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The Origins of British Counter-Espionage

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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

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Notes

  1. Michael Howard, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870–1871, 2nd edition (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 441.

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  2. Sir George T. Chesney, The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (1871; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

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  3. Ignatius F. Clarke, ‘The Battle of Dorking, 1871–1914’, Victorian Studies, 8 (June 1965), pp. 316f.

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  4. On Le Queux, see Norman St. Barbe Sladen, The Real Le Queux: The Official Biography of William Le Queux (London: Nicholson & Watson, 1938).

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  5. William Tufnell Le Queux, The Great War in England in 1897 (London: Tower Publishing, 1894).

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  6. William Tufnell Le Queux, England’s Peril: A Story of the Secret Service (London: F.V. White, 1899).

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  7. Andrew Boyle, The Riddle of Erskine Childers (London: Hutchinson, 1977), p. 134

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  11. John Gooch, The Prospect of War: Studies in British Defence Policy 1847–1942 (London: Frank Cass, 1981), p. 10.

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  12. John P. Mackintosh, ‘The Role of the Committee of Imperial Defence before 1914’, English Historical Review, 77 (1962), p. 494.

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  13. 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.

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  28. Nicholas Hiley, ‘The Failure of British Counter-Espionage against Germany, 1907–1914’, The Historical Journal, 28, 4 (December 1985), pp. 835f.

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  29. Sladen, Le Queux, pp. 182f.; William Le Queux, Things I Know about Kings, Celebrities and Crooks (London: E. Nash & Grayson, 1923), p. 237.

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  30. Jean Graham Hall and F. Douglas Martin, Haldane: Statesman, Lawyer; Philosopher (Chichester: Barry Rose Law, 1996), p. 241.

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  31. 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’.

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  32. Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis (5 vols, London: Thornton Butterworth, 1927–1929), 1, p. 52.

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© 2004 Thomas Boghardt

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Boghardt, T. (2004). The Origins of British Counter-Espionage. In: Spies of the Kaiser. St Antony’s Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230508422_3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230508422_3

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-51611-7

  • Online ISBN: 978-0-230-50842-2

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