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Teaching the First World War
Teaching the First World War

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2.2 British propaganda – Example 2

The Report of the Committee on Alleged German Outrages (The Bryce Report)

The Report of the Committee on Alleged German Outrages, often known as ‘The Bryce Report’, was commissioned by Wellington House and published in 1915. The report was overseen by the former British ambassador to the USA, James Bryce, and provided details of atrocities committed by the German army during its invasion of Belgium in 1914.

As a Wellington House publication, the Bryce Report was primarily intended for American audiences, with the intention of turning American public opinion against Germany and encouraging the USA to intervene on the side of the allies.

The report included some unsubstantiated descriptions of German atrocities, including the murder of civilians and the looting and destruction of towns. In the years after the war, many investigations into wartime propaganda failed to verify the claims made in the Bryce Report, and interwar histories dismissed it as an example of misleading propaganda. However, more recent historical research – such as John Horne and Alan Kramer’s German Atrocities, 1914 (2002) – argued that many of the atrocities described in the report were in fact perpetrated at various points by the German army during its invasion of Belgium.

The debate over whether Belgian franctireurs (a term used to describe civilian snipers) attacked German troops and therefore caused some of the violent behaviour towards the Belgian population seemed to have been settled by Kramer and Horne, but their conclusions have in turn been disputed in two German publications (Spraul, 2016; Keller, 2017). The authors do not deny that atrocities were committed but claim that violent Belgian resistance was the cause of some of these excesses. These publications are not currently available in English, but this conference report [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] summarises the arguments.

Activity 4 Primary source analysis

Timing: Allow around 10 minutes

Read this short extract from the Bryce Report and consider the questions posed for analysing this source before revealing the specimen answers.

(d) Looting, Burning and Destruction of Property

There is an overwhelming mass of evidence of the deliberate destruction of private property by the German soldiers. The destruction in most cases was effected by fire, and the German troops, as will be seen from earlier passages in the Report, had been provided beforehand with appliances for rapidly setting fire to houses. Among the appliances enumerated by witnesses are syringes for squirting petrol, guns for throwing small inflammable bombs, and small pellets made of inflammable material. Specimens of the last-mentioned have been shown to members of the Committee.

Besides burning houses the Germans frequently smashed furniture and pictures; they also broke in doors and windows. Frequently, too, they defiled houses by relieving the wants of nature upon the floor. They also appear to have perpetrated the same vileness upon piled up heaps of provisions so as to destroy what they could not themselves consume. They also on numerous occasions threw corpses into wells, or left in them the bodies of persons murdered by drowning.

(Bryce, 1915)

More pages of the report can be viewed on the British Library website.



The Bryce Report is an example of British propaganda commissioned by Wellington House. The report was overseen by the former British ambassador to the United States, James Bryce.



The report was published on 12 May 1915, around nine months after the German invasion of Belgium. This was only a few days after the sinking of the Lusitania, an event which hardened US attitudes against Germany. For this reason, the report may have had a greater impact on American public opinion than it would have done if published before.



This specific extract describes alleged examples of looting, burning and the destruction of property committed by the German army. It suggests that German soldiers intentionally set fire to Belgian houses and were even provided with equipment for this purpose. The extract also lists examples of destruction and vandalism committed by German soldiers when they entered Belgian homes. The extract ends with the shocking description of German soldiers leaving corpses of murdered civilians in wells.



As a Wellington House publication, the Bryce Report was primarily intended to convince American readers of German immorality and wrongdoing. In doing so, Wellington House encouraged Americans to sympathise with the Allied cause, with the hope that it might persuade the USA to intervene on the side of the Allies. The report therefore fulfils two of the key purposes of propaganda outlined above: first, it demonises the enemy; and, second, it aims to influence public opinion in a neutral nation.



The report uses graphic and sensational details to achieve its goals. Although it does not directly cite evidence to support its claims, parts of this extract add a veneer of credibility to the claims. We are told, for example, that the committee has seen evidence of the bombs used to set fire to the Belgian homes. There is also a direct, matter-of-fact quality to the prose, which adds to the impression that this is an accurate portrayal events.

Uses for historians


The Bryce Report provides evidence of how the British government sought to influence opinion in neutral nations, and it reveals how propagandists exploited German atrocities in order to demonise the enemy. The report also provides evidence regarding the German invasion of Belgium, though its uses here are limited: many of the descriptions are not substantiated and cannot be verified without turning to other sources.

As noted above, recent historical research, drawing on the diaries of German soldiers, for example, has proven that atrocities similar to those described in the report did occur.