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The Illusory Threat: Enemy Aliens in Britain during the Great War

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

In 1914 there were around 53,000 Germans immigrants living in Britain, yet by the end of the Great War, there were only 22,000 left. During the war the British government spent a lot of time and effort producing legislation directly aimed at protecting domestic security and against enemy aliens.
This thesis understands and explores the methodology and workings of the infant intelligence community and places the use of intelligence and work of the Secret Service Bureau at the centre of the governmental decision making process in relation to the enemy alien question during the First World War.
By assessing the intelligence available on enemy aliens at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the thesis seeks to understand what the real issues were and why decisions were made with regards to internment and repatriation legislation in the Great War. It arises that the British government had a co-ordinated enemy alien policy, which was not borne out of a reaction to press and public pressure for change.
Chapter one focuses on pre-war; developments that facilitated the British government’s adoption of the premise that enemy aliens were a potential domestic security threat to the home front in the event of a war with Germany. These developments were the birth of the Secret Service Bureau and the activity surrounding the compilation of the unofficial register of aliens. Chapters two and three examine the role of the Secret Service Bureau in relation to the enemy alien question and the Bureau’s influence with other government departments during the First World War. Chapter four considers the Secret Service Bureau’s role in developing enemy alien legislation between 1909 and 1918. Finally Chapter five considers the patterns and impact of press and public pressure on the British government’s alien enemy policy.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2016

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