The Enemy in Our Midst: Germans in Britain during the First World War

By Panikos Panayi | Go to book overview

8
Anti-German Riots

During the course of twentieth-century British history, riots have broken out against national and racial minorities on various occasions. Before 1914 sporadic attacks occurred upon both the Jews and Chinese. In the immediate post-First World War period serious violence broke out against the coloured population of Britain. During the 1930s the Jewish population of the East End of London endured attacks. Since the Second World War the Black and Asian minorities have suffered violence on many occasions.1 However, no national group has endured wholesale and nationwide attack similar to that against the Germans during the Great War. Violence broke out against them on five main occasions: August 1914, October 1914, May 1915, June 1916, and July 1917. The riots in this sequence resulted in the most widespread disturbances in twentieth-century British history as areas from Glasgow to Winchester and Liverpool to London experienced violence. During the events of May 1915 thousands of people faced arrest for public order and looting offences while innumerable properties suffered damage at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The incidents of this month resemble a Russian pogrom with the native population attempting to clear out aliens.

Nevertheless, despite the scale of the anti-German riots, they have so far received only passing attention from historians.2 One has to ask why this is. We can suggest a number of reasons. Firstly, in the context of the Great War, and the death of millions of people, such incidents seem minor. Secondly, the British government tried to minimise their importance by issuing various press statements.3 And, thirdly, the disturbances do not fit into traditional views of

____________________
1
See Colin Holmes, "The Myth of Fairness: Racial Violence in Great Britain, 1911-19"', History Today, Vol. 35 ( October 1985), pp. 41-5
2
See, for instance, ibid., p. 43; Arthur Marwick, The Deluge: British Society and the First World War ( London, 1986 reprint), p. 131; P. J. Waller, Democracy and Sectarianism: A Political and Social History of Liverpool ( Liverpool, 1981), p. 272.
3
See PRO HO45 10787/298199. Much of the material on events in London previously appeared in an article in German History (Vol. 7, 1989).

-223-

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The Enemy in Our Midst: Germans in Britain during the First World War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations Used in References x
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Victorian and Edwardian Background 9
  • 1 - The Victorian and Edwardian Background 9
  • Part I - The Official Reaction 43
  • 2 - Measures Against Enemy Aliens 45
  • 3 - Internment and Repatriation 70
  • 4 - The Experience of Internment 99
  • 5 - Measures Against German Business Interests 132
  • Part II - The Popular Reaction 151
  • 6 - Anti-German Sentiment: Spy-Fever, Anti-Alienism and the Hidden Hand 153
  • 7 - Anti-German Manifestations: Witch-Hunts, Boycotts and Movements 184
  • 8 - Anti-German Riots 223
  • 9 - Support for Enemy Aliens 259
  • Part III - Conclusion 281
  • Conclusion 283
  • Bibliography 292
  • Index 303
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