Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection Notes Books Authors 10 2007

image of the cover of the NZ Boys' Annual

The New Zealand Boy’s Annual [no date]

‘Willingly to War’: British and imperial boys’ story papers, 1905-1914 Andrew Francis

First published in 2007

By the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection

P O Box 12499, Wellington, New Zealand

© Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection and Andrew Francis

ISSN 01145428

An examination of Edwardian boys’ story papers demonstrates not only a fundamental shift in the traditions of juvenile literature but also the attitudes of Britons towards their continental neighbours. France, Britain’s traditional foe, had been replaced with a new, more dynamic and dangerous threat – Germany.1 Between the end of the Boer War in 1902 and the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, publishers of papers such as Boy’s Own Paper (BOP), Chums, and Boy’s Friend Library began to reflect changes in political, social and cultural attitudes by presenting both the British Empire as one undergoing constant challenges to its supremacy, and Germany as the source of this undeserved provocation.2 German characters in stories were portrayed as humourless, militaristic, and bullying, in direct contrast to Britons around the world who were viewed as honourable, just and fair.3

Within the pages of boys’ story papers, Germans were presented as underhand spies posing as bakers, butchers and waiters seeking to overthrow the British state from within. It was such deceitful tactics that set them apart from their British counterparts. These professions became synonymous with Germans in the Edwardian era, so much so that upon the outbreak of the Great War, it was occupations such as these that became targets of anti-German riots within Britain and the dominions.4

The purpose of this work is two fold: first, to assess the role played by boys’ story papers in the Edwardian era in creating an imperial brotherhood of young readers between Britain and the Dominions; and secondly, to examine the techniques used by authors and publishers to educate readers on the perceived military threat posed by Germany. This, in tandem with reports in the daily press, gained credibility, in particular after 1905. By examining the role of story papers and the methods adopted by publishers in this period, a greater understanding of the level of anti-German sentiment prevalent within British and Dominion societies before 1914 will be realised.

The importance of Edwardian boys’ papers for the Empire cannot be overstated. It was one of the ways in which society both inculcated its members on the prevailing ideas and attitudes and brought together those in the white Dominions in an appreciation of British cultural and racial superiority. In this period, New Zealand was subsumed within an imperial ideology, unsurprising given its overwhelmingly British population. The ties between the two were close-knit, to say the least. As one observer noted, ‘Education, reading, prevailing sentiment, economic interest – all turned the New Zealand writer’s thoughts and ambitions towards England; and given the opportunity, it was to England he or she migrated.’5 That these connections were so strong provided magazine publishers with a further market to be pursued.

Story papers were the main source of entertainment for boys between the mid-Victorian era and the Second World War. Kelly Boyd has noted that ‘they were quick to respond to events of the day, allowing their popular characters to take part in important movements in society.’6 As such, the dissemination of British intellectual and cultural life, undoubtedly as important as political, economic and martial considerations, could be assisted through literature.7 John Buchan, himself an avid supporter of the imperial ethos, considered the role of Empire as a ‘world-wide brotherhood with the background of a common race and creed’ in which the culture and traditions of Britain would have new life breathed into them by the freshening winds of the Dominions.8

Involving the Empire’s youth in an appreciation of Britain’s imperial traditions and supposed cultural superiority also provided the opportunity for publishers to plunder a new market. The Religious Tract Society (RTS), for example, saw its annual sales income increase from approximately £110,000 in 1870 to over £180,000 in the mid-1880s.9 The reciprocal arrangement between consumers and producers is an interesting one: consumers indicated what they liked by what they bought; in turn, the producers, seeking ever greater profits, responded to their readership’s demand. Providing that the price of magazines was acceptable (in most cases never more than one penny and therefore within the range of many youths), and the material did not stray beyond acceptable boundaries, this was a relationship primed for mutual advantage. As John MacKenzie has argued, the imperial principles that underpinned many adult authors’ works were reshaped to capture the imagination of juvenile readers.10 In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these settings were in far-flung corners of Africa and Asia, but by 1905 these tales took on a more Eurocentric feel with Germany increasingly portrayed as the central protagonist.

Publishers and the authors they contracted to supply stories expressed concern about the future of the Empire, and the threat posed by an increasingly hostile Germany. Both of these elements were already a feature of adult literature and, by 1906, appeared on an almost daily basis in newspaper copy. It should be no surprise therefore that proprietors of daily newspapers such as Lord Northcliffe should introduce increasingly widespread concerns about Britain’s domestic and imperial future into juvenile publications operated through his Amalgamated Press.11 Throughout the late-Victoria era, newspaper circulation in Britain had increased due to advances in telegraphy and the mass printing press, a rise in population, increased standard of living, and an expansion of primary education leading to a steady growth in literacy.12 Thus, it was a natural response during this period that publishers should reach out to a younger, and to that point, untapped market.


The Empire annual for New Zealand boys[no date]

Nearly all juvenile literature available prior to the Great War was published in Britain, with editions specifically for the Dominions of New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Providing a further link with the Mother Country, the boys’ papers aimed at those in the Dominions intended to ‘make Britons of them’. All the necessary attributes required to be a loyal son or daughter of the Empire could be achieved by filling the pages with tales of imperial derring-do.

The role of the Empire loomed large in boys’ story papers, both those for domestic consumption and those set aside for the Dominions. Going by unimaginative titles such as New Zealand Boy’s Annual, Australian Boy’s Annual and Empire Annual for Boys, these works contained many of the same stories and authors prevalent in British magazines.13 There was clearly a reciprocal arrangement at work: those living in Canada, Australia and New Zealand would learn the virtues of any good imperial subject (honour, duty, sacrifice), while those in Britain would learn of the diversity and vastness of an Empire established in their name.

In New Zealand, colonial settlement and furthering knowledge of Māori customs were regular features. For some youngsters, letters in the ‘Correspondence’ section of periodicals also played a significant role in strengthening ties with Britain. One such correspondent, S. Pearson, who referred to himself as an ‘Old Colonial Boy’, noted that he had petitioned the Wellington Library Committee so the BOP monthly parts ‘should be regularly placed on reading-room tables, particularly for the benefit of poorer boys.’ He continued that this had been successful as the Newtown Free reading-rooms and other reading rooms of the colony were now supplied with copies.14 For this ‘Old Colonial Boy’, access to juvenile magazines appeared to provide an important mode of maintaining New Zealand’s close relationship with Britain.

Accounts of reading culture in this period stress the kinds of publications in which a juvenile code of honour, chivalry and loyalty was established. Adult fiction and fiction for children were connected by an approval for imperial manliness and citizenship; but children’s literature of the type considered here concentrated specifically on the essentials of making a constant and loyal child into a good citizen, and later, soldier of Empire. Despite the apparent abstractions of such a process, adults remembered it well when they looked back to their childhood. Frederick Willis, author of Peace and Dripping Toast, recalled with great fondness that ‘we thought British people were the salt of the earth … the object of our education was to train us to become honest, God-fearing, useful workmen, and I have no complaints against this very sensible arrangement.’15 If this was the reaction by Britain’s youth there is reason to believe that the same effect was present elsewhere in the Dominions.

