Romain Fathi, Margaret Hutchison, Andrekos Varnava, and Michael J. K. Walsh
This chapter presents the 1918–20 ‘moment’ in the British Empire between the First World War’s armistices of 1918 and the peace treaties of 1919 and 1920. That moment, we argue, was a challenging and transformative time for the Empire. While British authorities successfully answered some of the post-war tests it faced, such as demobilisation, repatriation and fighting the widespread effects of the Spanish flu, the racial, social, political and economic hallmarks of its imperialism set the scene for a wide range of expressions of loyalties and disloyalties, and anticolonial movements alongside demands for more development and more opportunities immediately after the war as explored in the book’s chapters. The chapter defines the 1918–20 ‘moment’ and its characteristics as a crucial three-year period of transformation in the Empire, examining these years for the significant shifts in the imperial relationship that occurred, and as laying the foundation for later change. This chapter problematises the 1918–20 ‘moment’ within the field of what French scholars have dubbed sorties de guerre, that is, the transmuting period which follows a conflict, not as a return to a pre-war normalcy and status quo but to a phase of building an unknown future which must address the immediate consequences of the conflict, often resulting in profound societal changes.
In 1914, Henri Bourassa (1868–1952), editor of the influential Montreal daily Le Devoir, was unquestionably the dominant figure in French Canadian nationalism, ever since his resignation as an MP from the Liberal Party in 1899 over Canada’s participation in the Boer War. Though he criticised both Liberals and Tories over their imperialism and failure to uphold biculturalism in Canada, his nationalism embraced the new federation expanding since 1867. The internal division of Canada during the Great War, and Canada’s extensive participation, could be seen as failures of his undertakings. Headed by abbé Lionel Groulx (1878–1967) a new movement centred on the review L’Action française (1917), originally as an extension of Le Devoir, gradually emancipated itself from his vision, developing instead a Quebec-centred nationalism. From 1918, Groulx began to hint that the days of the British Empire were numbered and that this would be French Canada’s opportunity to become independent. Other nationalists openly took a position in favour of Quebec self-determination and Groulx attempted to federate left- and right-leaning nationalists in a common position statement favourable to sovereignty, with the collective work Notre avenir politique (1922). Groulx became the leading figure of Quebec nationalism throughout the inter-war period. A new French-Canadian nationalism centred on Quebec gradually imposed itself, as illustrated by the election of a new provincial party, the Union Nationale, in 1936. This evolution laid the foundations of the modern Quebec nationalism that came to dominate all provincial parties after 1960 and establish a new Québécois identity.
As the First World War ‘ended’, one of its most devastating legacies continued. The global spread of the Spanish influenza virus in 1918–19 had been facilitated by the mass movement of troops and other personnel around the world. This pandemic has traditionally been relegated to the footnotes of the First World War, and yet it killed more than both world wars combined. The most virulent wave of the pandemic struck in the autumn of 1918 and, in many belligerent countries, coincided with the signing of the Armistice. Across the British Empire, the dynamics between the pandemic and the end of the war varied between different imperial spaces. In Australia, a partially successful national quarantine led to international acclaim, and augmented the health-focused aspects of its developing national self-image. In other imperial spaces, however, the pandemic presented a challenge to national self-image. New Zealand failed to control the pandemic either within or outside of its shores, and its role as an imperial outpost in the South Pacific was jeopardised by its failure to enforce quarantine in Western Samoa during the outbreak. Yet, in indigenous imperial spaces the pandemic could facilitate change in the aftermath of the war. Indigenous Samoans, for example, utilised the pandemic to further the cause of their nascent national independence movement. Such examples illustrate how the Spanish flu pandemic provided unique opportunities and challenges for British imperial hegemony in the aftermath of the First World War.
One of New Delhi’s most iconic colonial monuments, India Gate, commemorates the war dead for the period from 1914 to 1919, rather than to 1918. This reflects the Indian Army’s overlapping roles in the First World War and the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919). The latter conflict brought greater violence to the Indo-Afghan border and emboldened anticolonial campaigns. This was not the only continuity between war and ‘peace’. Most famously, General Reginald Dyer commanded Indian Army troops to open fire on an unarmed crowd at Amritsar in April 1919, killing hundreds. In addition to combating anticolonial rebellion domestically, the Indian Army also fought to support colonial rule in places such as Egypt, Iraq and Palestine. They did so not simply as a result of unwavering devotion to Britain or through financial necessity. The army cultivated devotion through acts such as funding soldiers’ pilgrimages to Muslim holy lands in Mecca and Medina, starting in 1919. Army officials hoped that this would encourage a pro-imperial version of pan-Islamic unity. The Nepali government cultivated British support by contracting Nepali soldiers to crush anticolonial rebellion in India. British officials responded by facilitating purification ceremonies for Nepali men who broke caste laws during overseas service. The Indian Army’s many post-war campaigns therefore emboldened anticolonial activism, helped to forge international political alliances, and enabled British officials to maintain tenuous imperial control around the world. South Asian soldiers played central roles in defining who could be considered an enemy or an ally of the colonial state.
