how much concern there was about an invasion, that might have been greater in Norfolk, sticking out into the North Sea as it does. The first Zeppelin raids took place here. Kent is another possibility, though it suffered less from air raids; Catriona Pennell has looked at invasion fears there for the first months of the war, and that might have continued throughout the war, being so close to the fighting in France, relatively speaking. Luckily I don't have to decide yet!

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  6. Neil Datson

    Good stuff Brett. But I'm not too sure about:

    At least I’ll know what to expect this time, weatherwise…

    I've been living in this country for nearly 60 years and I'm buggered if I do. Anyhow, I hope we can meet up again. I'll have to get my beer swilling capability back up to speed.

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