Those looking for an understanding of Empire would not fail to be influenced by the literature available. Publishers seized this unique opportunity to regularly reinforce the imperial code through cultural stereotypes, the requirement to be good citizens and the need to be prepared to defend the Empire to any level. To this end, any threat to Britain was a perceived threat to the Empire; therefore, priming those in the Dominions to react accordingly became increasingly evident during the Edwardian era. A further aspect of interest is that in general, juvenile literature, then and now, was directed at children aged between ten and fifteen. Therefore youths reading material published in 1905 would be aged between 19 and 24 when war broke out in 1914; a significant age group for recruiting officers within Britain and the Empire.16


Fear and suspicion of the foreigner in British literature represented a tradition evident since the 1880s. In 1887, Arthur Conan Doyle unleashed Sherlock Holmes on an unsuspecting world in A Study in Scarlet. Sexton Blake, Britain’s foremost spy of the age, first appeared in 1893, and Anthony Hope’s Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau were published in 1894 and 1898 respectively. But it was the Germans in particular, who became the source of most concern – concern, it can be argued, that was ignited as a result of their support given to the Boer cause during the 1899-1902 war.17 In 1903, in the wake of the Boer War, Erskine Childers published The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service Recently Achieved and, in 1906, William Le Queux published The Invasion of 1910, perhaps the most popular of pre-war spy stories. Both books were published to critical acclaim.18

Though Childers and Le Queux directed their work at adult audiences they represented a growing trend of anti-Germanism that was proliferating in juvenile literature. ‘Penny dreadfuls’ traditionally provided the main repository for foreigner and invasion-scare stories. These staples of the literate working classes, however, had come under pressure from a raft of magazines and journals aimed specifically at children, with the intention of providing reading material of greater literary worth. Educational reform under the Sandon Act (1876) and Mundella Act (1880)19 helped raise the standard of juvenile literacy to such a degree that by 1892-3 juvenile literature made up nearly 20 per cent of all library issues in British lending libraries.20 From these developments both commercial and philanthropic organisations such as the RTS seized opportunities in this previously untapped market.21

The RTS, initially founded to publish religious works, reflected changing tastes and attitudes to religion by establishing the BOP in 1879, itself joining the ranks of other ‘penny weeklies’ which were springing up in this period. The RTS’s mission was simple: to produce books and magazines that were ‘morally improving’, which would combat the ‘poisonous stream of pernicious trash’ of the ‘penny dreadfuls’.22 In its first five years BOP’s circulation rocketed to 250,000, though at its peak it claimed sales of one million before its demise in the 1960s.23

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the BOP adhered to the themes established in its infancy: honour, fair play, decency, restraint, and patriotism. As the Great War drew closer these very attributes were contrasted with German aggression, underhandedness and dishonour. That all these fine qualities were embedded in adventure stories set in Britain’s Grammar and Public Schools, or in exotic overseas locations, made them far more appealing to impressionable British and imperial youth.

The intended audience differed from magazine to magazine. Like the BOP, Chums, founded in 1892, was aimed at children of all classes but The Captain, established in 1899, unashamedly targeted public school boys. Regardless of the magazine’s title, adventure heroes attended the great schools of Eton, Harrow and Winchester, and their aim was to advance the cause of the British Empire in the best public school tradition. Sport naturally played a significant role in the ideology of these magazines; character-building pursuits such as captaining the cricket First XI or rugby XV, or participating in the University Boat Race, were regarded as stepping stones towards joining either the Colonial Service or the military, and stories portraying this underpinned the philosophy espoused by editors of the day. This sense of leadership, however, could not have been achieved without the unwavering loyalty, dependability and trustworthiness executed by the working class characters in such stories, who, according to Peter Parker, regularly displayed acts of ingenuity and bravery, which compensated for their lack of social status.24 The unstinting loyalty of working class characters displayed in the pages of boys’ papers made it clear that there was a crucial role in any future war for all young Britons and sons of the Empire, regardless of background, education and social standing.25

Populist literature suffers from derogatory labelling, such as the ‘penny dreadful’, but neither adult nor juvenile literature was universally of low quality. In fact, some of the material aimed at children was written by great names of the day. Doyle, Jules Verne and George Alfred Henty all wrote for the BOP, while Henty, Fenimore Cooper and Sax Rohmer, the creator of Fu Manchu, were regular contributors to Chums. What is equally important here is they all had glowing reputations in adult fiction within Britain and the Empire. In their study of the reading habits of Australians in this period, Martyn Lyons and Lucy Taksa found that British literary greats shaped reading habits well into the twentieth century. These authors, along with Kipling and Buchan, all featured strongly on the bookshelves of Australians until the 1930s and it is safe to assume that New Zealanders would have expressed a similar desire for British authors in this period. 26

The calibre of the writers clearly shows the importance placed on ‘penny weeklies’ for children.27 The writers themselves realised the value their stories were having on the minds of the young to the point that Doyle felt ‘obliged’ to enlist as a medical doctor in the Boer War in 1900 on the strength of his story telling. As he explained to his mother, ‘I have perhaps the strongest influence over young men, especially young athletic sporting men, of anyone in England (bar [Rudyard] Kipling). That being so, it is really important that I should give them the lead.’28 That Doyle was aware of this influence is testament that literacy among the young had reached significant levels. That being so, those committing to story papers’ tales of heroism, adventure and espionage were in a position of some authority and as such magazine proprietors were able to attract the best writers in Britain.


The Boer War provided the catalyst for both the rise of Anglo-German antagonism in the twentieth century and a rejuvenated relationship between New Zealand and the Mother Country. German protests against British action in Southern Africa combined with the Kaiser’s tacit support of Paul Kruger’s Republican government led the British government to view Germany as a dangerous European and imperial threat. As such, an alliance, sought by the German Foreign Ministry in 1902, foundered, and paved the way for 12 years of Anglo-German antipathy that culminated in the outbreak of war in August

The link between boys’ papers and patriotism is no more clearly demonstrated than by its association with the Boer War. As expected, the vast majority of juvenile magazines firmly supported the war and stories mirrored events during the three-year conflict, many of which expressed anti-Boer and anti-German sentiments. The exception to this was BOP whose failure to openly support Britain’s war effort, because of influential Baptists within the RTS, adversely affected the magazine’s circulation figures during the conflict.30

Within the Empire the Boer War was greeted with great enthusiasm. Patriotism reigned within political circles and societies at large. Within ten days of war’s declaration, a New Zealand volunteer contingent set sail for Africa.31 Prime Minister Richard Seddon announced, as the troops left Wellington, that New Zealanders would ‘fight for one flag, one Queen, one tongue, and for one country – Britain.’32 A booklet commemorating New Zealanders’ contribution defined the significance of the conflict:

It is a glorious page in our history. The whole nation is aroused, and the imperial spirit has taken a firm hold … the united action of our vast Empire has been an object lesson to the world. The old spirit of the mother is not lacking in the sons.33

On 24 May 1903, the inaugural Empire Day took place around New Zealand. Children in particular were encouraged to celebrate the Empire and understand fully its implications. The Earl of Meath,

Children at Empire Day celebrations, Stratford, 24 May 1903 Photographer: James McAllister Reference no: 1/1-012615-G Alexander Turnbull Library

Children at Empire Day celebrations, Stratford, 24 May 1903Photographer: James McAllister

Reference no: 1/1-012615-G Alexander Turnbull Library

founder of the Empire Day Movement, urged the Empire’s youth to ‘excel in the practice of Faith, Courage, Duty [and] Self-discipline’, thus ‘strengthening the British Empire, and consolidating the British Race’.34 It is clear from Meath’s message that Empire Day was concerned with strengthening imperial ties; making the Dominions aware of their British heritage and emphasising both their present and future roles for the maintenance of the Empire, whether in good times or bad. Again, the rhetoric of mothers and sons comes through Meath’s message. Britain, the ‘mother’ was viewed as the provider, the protector, and in this instance the educator. It was Britain’s purpose to keep the Dominions informed of changing attitudes at home so that they, as loyal children, could follow suit accordingly. As such, the role of the Dominions’ youth was pivotal to the success of this indoctrination.

Further support for the Empire came from the Christchurch Navy League’s publication in 1907 concerning Britain’s maritime capabilities. In an essay by T. Cheyne Farnie, it was argued that Britain’s justified distrust of Germany warranted the maintenance of the Empire’s naval supremacy. Since the 1870s, he argued, Germany’s economic, military, and population growth had made her a power to rival Britain. Germany’s 60 million citizens residing in a nation only double the landmass of New Zealand would need to find an outlet. As Britons had done before them the Germans would follow suit; only this time at the expense of Britain:

Modern Germans are looking out for other territories beyond the sea, vaster and more spacious lands, where their race and nationality may burgeon, and blossom and fructify, until the Teuton shall possess the earth, and all that is therein. What wonder, then, that the Kaiser and his people cast envious eyes upon the prosperous and over-sea colonies of Britain, and perhaps cherish the wish that these ready-made examples of successful colonisation may some day soon drop into the rapacious German maw.35

As with other pressure groups, the Navy League’s remit was to actively warn the British Government against complacency and the belief that Germany was a friendly power whose interests in no way conflicted with Britain’s. But, Germany’s secret hopes and aspirations, so the League contested, could not fail to bring her into dispute with Britain and as such, military preparations were of the utmost urgency.36