Appropriation, dehumanisation and the rule of colonial difference
The countries of the British Empire at large became contingent sites of inter-racial contact and segregation, migration and ‘cosmopolitanism’, unrest and surveillance during the First World War. As belligerent soldiers and prisoners of war moved up and down the interstices of empire, their cohabitation in the tense space of post-war colonies gave rise to a variety of responses in their personal writings. This chapter analyses the fashioning of ‘colonial agency’ in the British Empire against the backdrop of the end of the First World War. Reading archival documents of private writings by British soldiers who were still posted in India, colonial Burma, Mesopotamia and North Africa between 1918 and 1920, it examines how these men performed colonial agency and imperial hegemony in their daily duties; how they observed the landscape and the (colonial) picturesque; how they recorded their interactions with colonial non-white soldiers as the latter demobilised; and how their imperial gaze permeated their othering of colonial subjects and their negotiations with the colonial space. Ultimately, the chapter argues that the hybridity in the volatile spaces of post-war colonial states rendered it necessary for the British soldier to refashion and perform colonial agency.
Romain Fathi, Margaret Hutchison, Andrekos Varnava, and Michael J. K. Walsh
Transitioning out of the First World War was a massive undertaking for all belligerents, including for Britain and its empire. From armies, to economies and war cultures, people across the Empire had to demobilise. But demobilising could not simply be a matter of undoing what had been done. The war had changed many aspects of the imperial project, strengthening the Empire’s prerogatives and structures in some regards, while at the same time challenging its unity and direction. There was no returning to a pre-war world: that world had disappeared.
During the course of the nineteenth century, millions of Germans left their homeland to settle throughout the world. While most went towards the Americas, hundreds of thousands moved to Britain and its Empire, those with agricultural and working-class backgrounds as well as elites. By 1914, despite rising Germanophobia as the First World War approached, the migrants remained an integrated group. This chapter demonstrates how the development of a Germanophobic ideology, emanating from London but present throughout British possessions in an equally virulent manner, had a devastating impact upon the German communities in the aftermath of the First World War. The racist ideology meant that Germans faced a combination of draconian measures in the form of internment, property confiscation and deportation. The chapter focuses upon the last of these, demonstrating that, while expulsions took place throughout the war, especially against women, the ‘extirpation – root and branch and seed – of German control and influence from the British Empire’, as put forward by the London-based Germanophobic pressure group the British Empire Union, became imperial policy. It examines the marginalisation and elimination of Germans in the British Empire at the end of the First World War. This elimination became total in some cases (such as India) and partial in others (such as Great Britain). The chapter demonstrates how the plight of the Germans at the end of the First World War fits into the wider picture of minority persecution during the era of the First World War as empires collapsed.
This book explores a particular 1918–20 ‘moment’ in the British Empire’s history, between the First World War’s armistices of 1918, and the peace treaties of 1919 and 1920. That moment, we argue, was a challenging and transformative time for the Empire. While British authorities successfully answered some of the post-war tests they faced, such as demobilisation, repatriation and fighting the widespread effects of the Spanish flu, the racial, social, political and economic hallmarks of their imperialism set the scene for a wide range of expressions of loyalties and disloyalties, and anticolonial movements. The book documents and conceptualises this 1918–20 ‘moment’ and its characteristics as a crucial three-year period of transformation for and within the Empire, examining these years for the significant shifts in the imperial relationship that occurred, and as laying the foundation for later change in the imperial system.
On 26 October 1920, in the comfort of the offices of the Colonial Office, Leo Amery, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, informed a Greek Cypriot deputation that the government was not prepared to cede Cyprus to Greece – a policy called enosis. Amery had in fact made such an announcement in the House of Commons on 1 July 1920 and repeated it on 15 November in light of his meeting with the deputation. In the aftermath of the Armistice a debate ensued across various departments, and occasionally in the public in the UK, over whether or not to cede Cyprus to Greece. This chapter explores the failure of the enosis policy from all possible angles and from the varying positions of the different players, including the Cypriot peasant and lower classes. Ultimately, the enosis demand failed because it was not in fact a movement, with no widespread or even limited support from the broader population. There was little pressure on imperialists from the UK, Greece or Cyprus, and the demand for enosis was weak, illegitimate and contradictory; thus the retention of the island for dubious future strategic gain was hardly questioned.
Understanding Britain’s 1918–20 moment in the Middle East
Despite the centenary’s increasing effect on the literature of the Middle Eastern theatre of the war, the transitional 1918–20 moment still struggles to fit into traditional chronologies of the First World War and the history of Middle Eastern mandates. This chapter seeks to unite these two overlapping areas of research, focusing on the crucial years that contributed to the shaping of the modern Middle East. When the partition of the Ottoman Empire scenario ultimately prevailed, the dream of a secure land link between Egypt and India was no longer a chimera. Nevertheless, this invaluable asset for British imperial strategy required a coherent if not unified Middle Eastern policy that had to combine British war commitments with their own interests. The period 1918–20 was precisely the time when most of the significant guidelines – territorial delimitations, (in)direct administration, ‘sharifian solution’ and air power – were initiated and debated. This chapter explores these policies in their infancy in order to understand the war-induced transformation of most of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into mandates. Following the ‘Arab Awakening’, the emergence of self-determination principles and the birth of the League of Nations, Britain’s early attempt to administrate the conquered territories did not remain unchallenged. Whereas some of the local population were fighting in the war, others quickly defied the new ruler.