British Society at War 1914-1918: Myth, Rumour and the Search for Meaning
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The myths and rumours that circulated during the First World War originated with soldiers and the general public, excepting atrocity stories. The British population used these myths and rumours to construct a discourse to explain its involvement in the First World War. This discourse reconciled the experience and understanding of civilians with the new era of Total War, offering hope and consolation in a time of crisis. It also acted as a form of mass, popularly produced propaganda which promulgated pro-war views that supported the British and Allied causes, while demonising the Germans and their methods of warfare. Belief in myths and rumours was equated with patriotism, and criticism decried as pro-German and un-British. The myths were widely disseminated and widely believed by important sections of the population. They drew on concepts palatable to British civilians: ideas of ‘just’ war and a moral cause; the nobility of their sacrifices; the bestiality of the enemy; and the necessity for the subordination of all else to the war effort. Myths about atrocities, spies and the paranormal helped the British public to survive a war that surpassed previous human and disquietude, but also experience. They also hinted at vulnerability, while expressing the unequivocal support which the majority offered the British war effort.