Ironically, at the point when overseas confidence in Empire appeared to be at its zenith, Britain was experiencing uncertainty about its global status. The Boer War had exposed weaknesses in the Army; the poor health of British soldiers at the time caused shockwaves through the military and political communities to the point where calls for conscription became commonplace.37 The poor health of soldiers was associated with the poor health of Britain’s civilian population. Newspapers investigated the ‘deterioration of the race’ and doubts were raised whether Britain was in a position to maintain its primacy in world trade. In fact, both the United States and Germany now rivalled and threatened to seize Britain’s share of international commerce. While troops were stalled in South Africa, the Boxer Rebellion in China temporarily shook Britain’s influence in the Far East and by 1905 Japan’s defeat of Russia meant that for the first time in almost one hundred years, the continental balance of power, which had operated in Britain’s favour, was under threat.38

In many cases, stories and features, which appeared in children’s literature mirrored concerns and anxieties reported in daily newspapers across Britain and the Empire. The key event which ignited British enmity towards Germany was the latter’s push for naval parity in the wake of the Anglo-French signing of the Entente Cordiale in April 1904. From this point onwards it was evident that in the not too distant future Britain and Germany would settle their differences on the high seas and the battlefield. Juvenile magazines, like daily newspapers, were reacting to these changes in the international arena. BOP, Chums, The Gem, The Magnet, The Captain, and Empire Annual for Boys not only played a pivotal role in keeping British and imperial youth informed of such developments, but in many instances published fictitious stories which portrayed a future European war in which Britain would be victorious.


Stories published by Northcliffe’s Amalgamated Press closely resembled his general policy of agitating against the British Government. Throughout the Edwardian period, regular editorials in The Times pushed for increased naval expenditure while also warning of advances made by Germany in its naval programme.39 His campaign of warning and denunciation, which Hamilton Fyfe has argued prepared the public mind for war, was a common feature in his publications.40 In 1906 he serialised, in the Daily Mail, Le Queux’s The Invasion of 1910, a fictional account of an invasion of England’s south coast. Though Northcliffe agreed with the tenor of the story, he also had one eye on profits. He insisted the invasion route be changed to incorporate towns in which his newspaper sales needed boosting. That Lord Roberts, president of the National Service League and former senior military commander, was involved in the book’s structure is testament to how much importance Northcliffe placed on the supposed enemy threat.41

The onset of powered aviation and its ramifications for international politics also featured heavily in both Northcliffe’s dailies and his juvenile magazines. Through the Daily Mail he offered £1,000 to the first aviator to successfully fly the English Channel in either direction. Louis Bleriot, French inventor, aircraft designer, and self-trained pilot, did so on 25 July 1909.42 His achievement delighted the public but stunned many in the British military and political establishment. Its impact on Northcliffe was palpable. From this point, until the outbreak of the Great War, editorials in his daily press revealed his attitude towards invasion from Europe and the pressing need for Britain’s military preparedness. At the same time, he was not averse to publishing letters from concerned readers that supported his stance, especially when aircraft technology looked set to shift the nature of warfare.43 In equal measure, children’s publications from his own Amalgamated Press, such as the Boys’ Friend Library, were mobilised to inform on Britain’s military capabilities, in particular naval capabilities, and educate as to the dangers of the ‘enemy in our midst’.44

From 1910 onwards there was a discernible shift in the tone of many juvenile magazines within Britain and the Dominions. The staples of travel, quest and adventure remained but they were joined by tales of male comradeship, heroism, and courage in the face of danger, in some cases courage leading to death. Plots in these stories followed a profoundly moral pattern: evil, well-armed Germans, intent on the subjugation of Britain and her Dominions by foul means, were defeated at the eleventh hour by a brave but ill-prepared Briton who achieved this by displaying all the virtues of amateurism instilled during his days at public school.

This more urgent tone as displayed in BOP and Chums came at a time when Anglo-German relations were deteriorating, and discussions at parliamentary level were considering Britain’s susceptibility raised by Bleriot’s crossing of the Channel. The RTS, like Northcliffe’s Amalgamated Press, became increasingly aware that Britain and the Empire’s youth needed to be kept informed of geo-political developments. In an article that could have come from the hand of Northcliffe, Norman Leigh’s ’Aeroplanes and how they fly’, set out clearly the BOP’s stance regarding powered flight and the Government’s perceived inertia on the matter:

It is humiliating to us as a nation that apparently so little has been done in England. It is difficult to believe that we have no men equal to the French and American aviators who have drawn the attention of the whole world; rather would we have it that the English are averse to spending money on undertakings which show no sign of profit. When the production of aeroplanes becomes a commercial proposition, then we may expect to see the British machines in the forefront. That time is not yet.45

This belief in informing Britain’s youth of significant technological developments and the movements of foreign nations had already been set in Jack Maitland’s 1906 article, ‘Facts about the German Navy’. Published by the BOP, Maitland’s article stated that each man in the navy ‘must wear a moustache (trimmed like the Kaiser’s).’ Maitland maintained that the German navy was not yet half the size it intended to be and that German officers, ‘once attaining a proficiency in English were allowed a leave of absence of several months and additional pay to spend time in England’, with the intention of collecting ‘any information they can’. ‘Of course’, it continued, ‘every facility is given these gentlemen to study our dockyards.’46 The clear moral of this piece was that Germans could not be trusted and had ulterior motives while in England. A further effect of such articles was to accentuate the inherent differences between Britons and Germans; whereas Germans were welcomed to English coastal boarding houses, this was in marked contrast to the treatment received by Britons in Germany. To hammer home the point Maitland relayed the highly dubious story that told of a small British yacht, which was seized while anchored off the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven:

Its occupants (two barristers or doctors, I think) were at once arrested (and though they were not imprisoned) were not allowed to proceed until the account they gave of themselves had been verified. Then they were ordered off.47

In the Edwardian era making clear the distinctions between Britons and Germans, whether in duty, honour, chivalry, or a sense of fair mindedness, helped justify, to some degree, the publication of derogatory stories, which became increasingly common in the years leading up to the war. To this end, they contributed to a wartime belief that Germans, despite sharing cultural, dynastic and racial similarities to Britons, were indeed, a breed apart.

“The New Torpedo: A Story of Up-to-Date Piracy’ by Harry Collingwood, in The Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys

“The New Torpedo: A Story of Up-to-Date Piracy’
by Harry Collingwood, in The Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys

Harry Collingwood’s ‘The New Torpedo: A Story of Up-to-Date Piracy’, builds on Maitland’s theory that Germans were occupying important posts within British military installations.48 James Mountford, otherwise known as Kropp, is a German agent who, upon leaving service at the Woolwich Arsenal, attempts to find a position at a torpedo depot in Weymouth, on England’s south coast. Managed in England by Captain Hermann Schulz, a German spymaster with impeccable English, and Baron von Bergmann, head of the German naval department, Kropp set about his task to steal a new type of torpedo designed by Engineer-Commander, George Seymour Huntley.49

What follows is a well-trodden path of German underhandedness on the high seas. Huntley’s torpedo is on final tests before being utilised by the navy when it mysteriously disappears. He deduces that the torpedo has been magnetised to the underside of a British vessel lying out in open water. Believing that the vessel provides no danger to secrecy (despite naval testing going on) Huntley boards the craft and discovers it is indeed a British vessel, but one that has been hijacked by a German crew. When the crew realise the game is up they release the torpedo back into British hands and prepare to suffer the consequences. Watching these proceedings from a submarine at safe distance is a shadowy figure, possibly the Baron, who, realising that Schulz has been arrested, submerges and sets course to return to Kiel in Germany, no doubt to plot his next attack on Britain.50

Collingwood’s tale built upon increasingly common fears and anxieties that Germans were ready to invade Britain at any given moment, adding to the distrust already felt towards Germans resident in Britain.51 In terms of its martial implications it reinforced the idea that naval defences were crucial to British, and therefore, imperial security. Stories such as Collingwood’s were interspersed with more factual articles concerning Britain’s naval expenditure such as those put forward by F.S. Hartnell.52 These stories were a way of justifying what was spent and where, and keeping in the public arena the threat enemy powers were likely to pose.

