...No fewer than two hundred thousand Germans were already upon English soil! The outlook grew blacker every hour. Eight years before the outbreak of the First World War, when national hysteria over the supposed presence of German spies in England gripped the country, the journalist and novelist William Le Queux imagined a catastrophic scenario in which the German army invaded Britain in a shock attack on the east coast. His novel, first published as The Invasion of 1910 and serialised in the Daily Mail, was intended as a warning to military strategists and the government of the time that England was unprepared against the real threat of military assault. It sold over one million copies and was translated into twenty-seven languages. This chilling story chronicles a fictional war fought on British homeland, with detailed accounts of battles and defence lines in real locations envisaged in conjunction with the defence experts of the time. It also brings to life the realities of food shortages, propaganda, espionage, media coverage and the vulnerability of financial institutions during an attack.
The story begins with an innocuous conversation between two journalists who have lost telegraphic connection with Great Yarmouth but quickly unfolds as news emerges of a full-blown invasion. One by one strategic cities - Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield - are abandoned to the German army until events culminate in the battle for London. More than an entertaining read, this novel, complete with fictional proclamations from Kaiser Wilhelm II, shines a spotlight on the fears and hopes of Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century and heralds a very different idea of warfare from the time before the Great War.
William Le Queux was an Anglo-French journalist and the author of more than one hundred novels. Mike Webb is Head of Cataloguing of the Western Manuscripts section, Bodleian Libraries.
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