How Britain Undermined 'The Enemy Within' in World War I; A Former Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Wales Has Lifted the Veil on the Role of British Intelligence Agencies in Attempting to Frustrate Pacifist and Socialist Anti-War Protest in Wales during World War I. Chief Reporter Martin Shipton Explains the Findings

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 5, 2018 | Go to article overview

How Britain Undermined 'The Enemy Within' in World War I; A Former Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Wales Has Lifted the Veil on the Role of British Intelligence Agencies in Attempting to Frustrate Pacifist and Socialist Anti-War Protest in Wales during World War I. Chief Reporter Martin Shipton Explains the Findings


HALFWAY through World War I, the intelligence agencies turned their attention from rooting out enemy spies to those organising protests against Britain's military involvement.

In an article for Welsh History Review, Dr Aled Eirug traces the significant impact such a decision had in Wales, where an active minority opposed the war from the outset.

A former BBC journalist who has also been an adviser to Lord Elis-Thomas and Leighton Andrews, Dr Eirug is now a senior lecturer at Swansea University and attached to the Morgan Academy, a think-tank based in the university.

He writes: "The rapid expansion of the intelligence agencies' activity from January 1916 onwards was an attempt to combat what was considered to be the influence of a subversive combination of pacifism, socialism and industrial militancy. "MI5's central registry already formed the basis of an international network for gathering and exchanging intelligence, and it supervised the creation of military security units throughout the dominions and colonies of the British Empire.

"However, as the German threat from spies and espionage receded, the intelligence agencies redirected their zeal toward combating the enemy within."

The 1914 Defence of the Realm Act created what was described as "a watered-down form of martial law", empowering the executive to bypass Parliament and the courts. The head of Special Branch later admitted that the police "had greater powers conferred upon them than they are ever likely to have again".

Dr Eirug states: "The instruments of a corporate police state were rapidly created and the intelligence agencies became increasingly dedicated to policing, monitoring and taking action against those who were claimed to be undermining the war effort."

The impact of the anti-war movement in Wales led to much anxiety within the Home Office, as well as in the intelligence services and Special Branch. The Government was concerned for the security of strategically important rail and port facilities, as well as the critical importance of ensuring a constant supply of Welsh steam coal to the Navy.

Together with Clydeside in Scotland and the north-west of England, south Wales was regarded as one of the most militant and troublesome areas of Britain in this period, and it was here, as well as in London, that the campaign against conscription was most effective.

In August 1917 Professor EV Arnold of what is now Bangor University wrote a memorandum read by members of the War Cabinet which warned of the "angelic anarchy" of opposition to conscription and support for the Russian Revolution. Referring to the leaders of the agitation as "Labour in Revolt", Arnold said they were young men aged between 20 and 40, and stated: "The result of the present war is entirely different to its members; England is not their country, and the war is not their war."

Arnold alleged that recruiting for the services had been brought "almost to a standstill" and warned that this group of men wanted to pursue a Labour Party conference proposal "by which the international proletariat will establish peace over the heads of all governments", and he feared a strike where "the theorists of south Wales have the game in their own hands". …

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How Britain Undermined 'The Enemy Within' in World War I; A Former Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Wales Has Lifted the Veil on the Role of British Intelligence Agencies in Attempting to Frustrate Pacifist and Socialist Anti-War Protest in Wales during World War I. Chief Reporter Martin Shipton Explains the Findings
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