The militaristic nature of Germans is evident in Rev. W.J. Foxell’s ‘The German Man’, which tells of the ineptitude of an unlikely named Herr von Puffenheim, a militaristic schoolmaster who takes a post teaching German at an English public school. Unfortunately for von Puffenheim he is without the wit and guile to control the students, instead devoting his energies to extolling the virtues of the Kaiser. Sporting the ubiquitous moustache, ’which curled most ferociously up to either ear’, the master declared, in equally stereotypically manner: ‘Ach himmel! Der Kaiser is ein shplendid mann. He is a vorld power: he is colossal. He can all do. He loves die army and von day I shall general begome. Ach! Das vaterland muss grosser sein.’53 The postscript to this seemingly pointless tale was that the hysterical German master, consumed with militarism, returns to the Fatherland and the ‘teaching of the German tongue at St. Cosmo’s is now entrusted to a travelled Englishman who can keep order.’54

Stories located in schools presented opportunities for authors to introduce military themes that involved youngsters, as well as accentuating the differences between British and German boys. The tone was set as early as 1906 with Ernest Pulbrook’s ‘The German Schoolboy’. British (and imperial) boys, he argued, were mischievous yet honest, in direct contrast to German boys who were regarded as humourless and sly, a result, so Pulbrook suggested, of a militaristic dominance over German society:

As soon as he enters school he comes under the almost military discipline which hedges round the inhabitant of the Fatherland throughout his life. There is very little esprit de corps among German boys and they are apt to be sneaks. In fact in many ways their conduct would meet with the scorn of a healthy British boy. There is practically none of that hearty, healthy mischief which so plagues the life of the schoolmaster at home. 55

This all-consuming militarism was a key feature in the telling of many children’s stories. While Pulbrook’s observations grossly exaggerated the martial propensities of the German State and the hold it had over Germany’s youth, stories such as this nevertheless attempted to establish in the minds of Britain’s readers German potential for underhand activities in order to steal a march on Britain in the event of conflict between the two.

‘The Understudy: The Spy Plot and its Unravelling’ by Doris Pocock  in The Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys

‘The Understudy: The Spy Plot and its Unravelling’
by Doris Pocock in The Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys

In Doris Pocock’s ‘The Understudy: The Spy Plot and its Unravelling’, naval espionage is foiled by typically inquisitive and mischievous schoolchildren, illustrating the role that all civilians, young or old, could play in averting military disaster. A German Admiral, a guest of his British counterpart, is discovered rifling through a desk by a group of boys. Clutching a sheet of paper the Admiral proclaims, ‘All’s fair in war – ach ja! These plans will serve the Fatherland in the next war.’56 One of
the boys, half-realising what the document could be, declares,

that chap’s a spy … I’ve heard my pater and some of those Admiralty friends of his talking about some amazing sort of new submarine one of them has invented, which will be simply the thing if there’s ever another war, and that paper must be the plan of it!57

What transpires is that the German ‘spy’ is no more than an actor researching a role for the local amateur dramatics society; nevertheless, the story served its purpose: a German official behaving in an underhand way while a guest in Britain, and daring to talk of the next war, was yet another example of German military might attempting to steal a march on fair and decent Britons.

‘The Understudy: The Spy Plot and its Unravelling’ by Doris Pocock  in The Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys

‘The Understudy: The Spy Plot and its Unravelling’
by Doris Pocock in The Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys


With the benefit of hindsight it seems incredible that in the Edwardian era fictitious wars between Britain and European powers were being constructed within the pages of juvenile literature. War, of course, has always been the inspiration for many a ripping yarn, and along with colonial expansion, was the vehicle through which British superiority (either racial or martial) could be expressed. This premise provided the starting point for authors such as ‘Captain’ Frank Shaw and Harry Collingwood, who were both regular contributors to boys’ magazines.

In ‘For England: The Tale of a Modern Sea Fight’, Shaw, a recent recruit to Chums, set the scene in this highly improbable tale of naval engagement in the Baltic Sea:

War has been declared by Holland and Russia on England! The flying messages were summoning the scattered fleets of Britain from the ends of the earth, for it was said that a mighty array of ships of war was being massed in the Baltic in readiness for a descent on our shores … Britain, baring her teeth, prepared to give the world the lesson it was awaiting.58

In the context of the Great War this tale makes startling reading. Conflict between Britons and Europeans was nothing new, but imperial differences were usually settled in far-flung corners of the Empire, not in European waters. That this story predicted, even relished, a war between Britain and European powers, a war that would threaten British domestic security, marked a significant change in how authors were reflecting shifts in international relations.

Shaw cut his teeth in the Edwardian era and later proved to be a first-rate recruiting agent and propagandist after August 1914.59 In this tale he recognised that British predominance of the oceans was under threat, yet this threat would be met with expected British resolve: ‘never before, during two centuries, had a hostile fleet crept so near to the shores of England. It was an insult that must be wiped out in blood.’60 However, to remain within the traditions of boy’s own adventures, the hero of the piece, 18 year-old (and therefore a near contemporary of many readers) Hal Grenville, urged his colleagues to ‘fight as they fought in Nelson’s day’, which involved pulling his ship alongside Dutch and Russian vessels, boarding them and defeating the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.

An equally important source for anti-German literature is the Boys’ Friend 3d Library series, published by Northcliffe’s Amalgamated Press from 1907 to 1925. Published generally on a weekly basis, each issue was dedicated to one story ranging from historical melodramas to espionage novels. A number of Sexton Blake stories featured in the Boys’ Friend Library series, which more often than not adopted an anti-German bias. Germany’s quest for territorial expansion and a need for a technological, tactical and strategic advantage over Britain is the driving force behind many espionage activities. A further feature is the issue of financial gain offered to those willing to work for Germany, which was placed ahead of any absurd notions of loyalty and honour, again, re-emphasising the inherent difference between Britons and those on the Continent

‘A Woolwich Arsenal Mystery: A tale of Sexton Blake’. width=

‘A Woolwich Arsenal Mystery: A tale of Sexton Blake’.The Boys’ Friend Library 27

In one of the Boys’ Friend Library series, ‘A Woolwich Arsenal Mystery: A tale of Sexton Blake’, a representative of a ‘foreign’ armaments manufacturer, Schwab, Rucker and Guelch, calls on Alf Beaumont, a dependable employee of the Woolwich Arsenal. Like so many shop-floor employees engaged in arms manufacture, Alf lives in a working-class area of South East London, close to the Arsenal. It transpires that in his work he has made modifications to the Gatling gun making it a more versatile weapon. The foreign representative offers to pay Alf handsomely for his services, which involves Alf and his family relocating to Germany. The loyal employee responds by stating that

You must have reckoned that I’m a Britisher, or I wouldn’t be employed in the Royal Arsenal. And any invention that I made was bound to be in connection with munitions of war. To sell it, therefore, to any other country before offering it to my own War Office would be a dastard trick. Any nipper at school knows that much.61

At this the representative is thrown from Alf’s house. A witness to this remarkable scene is Sexton Blake himself, en route to visit a friend. When he mentions the scene to his friend, Dr. Phelps, he is told that Beaumont is ‘a tremendously clever fellow with lots of character and a fine disposition. And if he had got a good opening and a first-class education as a lad, he would make a great name for himself.’62 The point here is clear that Beaumont, despite a lack of education (which presumably renders him free of ambition) and living in working-class London, is still imbued with a British sense of loyalty and dignity; selling his product would undoubtedly improve the lot of his family but the notion of selling to Germany, a potential enemy, is unthinkable.

The story concludes with Sexton Blake revealing the fiendish plot of officials in the German Foreign Ministry engaged in underhand activity to steal Beaumont’s plans. In a theme played out in other stories, Blake meets with the Kaiser to explain these deceitful actions, which are in contrast, of course, with Beaumont’s sense of loyalty and duty. The Kaiser, a regular actor in Boys’ Friend Library stories, is suitably admonished and apologises on behalf of his nation before Blake sets sail for Blighty.63

The Kaiser also features in another of the Boys’ Friend Library series, ‘The War-Lord’, written by ‘Detective Inspector’ Coles. ‘The War-Lord’, like so many other stories, is set against the backdrop of deteriorating diplomatic relations between Britain and Germany. Two boy detectives, Bob Dawson and Harry Fairfax, become suspicious of the activities of Sir Hamil Brender, millionaire ship-owner and Member of Parliament. That Brender is a German-born British national is of interest to the boys, even more so after he is seen associating with German foreign ministry officials. In a war between Britain and Germany his loyalty, they argue, would be open to question and the land of his birth would take precedence. While promoting himself as ‘the friend of labour, the upholder and the champion of the working man, the staunch supporter of Radicalism’, Brender plots Britain’s overthrow from within.64 Being at the heart of Government, Brender is in a position to act on behalf of Germany, and this he does. His task is to lead the Cabinet in mobilising the fleet towards Dover and Portsmouth; once there they would provide targets for Zeppelins that would destroy the Royal Navy in one well-executed raid. That the Kaiser is aware of this fiendish plot is crucial to the account.

