The National Archives reveals top-secret WW1 files

By Jon Bauckham, 10 April 2014 - 12:02am

Over 150 files created by MI5 during the First World War have been made available to access online, revealing details of groups and individuals put under surveillance

The MI5 files offer reports about individuals put under surveillance during the First World War, including notorious German spy and entertainer Mata Hari (Credit: The National Archives)

An array of top-secret files created by MI5 during the First World War have been released on the web for the first time.

The National Archives (TNA) has uploaded more than 150 files from record series KV 2 to its online catalogue, where they can be downloaded by researchers for a small fee.

Previously only viewable by visiting TNA in person, the material offers a glimpse into the murky world of espionage throughout the four-year conflict.

Featuring interrogation reports, letters and photographs, the files record the intelligence work that MI5 carried out on organisations such as the Bolshevik Party, as well as individuals that were believed to harbour communist or fascist sympathies.

A dossier on Swallows & Amazons author Arthur Ransome, for example, focuses on his marriage to Leon Trotsky’s secretary, while another file on convicted German spy Mata Hari contains newspaper cuttings about her arrest and execution.

However, the files show that the Security Services also had their eyes on some rather more unusual targets. One set of records examines reports that the Boy Scout Association could be infiltrated by “red” movements from overseas, plus plans to prevent German scouts from attending an international scout jamboree at the London Olympia.

The same folder also includes a note requesting permission for French boy scouts to send courier pigeons from England at the end of the war. 

The release also includes a file concerning Edith Cavell - the British nurse who was executed by German firing sqaud for helping to free Allied prisoners of war. This photograph of Cavell’s grave was sent to her mother by the French authorities (Credit: The National Archives)

The documents were made available today as part of TNA’s First World War 100 programme, which is marking the centenary of the conflict through a number of record releases and events.

Dr Stephen Twigge, Records Specialist at TNA, said: “The files in TNA’s collections reveal the importance of the security service in safeguarding the nation during the First World War.

“Now that we have made the files available online as part of our First World War 100 programme, people across the globe can discover the secret history behind the war for themselves.”
 

take it further

►  Explore the digitised records through The National Archives' Discovery Catalogue (link goes straight to record series KV 2)

 

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