After the Watershed

The majority of research on British invasion-scare fiction has treated August 1914 as a natural watershed. This is in part a reflection of wider historiographical trends in which the outbreak of the First World War is assumed to represent the end of an era, be it Edwardian or Victorian.[1] It is also a recognition of an important change in circumstance. For a generation of writers that had made their names prophesying inevitable war, the events of August 1914 saw the political context of invasion literature irrecoverably shift. The threat of foreign attack was no longer the province of authors dismissed as alarmists and scaremongers, it was an occupational hazard of total warfare, as German zeppelin raids would soon confirm. While some novelists responded by heeding Kitchener’s call for men (such as A. J. Dawson and Saki), others continued to write anti-German tracts (notably William Le Queux) or became involved in the official propaganda effort (H. G. Wells).

Yet ‘traditional’ invasion narratives did not dry up as quickly as has often been thought. Edgar Wallace’s “1925”: the Story of a Fatal Peace (1915) imagined the invasion of Britain by a resurgent post war Germany, stressing the importance, a la Versailles, of total subjugation. Continuing the Edwardian genre’s focus on the compulsory military service campaign, “Wake Up!”: a Dream of Tomorrow (1915) by L. Cowen argued that conscription was essential if Britain was to be secured against the ongoing threat of invasion. In an interesting play on the pre-war issue of Irish Home Rule, a debate that was violently re-opened during the 1916 Easter Rising, The Germans in Cork (1917) by the pseudonymous Baron Von Kartoffel imagined a German-occupied Ireland, emphasising to Irish nationalists that a German victory over Britain was unlikely to trigger independence. The theme of invasion, then, maintained a degree of influence and relevance in British wartime popular fiction.[2]


Daily Mail (30 October 1914)

One of the most interesting examples of this longevity, Hindenburg’s March into London, raises important questions concerning the genre boundaries of British invasion fiction. Originally published in German as Hindenburgs Einmarsch in London (1915), written by Paul Georg Mϋnch, the work quickly piqued the interest of the British press. Described as “extraordinarily and amusingly crude” by The Times, the Dundee Courier christened it “the book of the Christmas season in Germany”.[3] Various newspapers quoted enormous sales figures. Stimulating “all the worst passions of the German people”, the Western Daily Press reported that over two million copies had been sold, while the People’s Journal suggested that “[w]aggon-loads have been sent to the front for distribution among German soldiers with the intention of feeding their carefully fostered hate for Britain”.[4] When the English translation was first serialised in the People’s Journal in early-1916, it was billed as “an opportunity to see the real working of the German mind”.[5] 

British readers of Hindenburg’s March into London were treated to a sensationalist and belligerent narrative of German triumphalism. Beginning with a historical survey of pre-1914 Europe, Britain is described as a “ruthless schoolmistress […] [educating] the countries of the European continent in accordance with England’s wish and will”. Dismissing the Balance of Power as a synonym for “English Predominance”, the author lays the blame for the war firmly at the feet of warmongering British statesmen.[6] The story proper begins with a Hindenburg-inspired victory on the eastern front, forcing Russia to conclude a separate peace. Turning westwards, the combined German armies quickly defeat their French and British foes.  The Royal Navy, in turn, is dispatched in a single paragraph, as a coordinated zeppelin and submarine attack on the Channel Fleet paves the way for the German invasion of Britain.[7] Landing troops at several points along the coasts of Kent and Sussex, a decisive battle is fought on the North Downs, in which the Germans inflict a resounding defeat on the British defence forces. The story concludes with a symbolic march of German troops down the famous thoroughfares of London. Addressing his men outside Buckingham Palace, the victorious Hindenburg praises his audience for making history:

“[…] tell your children the great things you have witnessed in these days, and write all this with a firm stylet on your family tablets, so that in the future […] your children’s children shall say to your honour and to the confusion of our enemies: “One of my forefathers once bivouacked before Buckingham Palace after helping to subdue a whole world of enemies.” Good night, comrades!”8]


Cover of original German edition


In Voices Prophesying War, I. F. Clarke categorises Hindenburg’s March into London as a work of German future-war fiction. Comparing it with Arthur Machen’s fantasy The Bowman (1915), Clarke describes the novel “a denunciation of enemy wickedness” shaped by an “exaggerated sense of absolute right”.[9] Many contemporary commentators interpreted the novel in similar terms. The Yorkshire Post considered Mϋnch’s book “as amusingly arrogant as anything that has come out of Germany”, while the Aberdeen Journal suggested the work “ought to give as much amusement in this country as it gave satisfaction in Germany”.[10] Yet the English translation arguably highlights the complex reception of this narrative in Britain. Writing in his introduction, L. G. Redmond offered the following thoughts:

“Had the present bombastic adventure been by way of warning, or even by way of threat, and had it come from the pen of an Englishman, like, say, “The Battle of Dorking,” or Wells’ “War in the Air,” or even William Le Queux’s “Invasion,” we might have questioned its good taste, but we could have felt no qualms in taking it as a tribute to Germany’s greatness; but coming at this belated hour from the pen of an unknown poet of the Fatherland […] it simply indicates a blindness and an unconscious sense of irony[.]”[11]

Despite distinguishing Mϋnch from Chesney, Wells, and Le Queux, Redmond indirectly identifies Hindenburg’s March into London as part of the invasion-scare genre. Various newspaper reviews discussed the book in similar terms. For the Manchester Guardian there was “nothing new in a fantasy in these lines”, as “[t]he most sensational of our own imaginative writers had worked out the same plot much more convincingly before the war”.[12]

There is a clear difference between German visions of future-war and British invasion narratives. The case of Hindenburg’s March into London, however, is a curious one, and raises interesting questions relating to the status of translated works. Much like earlier German novels including The Coming Conquest of England (1904), Redmond’s translation was consciously and deliberately framed with the Edwardian invasion literature tradition. Despite its German origins, the work can arguably be approached as an example of ‘British’ invasion-scare fiction.



[1] See for example A. Marwick, The Deluge: British Society and the First World War (London: Bodley Head, 1965), M. Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London: Bantam, 1989).

[2] I. F. Clarke, Tale of the Future, 3rd ed. (London: The Library Association, 1978), 44-46.

[3] The Times (23 November 1915), 7, Dundee Courier (29 December 1915), 2.

[4] Western Daily Press (12 February 1916), 5, Dundee, Perth, Forfar, and Fife’s People’s Journal (5 February 1916), 11.

[5] Ibid.

[6] L. G. Redmond, ed., Hindenburg’s March into London: Being a Translation from the German Original (London: John Long, 1916), 23, 33.

[7] Ibid., 43, 66-67.

[8] Ibid., 252-253.

[9] I. F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars 1763-3749, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 129.

[10] Yorkshire Post (24 January 1916), 6, Aberdeen Journal (27 January 1916), 4.

[11] Redmond, ed., Hindenburg’s March into London, 13-14.

[12] Manchester Guardian (31 January 1916), 6.  

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1 Response to After the Watershed

  1. ailisebulfin says:

    This is a really interesting and ground-breaking perspective on the invasion scare genre, which is usually seen as disappearing as a popular form after the actual outbreak of war. This would be great extended into article form!

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