‘The war lord’ by Det. Insp. Coles.  The Boy’s Friend Library 90

‘The war lord’ by Det. Insp. Coles.

The Boy’s Friend Library 90

The story focuses on Brender’s devious character – that of a man who despite being granted the honour of British citizenship, in the light of war he remains a German. ‘Perhaps his chief claim to public notice’, the author argues,

was his fervent zeal in singing the praise of England’s might. According to him, England was so great that she had no need of armies or fleets. All she had to do was sit in the middle of an admiring world and twiddle her thumbs. If people argued that Germany was arming and building ships for war, Sir Hamil Brender, would smile expansively and exclaim, “Germany! Why Germany loves England!” and would speak unctuously on the text by the hour.65

To the reader, Brender had already expressed his loyalty by his reaction to receiving confidential British naval plans:

What a heavenly day! You have given us England! We will blow these pig-headed islanders out of the seas, and make them soldiers on the Prussian marches …what a glorious day! The Pax Britannica will go – be dead as the Pax Romana. We will annex her – her and her colonies! What an empire! Hail, Pax Germanica! Hail!66

The abundance of exclamation marks in the text suggests an excitable, volatile and emotional character at work, which remains in direct contrast to the British disposition: calm, sanguine and not given to fanatical ranting.

The moral of the tale is the need for vigilance against all foreigners, regardless of naturalisation and status within society. It is clear that German plans to defeat Britain are the result of a determined and lengthy campaign to establish in Britain spy networks ready to seize power in an instant. The role of the reader, as with all other loyal Britishers, is to be vigilant at all times and to report suspicious activities to the authorities. If it is possible for a German agent to infiltrate the corridors of power it is certainly possible to establish spy rings up and down the country. In determining Brender’s character, Coles argues that,

He was, in fact, a man prepared from a long date to achieve a certain task at a certain hour … he had been picked out as a child, educated, equipped, and launched by a scientific, patient, vigilant, Government to play just the part he was playing, to cozen a weak, vacillating Government into the belief in Germany’s friendship; to work himself into the councils of that Government; and to provide to Germany at the destined hour the inside information that would enable the country of his birth to strike out one swift, sure, fatal blow at the very heart of the country of his adoption.67

This passage also highlights an opinion that in the years prior to the war the British Government was indecisive concerning its attitude toward Germany.68 The reader is provided not only with a figure to despise for his treachery, but also has brought to his or her attention the intransigence of the state to prepare itself and its people for a conflict which seemed imminent.

The story concludes with Brender’s suicide, the averting of war (for now) and a highly moralistic epilogue. The necessary ingredients of British amateurism and sense of fair play defeating a sophisticated, organised but deceitful Germany are clear; the Kaiser’s culpability merely adds to the weight of condemnation the reader must feel:

Those in the know are aware that if there is one thing more than another calculated to calm the martial and naval pretensions of certain impulsive spirits at Potsdam, it is the recollection that certain secret archives in the British Foreign Office contain a remarkable plan of invasion in the Kaiser’s own hand addressed to and endorsed by a felon and a suicide.69

Having the Kaiser as a central actor in these stories not only establishes in the mind of the reader the pervasiveness of German underhandedness from the naval rating to the nation’s leader, but also demonstrates that the Kaiser was such a recognisable figure in Britain and the Dominions at this time. No other German figure encapsulated better the martial traditions of Germany: he was never depicted, either in photograph or cartoon, in civilian dress, but always resplendent in full military regalia. To this degree he personified the image of Prussian militarism required by propagandists before and during the war through which the people could vent their disgust.

In John Tregellis’s ‘The Secret of the Thames’, invasion of Britain across the North Sea is again a focus. The hero of the piece, Hervey Milton, is an amateur sailor and employee of the War Office. The story opens with Hervey tackling a difficult entrance to the mouth of the Thames. He explains to his comrade that the Thames estuary holds notorious sands and banks that are mostly undetectable, even in daylight. Having succeeded, he moors his yacht and arrives at the War Office where he is asked his advice on the Thames’ defences.

‘The secret of the Thames’ by John Tregellis. The Boy’s Friend Library 101

‘The secret of the Thames’ by John Tregellis. The Boy’s Friend Library

It transpires that vital information has been stolen from the War Office pertaining to Britain’s defence system and Hervey is sent to investigate. During his mission Hervey uncovers a sinister German plot to invade Britain across the North Sea, but instead of using the cream of the High Seas Fleet, they plan to use lighters, flat-bottomed barges intended for transporting goods.70 On discovering this Hervey rushes back to the War Office to report on this fiendish but highly effective plot to circumvent the Royal Navy:

How easily the sudden invasion by lighters can succeed. They have only a narrow stretch of the sea to cross in dark hours, and they will be upon us before we know it. Once they are over the shallows of the great Maplin Sands, on a dark night, our ships cannot touch them. The range is too great for searchlights, and it is often thick and foggy there at this time of year … a gigantic German force can be landed in an hour, for there is no small-boat work to trouble them – they’ve only to step ashore.71

Hervey outlines a very grim scenario by explaining that the Thames estuary is the front door of England and leaves the capital vulnerable to an enemy attack; any forces stationed nearby would be exposed by overwhelming numbers of advancing Germans:

Before dawn, an army that can swamp anything we can bring against them could hold Essex in its grip, and London itself would be at its mercy. Another force can be thrown on the Kent coast … and our defences, though in the hands of our bravest men, will go down like corn before a reaper … we depend on our Navy. Here our Navy will be useless. 72

As in Coles’ ‘The War-Lord’, Hervey’s appeal to Government to attend immediately to England’s defences is clear. Hervey impresses upon his superiors at the War Office that the time for clear-minded action has arrived and any hesitating will hinder Britain’s chances of success:

The scheme is a great one and worthy of the famous war-king who has conceived it, but if taken in time it can be crushed before ever the blow is struck home. Fail to act, let things slide, and Britain may well wake to find herself in the grip of the Kaiser.73

Despite Hervey’s protestations the invasion eventuates in the manner foretold with 120,000 foot and guns descending on the Kent coast, delivered there courtesy of the lighters. Newspaper headlines state: GERMAN FORCE INVADES KENT! BATTLE RAGING! The gravity of the situation hits home with England’s south coast being assailed for the first time in centuries:

Strong reinforcements are being hurried to the front, and the enemy’s advance will be checked. It would be folly to pretend the invading force is not a powerful and formidable one, and the danger is very grave. Every able-bodied man in the country is arming, the Volunteers are already called out, and twenty battalions are marching south. The present force of the enemy, we are assured, can be dealt with. So long as no further force is landed we are confident that the invaders will be defeated74

The story concludes with the invaders being repelled, forced back to Germany. Milton, the hero of the hour, receives the thanks of a grateful nation by receiving the title, Lord Faversham (incidentally an area of Kent overrun by the Germans), and an endowment of £200,000.75 The moral of ‘The Secret of the Thames’ is clear: a failure of British military and political planners to ready Britain for war was certain to result in disastrous consequences. Not only was Britain’s enemy prepared for invasion it was more than capable of carrying it out.

