Jeremy Paxman’s series about the Great War is wonderful for many reasons, one of which is how it explains at once both how much we have changed and how much we have stayed the same over the past century.
My own grandfather (born, remarkably, 97 years before me!) fought both in the Boer War and the Great War, and I have had the great fortune to visit the scene of both. Doing so makes you aware of so many things of which you were previously ignorant.
However, I had continued in relative ignorance of the direct attacks on Britain by the Germans from December 1914. The Germans had, essentially, deliberately concocted the conditions for War. Some time after it, one of their contemporary plans (of many) was published.
What immediate drew my attention was the quite astonishing Section 4 (original in link; my translation):
The objective is the foundation of a central European Economic Association through joint Customs arrangements, incorporating France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, Poland and perhaps Italy, Sweden and Norway. This Association, despite apparent equality of its members and with no single constitutional head, shall in fact be under German leadership and must stabilise the economic supremacy of Germany over Central Europe.
A cursory glance at that suggests that it is not what was happening a century ago, but actually what is happening now. As a regular visitor to Germany, I can see instantly that this suggestion is laughable; but most British people aren’t regular visitors to Germany!
On top of that was the list of the places in Britain hit directly by German attacks during the Great War… County Durham, East Yorkshire, Norfolk, Essex… Most people there – all along England’s east coast – would thus still have a folk memory of direct attacks in both World Wars; the First would be all the more shocking as it was so entirely unexpected (indeed, it was widely reported that a soldier killed in Hartlepool in December 1914 was the first military death as a result of foreign action on British soil for 850 years).
Take a look at a map of where UKIP performs well in 2014, and it is again largely in the counties along England’s East Coast. A mix of fear and folk memory? Quite possibly.