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Securing public safety in the 'danger zone' : naval and aerial bombardment on the north-east coast of England during the First World War

Reeve, Michael


Michael Reeve


Richard, (Richard Christopher), 1971 Gorski

Shane Ewen


The First World War was ‘total’ in scope, in that it involved the mobilisation of the entire belligerent societies, turning civilian men into soldiers for the battlefront, and endangering the lives of those remaining on the ‘home front’. While historians have dealt with the military aspects of the war from many angles, including the social and cultural lives of ‘citizen soldiers’, in addition to the movements of troops, decisive battles and military strategy, there remain omissions in the study of the home front. In particular, the experiences of non-combatants in the direct line of fire has received scant attention. This is surprising, given the degree to which civilian spaces were militarised in response to the threat of invasion and bombardment, initially from naval vessels and then from Zeppelin airships and aeroplanes. In Britain, the north-east coast of England was particularly badly affected by naval and aerial attacks, but historians have not reflected in detail on the specificities of coastal community experience in the war context.

This thesis provides a multi-faceted analysis of the phenomenon of bombardment, with a distinct focus on beleaguered coastal-urban towns and cities. Taking a social and cultural approach to an array of written sources and material culture, multiple levels and voices are explored, from that of Whitehall politicians and civil servants, to local councillors, borough engineers, special constables and civilians. Beginning with pre-war and wartime narratives related to the threat of invasion and bombardment, the thesis moves on to the social and cultural resonance of bomb damage to the coastal-urban environment. This is then followed by analysis of varying levels of government policy pertaining to defence, both military and civil, including state policy-makers, local government officials, military leaders and police forces. The thesis concludes with a long view of the legacies of bombardment, beginning during the war and ending with the recent centenary period (2014-18).

This thesis makes the case for a unique coastal-urban experience of war on the home front, underpinned not only by the shocking record of attacks upon the north-east coast, but by the reflection of prevalent fears about invasion and bombing in pre-war and wartime planning perspectives and policing strategies. By exploring the development of nascent civil defence as a guard against civilian bombardment, the thesis also puts forward a perspective on the endurance and resilience of civilians in coastal communities. Notions of public safety and defence, including the repulsion of enemy actions and the defence of family, community and ‘home’, undergirded both official and popular narratives. As such, this work presents a view of the coastal-urban environment at war that can enrich historical perspectives on the First World War home front, in addition to state-society and central-local relations. These phenomena are seen through the lens of the manifold activities governments and civilians themselves devised to steel resolve in the face of attack.


Reeve, M. (2019). Securing public safety in the 'danger zone' : naval and aerial bombardment on the north-east coast of England during the First World War. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Nov 25, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords History
Public URL
Additional Information School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, The University of Hull
Award Date May 1, 2019


Thesis (10.4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2019 Reeve, Michael. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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