This sense of preparing for impending conflict with Germany was central to F.S. Hartnell’s ‘His Majesty’s Navy: Dominions helping the Mother Country’ which detailed naval expenditure for the period 1911-1919.76 Hartnell stated that the British fleet possessed 47 modern battleships, 188 destroyers and 65 submarines. Over £44 million had been spent on the navy, money, it argued, ‘which could not be reduced by one penny.’ Hartnell continued that it was only by

watching the actions of our great rivals, and by keeping our navy superior to theirs, not only in numbers and strength, but also in efficiency, that we can with an easy conscience take the historic advice of Admiral-of-the-Fleet Lord Fisher, to sleep peacefully in our beds.77

In the years leading up to the war authors felt obliged to emphasise the indissoluble link between the Empire and the Mother Country and recognised the Dominions were capable of great independent contribution should conflict with hostile powers arise. Hartnell’s ‘The Armies of the Empire’ stated that Australia and Canada in particular were in a position to relieve the military burden, which Britain had borne so long.78 What effectively reads as a political manifesto, the article affirmed Australia’s commitment to Britain with the introduction of military training for boys aged between 12 and 18. At the behest of British Field Marshal Kitchener on his visit in 1909, Australia was to be divided into 224 training areas, each with its own commanding officer. Under the 1909 Defence Act, compulsory military training was introduced into New Zealand for youth aged between 12 and 21.79

One intention of the scheme was to establish a sense of national identity while reaffirming New Zealand’s commitment to the Empire, a commitment that was further enhanced by Kitchener’s lauded visit in 1910.80 Canada meanwhile, regarded by Hartnell as Britain’s most important overseas Dominion, was yet to follow Australia’s lead but had been buoyed by the visit of General Sir John French and welcomed the comments he made to strengthen Canada’s defences.81

The ‘feeling of manly self-reliance which caused Australia to bestir herself’ derived from its development from dependent colony to mature contributor to Britain’s imperial defences. As such, it provided an essential outlet for stories representing masculine prowess in a war situation.

New Zealand Free Lance, 19 February 1910

New Zealand Free Lance, 19 February 1910


By the summer of 1914, it appeared war was imminent. The declaration on 4 August was a formality, the culmination of years of hostility, which had festered between Britain and Germany, a hostility to which juvenile literature had passionately subscribed. If Britain’s youth, especially those subscribers to the BOP, were in any doubt as to the effect Britain’s declaration of war would have it was soon clarified by the editor, Arthur Lincoln Haydon:

As this number of BOP was being prepared for press, the war clouds which had been gathering over Europe burst in their full fury…I hope that BOP readers are following intelligently the course of events, and making themselves familiar with the causes that have given rise to the war.82

The Boys Own Annual 1914

The Boys Own Annual 1914

In understanding the issues behind the conflict boys would come, it was argued, ‘to a consciousness of a patriotism that is founded on the highest and purest principles – on reverence, unselfishness and honour.’83 In legitimising Britain and the Empire’s involvement in a European conflict, the editorial peddled what would become a familiar theme throughout the next four years:

Great Britain, by her long and proud record, has a right to regard herself as a civilising influence … the great enemy that is now being encountered is Prussian militarism, which stands for brutality, which recognises no higher law than that of force.84

Appeals were made to all boys to be involved in the war effort. Those who were also members of the Boy Scout movement came in for special praise for the contribution they had already made, and appeals were also made to boys who were too young to be a Scout yet eager to be involved:

To these boys I would say, take advantage of the opportunities now afforded you to undergo the training which will help to make men of you in the years to come. There are rifle clubs formed, or forming – join them; there are drilling clubs, gymnasiums and other athletic bodies – join them. Get all the best physical recreation that you can in this way, and strive to make yourself “fit” in mind and body.85

Much of this rhetoric, of course, was concerned with preparing young men for armed conflict. Just as the establishment of boy and girl scouts movements encouraged outdoor pursuits which promoted health and fitness, and just as Kitchener and French’s visits to the Dominions had outlined the future role of cadet forces, so too was the editor of BOP involved in promoting juvenile fitness. This was used as a means of instilling discipline and camaraderie that to this point had been lacking in British society; a discipline and awareness that would be invaluable on the battlefield.

Juvenile literature in the form of boys’ story papers for British and Empire youth provides one explanation for the speed with which society mobilised against Germany so soon after the declaration of war in August 1914. Whether the Edwardian era can be classed as one which actively promoted systematic Germanophobia is open to interpretation, yet, an entire generation of boys, who by 1914 were of military service age, had grown up reading xenophobic (in particular anti-German) stories. It is also clear from ‘boy’s own’ literature that Britain experienced rapid changes in its perceived primacy in world affairs, and the insecurities which were felt by this underpinned much literature, juvenile as well as adult. Louis Bleriot’s successful crossing of the English Channel immediately negated British naval superiority, which it had enjoyed since the Napoleonic Wars. Through the pages of boys’ papers campaigns were mounted to inform and educate British and Empire youth on the worsening European situation. The need to legitimise army and naval expenditure to youngsters mirrored Lord Northcliffe’s own policy of agitating for action at government level, which he conducted regularly in his daily newspapers.

British unpreparedness for war, combined with knowledge of German strength, provided a potent mixture. Through the pages of children’s literature an easily detectable suspicion of Germany rose in the wake of the Boer War. The signing of the Entente Cordiale with Britain’s traditional enemy, France, in 1904, shifted British embedded fear of the foreigner to Germany, Britain’s traditional ally. Over the next decade a methodical demonisation of Germans, especially those engaged in the vile practices of spying for military gain, took place. Posing as schoolmasters, dockyard workers or holidaymakers, every German was given overtly Prussian characteristics; be they in name, a Kaiser-like moustache, a love of militarism, or a profound sense of professional efficiency. These characteristics were juxtaposed against traditional British values of amateurism, fair play and honour, as instilled through the public school system.

Juvenile literature’s preoccupation with conflict in the Edwardian era did help prepare young Britons and sons of the Empire for war in 1914. It was believed that war, when it came, would be about defending British prestige, honour and security, nothing more. War would be exciting; young men, raised on a diet of Henty and Kipling, were imbued with a sense of adventure that had been honed by learning about colonial wars in far-flung reaches of the Empire.86 Combined with a distrust of foreigners who were ready to work from without as well as within to plot Britain’s overthrow, this could only assist the growth in anti-Germanism in the pre-war era. Collingwood and Shaw, like their predecessors above, proved to be first-rate propagandists and recruiters when war came and contributed to the belief that alleged German atrocities committed on the battlefield were wholly in keeping with what Britons expected of their foe; a belief which had been two decades in construction.87

The potential influence over British and Dominion youth had shaped some publishers’ thinking. In equal measure the financial benefits from providing exciting tales on a weekly basis were clear from the outset. Ironically however, some regarded the outbreak of war in 1914 as a potential hindrance to future economic gain rather than as a rite of passage for British and imperial youth and the beginning of another chapter in adventure stories. The editor of My Magazine, Arthur Mee, was attuned to this and requested continued support for the magazine from its readership. In a rather desperate appeal made in October 1914 it stated

You and I have been comrades six years now. Not a month has passed when we have not met in these pages. Not a country is there on the earth where this magazine has not found friends … the great excitement of the war will make so many people forget their magazines; and only the loyal help of all our readers can save this book of ours … if, come what may, you will be loyal to this magazine, we can save it… You can save it for England, for Great Britain, for the homes of our English-speaking race … Our British race will triumph; this land of ours will still be free; it can never, never be that England will go down … Will you help to keep this magazine alive by ordering it to be delivered without fail? 88

While it is impossible to gauge the influence boys’ story papers had on the hearts, minds and pockets of their readers, assumptions can be made. For almost a century they were the established form of entertainment for millions of children within Britain and the Empire. For this reason alone their importance cannot be dismissed. The vast array of titles meant that all tastes were covered. They were easily purchased and traded, and, within the Correspondence pages of various titles, a relationship was established between publishers and readers. Their ability to respond immediately to a deteriorating European situation meant that boys’ story papers were a useful tool in informing and preparing young minds for future conflict. Likewise, their increasingly negative portrayal of foreigners (in particular Germans) provides a unique source in understanding the speed with which society mobilised against Germany in August 1914.


1: France effectively disappeared as Britain’s foe in juvenile literature after the signing of the Entente Cordiale in August 1904..

2: David Goodwin, ‘A Lancashire Lad’, Boys’ Friend Library, no.69, c.1909.

3:Ernest C. Pulbrook, ‘The German Schoolboy’ in Boy’s Own Paper, 27 January 1906, pp.266-267.

4:Stella Yarrow, ‘The Impact of Hostility on Germans in Britain, 1914-1918’ in Immigrants and Minorities, vol. 8, March 1989, nos 1 and 2, pp.97-112.

