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The Daily Mail and the First World War

The Daily Mail has recently caused controversy with its views on patriotism. Adrian Bingham looks back at a time when the newspaper’s belief in its national duty provoked intense debate and copies were burnt in the City of London.

French newsboy selling the Daily Mail to a Canadian soldier. Associated NewspapersWhen Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914 the widespread feelings of fear, uncertainty and patriotic determination were matched at the offices of the Daily Mail by a sense of vindication. The newspaper had been warning about the German threat for years, perhaps most notoriously when it serialised in 1909 a series of inflammatory articles by the journalist Robert Blatchford, which, when reprinted as a penny pamphlet, sold some 1.6 million copies. The Mail had, moreover, consistently demanded that the Royal Navy be reinforced. It was soon styling itself ‘the paper that foretold the war’. For its critics, the Mail’s irresponsible stoking of anti-German sentiment, driven above all by the paper’s owner, Lord Northcliffe, actually helped to create the conditions that enabled conflict to break out. ‘Next to the Kaiser’, wrote the esteemed editor and journalist A.G. Gardiner, ‘Lord Northcliffe has done more than any other living man to bring about the war.’ Northcliffe would not, however, moderate his intense patriotism or be deflected from what he viewed as his duty to his country.

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