In 1917, war weariness and conscription had taken their tool on the morale of the British home front. As such, the Home Undersecretary beneath Sir George Cave hit on the idea of using wounded, furloughed, and reserve troops to stage a mock German invasion of the modest-sized city of Lowemouth in Yorkshire. The Undersecretary believed that such an exercise would help raise morale and generate the sale of war bonds, since the 1917 War Loan had performed only sluggishly.

The Undersecretary’s idea was to cover an “invasion” of Lowemouth by “Imperial German” troops dressed in uniforms borrowed and rented from filmmakers and theaters. The British public would be informed of the “invasion” through news coverage–which would focus on the brutality of the “occupation”–and could then “liberate” sectors of the town through the targeted purchase of War Bonds. It would, in short, serve as a cautionary tale of a Hohenzollern-occupied Britain and a powerful way to involve the home front in buying desperately-needed bonds more directly.

Preparations included a unit of “defenders,” mock entrenchments, and plans for staged battles in and around Lowemouth. Since most of the resources were under government control, and most of the personnel involved soldiers or auxiliaries, the projected costs were quite low, less than a thousand pounds to cover the expenses of printing propaganda materials and retaining journalists to cover the event. The innovative and frugal nature of the Undersecretary’s plan appealed to Winnipeg businessman J. D. Perrin years later, who organized the Greater Winnipeg Victory Loan organization to hold “If Day,” a similar event, during World War II.

Scheduled for 30 July 1917, “Hun Day” was hastily canceled by the Undersecretary on 28 July, less than 48 hours before it was scheduled to begin. All official mention of it disappeared from official news sources, propaganda materials which had been prepared were destroyed, and the soldiers gathered as both “defenders” and “occupiers” of Lowemouth were dispersed. Indeed, the Undersecretary tendered his resignation on 1 August–dated 30 July–and was remanded to a low-level job in the Foreign Office thereafter.

The aborted “Hun Day” and the mystery of its abrupt termination remained an obscure mystery for many years until a cache of Imperial German records was discovered in Berlin around June 1945. The Supreme Army Command of the Imperial German Army had been aware of the exercise at the highest echelons of command, as it happened; a frustratingly incomplete memo, damaged by fire, indicated an ambitious plan to take advantage of the situation:

An invasion at this point, and at this time…would provide an unprecedented opportunity…to seize and control…to draw out and destroy them piecemeal.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!