Harry Richards - Doctoral Student/Graduate Teaching Assistant

Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, during a decade of intensifying diplomatic relations with Germany, the British public were bombarded with anti-German literature purporting the existence of an army of German spies hidden throughout British society. Reports of German atrocities in Belgium and the experience of German naval warfare augmented British trepidations, and fears of the evil and ubiquitous spy transpired under concentrated Germanophobia and extensive anti-alienism. Police forces across Britain were inundated with reports of suspicious looking foreigners believed to be undertaking espionage activities, though contrary to popular sentiment, the actual existence of a significant German spy network was a complete fabrication.

Although the central authorities were well aware of this, and their counter espionage activities largely declined following the August 1914 spy round up, ‘spy fever’, as it has become known, had a clear and undeniable effect on the British public. This projects aims to investigate two previously neglected facets of the British internal security network to establish the counter espionage activities occurring at a local level. The home defence forces and county constabularies were charged with intelligence related duties, including the control of aliens and protection of defence works, and were doubtless unaware of the absent threat posed by German espionage. Consequently, they would have been much more susceptible to the spy fever hysteria.

By establishing how far spy fever motivated the police and military intelligence to continue pursuing the imagined threat of German espionage, this study analyses a novel feature pertaining to the nature and extent of spy fever and anti-alienism in Britain. As well as investigating two overlooked aspects of British internal security, this study also asks how far public fears and perceptions encouraged the genesis of the British secret state.

Supervisor: Karen Hunt

See Harry's profile here