5:E.H. McCormick quoted in Keith Sinclair, A Destiny Apart: New Zealand’s search for national identity, Wellington, 1986, p.95.

6:Boyd, Manliness and the Boys’ Story Paper in Britain, pp.1-2.

7:See Kathryn Castle, Britannia’s Children: Reading colonialism through children’s books and magazines, Manchester, 1996; Cecil Eby, The Road to Armageddon: The martial spirit in English popular literature, 1870-1914, Durham, 1988; Peter Hunt (ed), Children’s Literature: An illustrated history, Oxford, 1995; Jeffrey Richards (ed), Imperialism and Juvenile Literature, Manchester, 1989.

8:John Buchan quoted in Martyn Lyons and Lucy Taksa, Australian Readers Remember: An oral history of reading 1890-1930, Melbourne, 1992, p.43.

9:Aileen Fyfe, ‘Societies as Publishers: The Religious Tract Society in the mid-nineteenth century’ in Publishing History, vol.58, 2005, p.11.

10:John M MacKenzie, foreword in Jeffrey Richards (Ed), Imperialism and Juvenile Literature, p.1.

11:The Boys’ Friend Library series was one of at least fifteen being published by the Amalgamated Press in the Edwardian era; See Kelly Boyd, Manliness and the Boys’ Story Paper in Britain: A cultural history, 1855-1940, Basingstoke, 2003, pp.224-225.

12:Paul Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism 1860-1914, George Allen & Unwin, 1980, p.376. For an in-depth study of the role of the Imperial press in this era see Simon Potter, News and the British World: The emergence of an imperial press system, 1876-1922, Oxford, 2003.

13:This is unsurprising given the Australian Boy’s Annual, for example, was published by Cassell, whose main printing house was in London.

14:Boy’s Own Paper, 18 November 1905, p.111.

15:Frederick Willis in Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, New Haven 2001, p.323. Willis’s Peace and Dripping Toast explores English social life and customs in the 1890s; Phoenix House, London, 1950.

16:In New Zealand, the average age of men enlisting on the outbreak of war was 23; Paul Baker, King and Country Call: New Zealanders, conscription and the Great War, Auckland, 1988, p. 15.

17:David Stafford, ‘Spies and Gentlemen: The birth of the British spy novel, 1893-1914’, in Victorian Studies, vol 24 (4), 1981, p.495.

18:Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service Recently Achieved, London, 1903. Also see William Le Queux’s The Great War in England in 1897(1894), England’s Peril (1899) and Spies of the Kaiser (1909).

19:The Sandon Act (1876) established school attendance committees and made it a legal obligation for parents to educate their children. The Mundella Act (1880) introduced compulsory education for the under-tens, W.H.G. Armytage, Four Hundred Years of English Education, Cambridge, 1964, pp.149-150.

20:Martin Crotty, Making the Australian Male: Middle Class Masculinity 1870-1920, Melbourne, 2001, p.135

21:See Aileen Fyfe, ‘Societies as Publishers’ for an account of the RTS’s role in British society.

22:Crotty, Making the Australian Male, p.135; Patrick A. Dunae, ‘Boys’ Literature and the Idea of Empire, 1870-1914’, in Victorian Studies, vol 24 (1), 1980, pp.107-108.

23:Julia Briggs and Dennis Butts, ‘The Emergence of Form (1850-1890)’ in Peter Hunt (ed), Children’s Literature: An illustrated history, p.163; John M. MacKenzie, Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880-1960, Manchester, 1984, p.203.

24:Peter Parker, The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public School ethos, London, 1987, p.127.

25:Sexton Blake’s able assistant was Tinker, a working-class Cockney.

26:Martyn Lyons and Lucy Taksa, Australian Readers Remember: An oral history of reading 1890-1930, Melbourne, 1992, p.44.

27:Henty’s sales have been estimated at 25 million, Crotty, p.134.

28:Parker, The Old Lie, p.130.

29:Paul Kennedy, The Realities behind Diplomacy: Background influences on British external policy, 1865-1980, London, 1981, p.116.

30:MacKenzie, Propaganda and Empire, 1984, p.204.

31:Australia supplied 16,632 troops, Canada 7,368 and New Zealand 6343; John Crawford and Ian McGibbon (eds), One Flag, One Queen, One Tongue: New Zealand, the British Empire and the South African War, 1899-1902, Auckland, 2003, p.59.

32:Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, Auckland, 2003, p.285.

33:King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, p.288.

34:School Journal, Part III for Classes V and VI, Vol. II, no.4, May 1908, New Zealand Education Department, Wellington, pp.115-116.

35:T.Cheyne Farnie, ‘The Maintenance of the Supremacy of the British Empire at Sea’, a Christchurch Navy League publication, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1907, p.9.
36:Also see The Times (London), 6 March 1908, p.11; 21 August 1908, p.9; 5 April 1911, p.9.

37:For Boer War histories see Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, London, 1979, Denis Judd and Keith Surridge, The Boer War,London, 2003, John Crawford and Ian McGibbon (eds), One Flag, One Queen, One Tongue: New Zealand, the British Empire and the South African War, 1899-1902, Auckland, 2003.

38:Kennedy, The Realities behind Diplomacy, pp.123-124.

39:‘German Naval Expenditure’, The Times (London), 29 January 1910, p.9; ‘Naval Estimates for 1914’, The Times (London), 22 January 1914, p.7.

40:Hamilton Fyfe, Northcliffe: An intimate biography, New York, 1930, p.149.

41:Parker, The Old Lie, p.126.

42:Edward Owen, 1914: Glory Departing, London, 1986, p.127.

43:’Aerial Defence: The urgency of the problem’, Major B. Baden-Powell, letter to the editor, The Times (London), 27 February 1913, p.6.

44:Northcliffe had been an active supporter of a strong navy for domestic and imperial defence since the 1890s, Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe, London, 1959, p.153.

45:Boy’s Own Paper, 26 February 1910, pp.346-347.

46:Boy’s Own Paper, 6 October 1906, p.14.

47:Boy’s Own Paper, 6 October 1906, p.14.

48:Australian Boy’s Annual, 1911, pp.26-36

49:Australian Boy’s Annual, 1911, p.26

50:Australian Boy’s Annual, 1911, p.36

51:Panikos Panayi, The Enemy in Our Midst: Germans in Britain during the First World War, Oxford, 1991, pp.32-41.

52:F.S. Hartnell, ‘His Majesty’s Navy: Dominions helping the Mother Country’ in Australian Boy’s Annual, 1911, pp.22-25.

53:Boy’s Own Paper, 21 October 1905, pp.39-40.

54:Boy’s Own Paper, 21 October 1905, pp.39-40.

55:Ernest C. Pulbrook, ‘The German Schoolboy’ in Boy’s Own Paper, 27 January 1906, pp.266-267.

56:Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys, no year, no volume number, pp.150-161. The emphasis here is my own.

57:Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys, no year, no volume number pp.150-161.

58:Chums, 8 January 1908, p.430.

59:Shaw penned a direct and patriotic appeal to British and Imperial youth to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps, Chums, 5 June 1915.

60:Chums, 8 January 1908, p.431.

61:‘A Woolwich Arsenal Mystery: A Tale of Sexton Blake’, The Boys’ Friend 3d. Library, issue 27, London, October 1907, p.5. The author is anonymous though ‘Blakiana: The Sexton Blake Resource’ cites E.J. Gannon as the author. The Blakiana site also provides the date of publication as this is not printed on any Boys’ Friend Library issues.

62:‘A Woolwich Arsenal Mystery: A Tale of Sexton Blake’, p.8.

63:‘A Woolwich Arsenal Mystery: A Tale of Sexton Blake’, p.120.

64:Det. Insp. Coles, ‘The War-Lord: A tale of the German naval programme and how it was defeated by Bob and Harry, the boy detectives’, The Boys’ Friend 3d. Library, issue 90, London, 19-?, p.72.

65:Coles, ‘The War-Lord’, p.72.

66:Coles, ‘The War-Lord’, p.52.

67:Coles, ‘The War-Lord’, p.72.

68:For an in-depth analysis of Victorian and Edwardian diplomatic relations between these two states see Paul Kennedy, Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914, London, 1980. Also see John Ramsden’s Don’t Mention the War: The British and the Germans since 1890, London, 2006.

69:Coles, ‘The War-Lord’, p.120.

