Revealing the history of invasion precautions

Alnwick in the Great War by Ian Hall.
Alnwick in the Great War by Ian Hall.

A century ago today, on November 9, 1914, the Duke of Northumberland, in his role as Lord Lieutenant, held a meeting in the Moot Hall in Newcastle, writes Ian Hall.

The reason for this meeting? To establish an organisation to prepare for a possible German invasion.

A document which certifies the visits of the special constables to various farms.

A document which certifies the visits of the special constables to various farms.

Most of us are aware that many defences were built during the Second World War. But the planning for an invasion during the First World War is not something most people are aware of.

By the autumn of 1914, it was clear that the war wouldn’t be ‘over by Christmas’. It was feared that Germany might try to invade Britain in order to shorten the war.

A national framework for invasion precautions was created and the county authorities were given the job of implementing them in their own areas; hence the meeting of November 9.

The preparations in our locality did not involve building fixed defences. Instead, the whole coastal area was to be evacuated in order to allow the Army unrestricted movement.

Everything that might be of use to the enemy, including food, fuel and vehicles, was to be either moved inland or rendered useless.

The planning was meticulous. Teams of people were allocated to specific tasks. The alarm would be raised by motorcycle dispatch riders.

Residents would be evacuated by train to Wooler and livestock would be herded to farms further inland, along routes selected to avoid any clashes with the Army.

Lists of materials suitable for barricades were prepared, and volunteers recruited to build them.

This forgotten episode of the Great War was revealed when, in 2009, a set of papers was found in an auction lot in Liverpool.

Comprising letters, reports and notices prepared by people in the Alnwick area, many of whose family names will be familiar to residents today, they described in detail the responses that had been put in place to deal with the feared invasion.

The new owner of these papers, recognising their importance, donated them to the North Northumberland Branch of the Western Front Association, which used them as a part of a new publication.

Alnwick in the Great War (£4.50) is being sold to raise funds for the WFA and is available from a number of shops in and around Alnwick and www.wildsofwanney.co.uk