Much popular fiction of the War years seems to have a simple propagandist function – preaching the need for complete commitment to the national effort. There are plenty of stories, however, that do something slightly different – supporting the war, but suggesting an extent to which war enthusiasm needs to be regulated, and prevented from becoming excessive.
An ambiguous story about regulation appeared in the Windsor Magazine in 1916. The Anti-Huns by Laurence North tells the story of some children who form a secret society to keep watch over a local man whom they believe to be a German, and signalling to enemy aeroplanes. The man is a respectable citizen, and a member of the local Volunteer Corps, but has a foreign-sounding name. He complains to the police when he begins to receive anonymous letters such as:
It is no good. You are watched, and the times taken. Everyone knows that you are one. Why not go back where you came from? Vigilant.
P.S. Your son may be taken as an ostidge.
His son is indeed captured by the gang, who have made themselves black pointed hoods (and in the story’s illustration strongly resemble the Ku Klux Klan).
The local policeman and the children’s father break up the meeting, and the conspirators are chastised for their activities, and made to write letters of humble apology to the man that they have maligned. The twist in the story comes in the last lines, however:
The letters were addressed to the father of Montague Goldman, Esq.
What the Anti-Huns do not know is that their penal apologies were never forwarded.
In other words, the story implies a balanced judgement, that children must be restrained from taking war enthusiasm too far, but that adults can be frugal in forwarding apologies to people with Jewish/German names. So it’s rather a nasty little story, in the end.