The fear of invasion

In the 19th century, Grea..." /> Invasion! – Empire in Peril

Background

Published on February 26th, 2016 | by Mark

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Invasion!

The fear of invasion

In the 19th century, Great Britain might have had the greatest navy in the world and ruled the waves, but the potential of new military technology, such as aerial bombardment or powerful artillery, made the British Isles increasingly vulnerable.

Examples include The Great War in England in 1897 by William Le Queux. The novel imagines a war in which troops from Russia and France invade England from the south coast.

The Battle of Dorking

In 1871 Lieutenant-Colonel George Tomkyns Chesney caused uproar with the anonymous publication in Blackwood’s Magazine of his story ‘The Battle of Dorking’. Chesney believed that Great Britain was unprepared for an armed invasion from Germany, especially after its victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The story is told in retrospect from 50 years in the future when a soldier recounts to his grandson the terrible events. Using a powerful new weapon (called only ‘fatal engines’) the German navy destroys the British fleet and soldiers land in Harwich. They march upon London and the final battle is at Dorking in the Surrey Hills. The British army is defeated. Germany takes control of Britain, and the Empire is disbanded. The reaction to the story was immediate. The British, having grown complacent with their military superiority, were horrified and the Government had to reassure the public that plans to review the army were already in hand.

The story was published in a separate booklet and sold in tens of thousands throughout Europe. It also encouraged a host of sequels, including What Happened after the Battle of Dorking (1871), The Siege of London (1871), The Invasion of England (1882) and The Battle off Worthing: why the Invaders never got to Dorking (1887). Chesney’s alarmist story had catapulted the genre of future-war fiction into the public arena.

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