Hatred on the Home Front | Facing History & Ourselves

Hatred on the Home Front

Read about the violent response in one British neighborhood to Germany’s sinking of the Lusitania during World War I.  
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At a Glance

reading copy


English — US


  • History
  • Human & Civil Rights
  • The Holocaust

The war unleashed feelings of hatred on the home front against anyone thought to be associated with the enemy. To prevent supplies from coming into Britain from any nation, in 1915 the Germans announced a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, meaning that they would sink any ship that entered or left a British port. On May 7, they torpedoed the Lusitania

It was five o’clock one evening . . . when a newsboy came racing down from Park Lane, yelling: “Sinking of the Lusitania!” The men stopped short; women peered from doorways. I joined one anxious group, poring over the fatal news. It was right—the “Lusy”, the fine boat I had left Joe and Harold aboard not two months ago, had been torpedoed . . .

[My friends and I] walked around Scotland Road listening to the cries of the women whose husbands and sons had gone down in the “Lusy” and we heard the bitter threats made against Germany and anything with a German name. We walked down Bostock Street, where practically every blind was drawn in token of a death. All these little houses were occupied by Irish coal-trimmers and firemen and sailormen on the Lusitania; now these men who, barely two weeks ago, had carried their bags jokingly down the street were gone, never to return. . . . Something was afoot; we could sense that and, like good slummy boys, we crowded around eager to help in any disturbance.

Suddenly something crashed up the road near Ben Johnson Street; followed in turn by another terrific crash of glass. We ran up the road. A pork butcher’s [shop] had had its front window knocked in with a brick and a crowd of men and women were wrecking the place. A little higher up the same thing was happening—everything suggestive of Germany was being smashed to pieces. . . . Everyone had a brick or a stick or something tucked under his or her coat or apron and there was much pilfering. The police themselves . . . were the most passive guardians of the law. . . .

Mr. Beech had been living in Liverpool thirty odd years, but there was a faint suspicion that years ago he had changed his name. His big shop was in shambles. When we got to it, Mr. Beech and his son had made their escape. The crowd then moved onto Yaag's store in Great George Street.

“Joan of Arc” (a female chip-chopper by the name of Mrs. Seymour) led the mob on a rampage that rarely spared kith or kin. Mr. Yaag, a big, wholesome fellow allegedly had been born in Germany, but I don’t think he remembered much about it. Two of his nephews were with my cousin Berny and the Eighth Irish [fighting] over in France. I always liked Mr. Yaag, but not quite as keenly as I liked to break his window. . . .

As we converged on the big shop, Mr. Yaag came out, pipe in mouth and with his usual broad smile; this vanished instantly as someone kicked him in the belly and a volley of bricks sent in the huge windows. From the sawdust floor the astounded man had the pleasure of seeing his choice sausages kicked down and thrown about and the furnishings reduced to shambles. “You’ll sink the bleedin ‘Lusy’, will you!” yelled our Joan, waving a shillelagh. . . .

Cook’s pork butcher in Mill Street came next. Mr. Cook knew as much about Germany at the time, I think, as I did. Later investigation proved that he came from strictly Yorkshire stock. . . . But he had a pork butcher’s shop, and as pork and Germany were identical items, we left his shop in a shambles and himself stretched across the counter groaning. I began to get sick from all the free sausage I’d been eating.

If the Germans had torpedoed the Lusitania, we certainly had torpedoed everything German in our immediate vicinity—certainly all the pork butchers’ shops. 1

Connection Questions

  1. For what reasons were the butcher shops in Liverpool attacked? What details, words, and phrases in the text help to explain why individuals like Pat O’Mara participated in destruction and violence?
  2. What other choices could Pat O’Mara have made? How might being in a crowd change an individual’s behavior?
  3. How does this account contribute to your understanding of the term “total war”?
  4. When might stereotypes about the “the Other” lead to violence? For a group that has been accepted in a society and has been part of its universe of obligation, what conditions can cause members of that group to lose such acceptance and become vulnerable to hatred and violence?
  • 1Pat O’Mara, The Autobiography of a Liverpool Irish Slummy (Bath: Cedric Chivers Ltd., 1972), 223–29.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History & Ourselves, "Hatred on the Home Front," last updated August 2, 2016.

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