70:John Tregellis, ‘The Secret of the Thames’, The Boys’ Friend 3d. Library, issue 101, London, 19-?

71:Tregellis, ‘The Secret of the Thames’, p.99.

72:Tregellis, ‘The Secret of the Thames’, p.99.

73:Tregellis, ‘The Secret of the Thames’, p.99.

74:Tregellis, ‘The Secret of the Thames’, p.106.

75:Tregellis, ‘The Secret of the Thames’, p.106.

76:Australian Boy’s Annual, 1911, pp.22-25.

77:Australian Boy’s Annual, 1911, pp.22-25.

78:Australian Boy’s Annual, 1911, pp.104-105.

79:W. David McIntyre, ‘Imperialism and Nationalism’ in Geoffrey Rice (ed), Oxford History of New Zealand, Auckland, 2000, p.343.

80:New Zealand Free Lance, 19 February 1910, p.2.

81:Australian Boy’s Annual, 1911, p.106. General Sir John French became Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1914.

82:Boy’s Own Paper, August 1914, p.41.

83:Boy’s Own Paper, August 1914, p.41.

84:Boy’s Own Paper, August 1914, p.41.

85:Boy’s Own Paper, August 1914, p.41.

86:See G.A. Henty, Young Colonists: A story of the Zulu and Boer Wars, London, 1898, and Rudyard Kipling, Soldiers Three, London, 1895.

87:Shaw’s ‘Join the Royal Flying Corps!’ was an impassioned plea for men of service age, not yet in uniform, to enlist in the newly formed Corps; Chums, 5 June 1915.

88:My Magazine, vol. 9, no.56, October 1914. This plea was printed as a flyer and placed loose leafed inside the front cover.



Australian Boy’s Annual, 1910, 1911, 1912.

Boys’ Friend 3d. Library, issues 27, 49, 69, 90, 101, 199

Boy’s Own Paper, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913,

Chatterbox, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914.

Chums, 1908.

Empire Annual for Boys, volume 16.

Empire Annual for New Zealand Boys, no volume numbers, no dates.

Empire Annual for New Zealand Girls, 1909.

Girl’s Own Paper, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914.

My Magazine, 1912, 1914.

New Zealand Boy’s Annual, no volume number, no date.

New Zealand Free Lance, 1910.

New Zealand School Journal, 1908, 1911, 1913, 1914.

The Captain, 1908.

Childers, Erskine, The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service
Recently Achieved, London, 1903 (1952).

Doyle, Arthur Conan, A Study in Scarlet, London, 1887 (1975).

Hope, Anthony, The Prisoner of Zenda, London, 1894 (1961).

Hope, Anthony, Rupert of Hentzau, London, 1898 (1963).

Le Queux, William, Spies of the Kaiser, London, 1909.

Le Queux, William, The Invasion of 1910, London, 1909.


Armytage, W.H.G., Four Hundred Years of English Education, Cambridge, 1964,

Baker, Paul, King and Country Call: New Zealanders, conscription and the Great War, Auckland, 1988.

Boyd, Kelly, Manliness and the Boys’ Story Paper in Britain: A cultural history, 1855-1940, Basingstoke, 2003.

Castle, Kathryn, Britannia’s Children: Reading colonialism through children’s books and magazines, Manchester, 1996.

Crawford, John and Ian McGibbon (eds), One Flag, One Queen, One Tongue: New Zealand, the British Empire and the South African War, 1899-1902, Auckland, 2003.

Crotty, Martin, Making the Australian Male: Middle class masculinity 1870-1920, Melbourne, 2001.

Eby, Cecil D, The Road to Armageddon: The martial spirit in English popular literature 1870-1914, Durham, 1987.

Fyfe, Hamilton, Northcliffe: An intimate biography, New York, 1930.

Hunt, Peter (ed), Children’s Literature: An illustrated history, Oxford, 1995.

Judd, Denis and Keith Surridge, The Boer War, London, 2003.

Kennedy, Paul, The Realities behind Diplomacy: Background influences on British external policy, 1865-1980, London, 1981.

Kennedy, Paul, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1960-1914, London, 1980.

King, Michael, The Penguin History of New Zealand, Auckland, 2003.

Lyons, Martyn and Lucy Taksa, Australian Readers Remember: An oral history of reading 1890-1930, Melbourne, 1992.

MacKenzie, John M. (ed), Imperialism and Popular Culture, Manchester, 1986.

MacKenzie, John M., Propaganda and Empire: The manipulation of British public opinion, 1880-1960, Manchester, 1984.

McCormick, Donald & Katy Fletcher, Spy Fiction: A connoisseur’s guide, Oxford, 1990.

Owen, Edward, 1914: Glory Departing, London, 1986.

Pakenham, Thomas, The Boer War, London, 1979.

Panayi, Panikos, The Enemy in Our Midst: Germans in Britain during the First World War, Oxford, 1991.

Parker, Peter, The Old Lie: The Great War and the public school ethos, London, 1987.

Potter, Simon, News and the British World: The emergence of an imperial press system, 1876-1922, Oxford, 2003.

Pound, Reginald and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe, London, 1959.

Pugsley, Christopher et al, Scars on the Heart: Two centuries of New Zealanders at War, Auckland, 1996.

Ramsden, John, Don’t Mention the War: The British and the Germans since 1890, London, 2006.

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Richards, Jeffrey (ed), Imperialism and Juvenile Literature, Manchester, 1989.

Rose, Jonathan, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, New Haven 2001.

Sinclair, Keith, A Destiny Apart: New Zealand’s search for national identity, Wellington, 1986.

Vincent, David, Literacy and Popular Culture: England 1750-1914, Cambridge, 1989.

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Journal Articles

Dunae, P, ‘Boys’ Literature and the Idea of Empire, 1870-1914’, Victorian Studies, 24, 1, 1980, pp.105-121.

French, D, ‘Spy Fever in Britain, 1900-1915’, The Historical Journal, 21, 2, 1978, pp.355-370.

Fyfe, A, ‘Societies as Publishers: The Religious Tract Society in the mid-nineteenth century’ in Publishing History, vol.58, 2005, pp.5-41.

MacDonald, R.H., ‘Reproducing the Middle-class Boy: From purity to patriotism in the boys’ magazines, 1892-1914’, Journal of Contemporary History, 24, 1989, pp.519-539.

Stafford, D, ‘A Moral Tale: Anglo-German relations, 1860-1914’, International History Review, 4, 1982, pp.249-263.

Stafford, D, ‘John Buchan’s tales of Espionage: a popular archive of British history’, Canadian Journal of History, 18, 1, 1983, pp.1-21.

Stafford, D, ‘Spies and Gentlemen: The birth of the British spy novel, 1893-1914’, Victorian Studies, 24, 4, 1981, pp.489-509.


Cheyne Farnie, T., ‘The Maintenance of the Supremacy of the British Empire at Sea’ in The Christchurch Navy League, Christchurch, 1907.

Electronic Sources

‘Blakiana: The Sexton Blake Resource’,

The Times Digital Archive,


Number 1 May 1985

Papers on the Dorothy Neal White Collection, edited by Audrey Cooper and Margot Crawford.

Number 2* July 1989

Clare Mallory : a personal memoir, by Janet Maconie.

Number 3 December 1989

Mrs George Cupples, by Elspeth White.

Number 4* August 1991

How names became people, by Celia Dunlop.

Number 5* September 1995

Charles Hamilton and the “All Blacks”, by R. V. Moss.

Number 6* June 1996

J. H. Ewing and the self-determined child, by Julie K. Eberly.

Number 7* 1998

Dorothy Neal White: a tribute.

Number 8* 2002

LM, KM, EL, ME & me, KDG: a talk to the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection, by Kate De Goldi.

Number 9* 2006

The writings of Elsie J Oxenham : a New Zealand perspective, by Barbara Robertson.

Number 10* 2007

‘Willingly to War’: British and imperial boys’ story papers, 1905-1914 by

Andrew Francis

Number 11* 2009

Keeping “each of the twos in its right place”

The Problematic Return Journey

by Beatrice Turne

Copies of issues marked * are available for purchase from the Society at PO Box 12499, Wellington. (Issues 1-6 and 8-11 $3.00. Issue 7 $5.00.)

Most copies are on this website


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