Searle 2009 Myth

Title Information

Author: Kimberley J. Searle

Title: British Society at War 1914-1918

Subtitle: Myth, Rumour and the Search for Meaning

Thesis: M.A. Thesis, University of Canterbury

Year: May 2009

Pages: 200pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 20th Century | English History, German History | Types: Wartime Rape / First World War

Full Text

Link: University of Canterbury Research Repository (Free Access)

Additional Information

Abstract: »The myths and rumours that circulated during the First World War originated with soldiers and the general public, excepting atrocity stories. The British population used these myths and rumours to construct a discourse to explain its involvement in the First World War. This discourse reconciled the experience and understanding of civilians with the new era of Total War, offering hope and consolation in a time of crisis. It also acted as a form of mass, popularly produced propaganda which promulgated pro-war views that supported the British and Allied causes, while demonising the Germans and their methods of warfare. Belief in myths and rumours was equated with patriotism, and criticism decried as pro-German and un-British. The myths were widely disseminated and widely believed by important sections of the population. They drew on concepts palatable to British civilians: ideas of ‘just’ war and a moral cause; the nobility of their sacrifices; the bestiality of the enemy; and the necessity for the subordination of all else to the war effort. Myths about atrocities, spies and the paranormal helped the British public to survive a war that surpassed previous human and disquietude, but also experience. They also hinted at vulnerability, while expressing the unequivocal support which the majority offered the British war effort.« (Source: Thesis)


  List of illustrations (p. 3)
  Abstract (p. 4)
  Acknowledgements (p. 5)
  Chapter 1. Introduction (p. 6)
  Chapter 2. Atrocity stories and the myth of the 'Bestial Hun' (p. 16)
    The German invasion of Belgium and Northern France (p. 19)
    Real-life atrocities and the British press (p. 29)
    The myth of the 'Bestial Hun' (p. 35)
    The Bryce Report (p. 57)
    The political, social and psychological significance of atrocity stories (p. 65)
    Conclusion (p. 76)
  Chapter 3. Enemy Agents: Spies, Saboteurs and Traitors (p. 80)
    Pre-war backdrop to spy mania (p. 81)
    The outbreak of war: government responses to the spy menace (p. 94)
    Enemy agents in the popular imagination (p. 98)
    The popular reception and function of spy rumours (p. 122)
    Conclusion (p. 127)
  Chapter 4. The Supernatural: Angels, Ghosts and Prophecies of War (p. 130)
    Three types of supernatural stories (p. 131)
    The origins of Supernatural Reports (p. 138)
    Dissemination (p. 160)
    Reception of stories of the Supernatural (p. 166)
    Conclusion (p. 182)
  Chapter 5. Conclusion (p. 184)
  Bibliography (p. 191)
    Primary Sources (p. 191)
      Newspapers (p. 191)
      Official Publications (p. 191)
      Unpublished Sources (p. 191)
    Secondary Sources (p. 185)

Wikipedia: Wartime sexual violence: World War I

Added: January 24, 2015 – Last updated: January 24, 2015