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The Origins of British Counter-Espionage

  • Thomas Boghardt
Part of the St Antony’s Series book series

Abstract

In 1870, the imperial French government of Napoleon III declared war on Prussia and her allies, but the Germans quickly annihilated the French army, invaded France, captured the emperor himself, and eventually conquered Paris. On 28 January 1871, French General de Valdan signed an armistice.1 Eleven days later, a British officer, Colonel George Tomkyns Chesney, submitted the outline of a short story entitled The Battle of Dorking to Blackwood’s Magazine where it was published soon afterwards.2 Chesney’s tale describes a successful German invasion of England, culminating in the rout and defeat of the British army at Dorking. Through the character of a veteran recalling the disaster for his grandchildren fifty years after the event, Chesney presented an invasion whose ‘coming was foreshadowed plainly enough to open our eyes, if we had not been wilfully blind’.3 His message was straightforward. A false sense of security and lack of preparedness had caused British failure. The story, subsequently reprinted in more accessible book form, adopted the moral imperative of shaking the British people from national indolence.4

Keywords

Short Story Intelligence Community Daily Mail Liberal Government General Staff 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Michael Howard, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870–1871, 2nd edition (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 441.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Sir George T. Chesney, The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (1871; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Ignatius F. Clarke, ‘The Battle of Dorking, 1871–1914’, Victorian Studies, 8 (June 1965), pp. 316f.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    On Le Queux, see Norman St. Barbe Sladen, The Real Le Queux: The Official Biography of William Le Queux (London: Nicholson & Watson, 1938).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    William Tufnell Le Queux, The Great War in England in 1897 (London: Tower Publishing, 1894).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    William Tufnell Le Queux, England’s Peril: A Story of the Secret Service (London: F.V. White, 1899).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Andrew Boyle, The Riddle of Erskine Childers (London: Hutchinson, 1977), p. 134Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands (1903; London: Penguin, 1995).Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Maldwin Drummond, The Riddle (London: Macmillan, 1985), p. 181.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Fergusson, British Military Intelligence, 1870–1914: The Development of a Modem Intelligence Organization (London: Arms & Armour Press, 1984), p. 211.Google Scholar
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    John P. Mackintosh, ‘The Role of the Committee of Imperial Defence before 1914’, English Historical Review, 77 (1962), p. 494.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Nicholas Hiley, ‘Decoding German Spies: British Spy Fiction 1908–1918’, in Wesley K. Wark (ed.), Spy Fiction, Spy Films and Real Intelligence (London: Frank Cass, 1991), pp. 58f. Predictably, this investigation led to nothing.Google Scholar
  14. 23.
    Michael Howard, The Continental Commitment: The Dilemma of British Defence Policy in the Era of Two World Wars (London: Maurice Temple Smith, 1972), p. 22.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
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  22. Edward Spiers, Haldane: An Army Reformer (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1980), p. 169.Google Scholar
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    Stephen E. Koss, Haldane: Scapegoat for Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 65.Google Scholar
  26. 40.
    For a discussion of the play, and its political context, see Nicholas Hiley, ‘The Play, the Parody, the Censor and the Film’, Intelligence and National Security, 6, 1 (1991), pp. 218–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 42.
    John Gooch, The Plans of War: The General Staff and British Military Strategy c. 1900–1916 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), p. 285.Google Scholar
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    Nicholas Hiley, ‘The Failure of British Counter-Espionage against Germany, 1907–1914’, The Historical Journal, 28, 4 (December 1985), pp. 835f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 57.
    Sladen, Le Queux, pp. 182f.; William Le Queux, Things I Know about Kings, Celebrities and Crooks (London: E. Nash & Grayson, 1923), p. 237.Google Scholar
  30. 75.
    Jean Graham Hall and F. Douglas Martin, Haldane: Statesman, Lawyer; Philosopher (Chichester: Barry Rose Law, 1996), p. 241.Google Scholar
  31. 86.
    PRO, CAB 16/8, ‘Conclusions of the subcommittee of the Committee of Imperial Defence’, p. 4: ‘By means of this Bureau our Naval and Military Attachés and Government officials would not only be freed from the necessity of dealing with spies, but direct evidence could not be obtained that we were having any dealings with them.’ See also Bernard Porter, Plots and Paranoia: A History of Political Espionage in Britain, 1790–1988 (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), pp. 123–34. Basil Thomson, the head of the Special Branch of Scotland Yard, denounced humanitarians as ‘subhuman’.Google Scholar
  32. 88.
    Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis (5 vols, London: Thornton Butterworth, 1927–1929), 1, p. 52.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Thomas Boghardt 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Boghardt
    • 1
  1. 1.International Spy MuseumUSA

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