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Germans in Britain

 Unattributed photograph in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 26 December 1914

Photos from The Man Who Stayed at Home, a play about a German spy in England, performed in London, December 1914.

When war broke out, there were more than 50,000 German-born residents in the UK. Many had held jobs for decades, married English nationals and had English children. Around 40,000 lived in London, others often in seaside resorts such as Brighton or Blackpool where they worked as waiters, hoteliers, barbers, musicians and cab drivers. A number of nurses in Britain were German.

The Aliens Restriction Act, hastily pushed through Parliament on 5 August 1914, stated that after 10 August enemy aliens would be unable to leave the United Kingdom without a special permit. Not all could leave so quickly. By late September, 13,600 Germans and Austrians were in internment camps, often living in basic, crowded and unsanitary conditions. Spy hysteria swept the country, although suspicions were not always unfounded; several enemy spies discovered in Britain were shot at the Tower of London.

Anti-German feeling was rife, making life for Germans in Britain intolerable. Numerous suicides took place, but such unsavoury news was avoided by the ILN magazines, which instead focused on providing an unavoidably biased portrayal of the German Army. News of Germany’s invasion of Belgium and the treatment meted out upon its citizens was a major factor in persuading British men to enlist.

A further series of German actions over the next few years – the bombardment of the Britain’s east coast

, Zeppelin and air raids on civilian targets, the first use of gas on the battlefield and the execution of British nurse Edith Cavell – all helped to seal Germany’s reputation for barbaric behaviour. In May 1915, the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat, resulting in the deaths of 1,128 civilians on board, including many women and children, triggered violent attacks and lootings on German shops in Liverpool and London.

The view of the enemy was more complex at the front where, depending on the level of activity, fear and hatred might be tempered by a grudging respect and occasional good-humoured banter across no-man’s-land.

For magazine illustrators, their depictions of Germans fell broadly into two categories – the ferocious, savage brute begotten by Prussian militarism as imagined by Louis Raemaekers and Edmund Sullivan, or the dim-witted porcine ex-waiter. As the bombastic figurehead of the German Army, the Kaiser and his associates were also relentlessly ridiculed. The Turks –  respected adversaries – were caricatured far less frequently.