The Kaiser’s Dawn

The Untold Story of Britain’s Secret Mission to Murder the Kaiser in 1918

By John Hughes-Wilson

Uniform Press, 2018

I enjoy a good historical novel (give me Sharpe any day!) but when it comes to First World War novels I start to get palpitations and go into a cold sweat. Will the details be right? Are the usual stereotypes rolled out? Why write fiction when there are so many fascinating true stories to be told?

The blurb for ‘The Kaiser’s Dawn’ states this is ‘the untold true story of the British mission to murder the Kaiser in 1918’. John Hughes-Wilson recounts how an RFC logbook contained mention of the plot and that this was backed up by further documents and research. It seems all the ingredients were there for a genuinely ground-breaking work into this apparent attempt to bring the war to an end by assassinating the Kaiser. Yet for some reason Hughes-Wilson decided to use the medium of a novel to tell the story, and for me this approach of fiction masquerading as fact just blurs the lines and confuses – is there any evidence at all? Or is it just a backstory to set up the novel?

The plot covers the decision to carry out the assassination attempt and the political manoeuvring in London that sits behind it, switching to the work of secret agents behind enemy lines and the RFC pilots tasked with carrying out the bombing raid against the Kaiser. Yet the actual plot referred to in the RFC logbook does not materialise until the last 70 pages; perhaps there was just not enough actual evidence to justify a factual investigation into the events.

Hughes-Wilson is a competent writer and weaves a tale of intrigue in the War Office and Whitehall whilst also painting a vivid picture of the life of RFC pilots. Yet some of the characters were too stereotypical, and the act of ascribing thoughts and words to real individuals (particularly when they are a bit contentious) sits uncomfortably with me.

On face value, as a novel, I enjoyed this book. It would just be interesting to know what level of truth lies behind the supposed plot.

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The Kaiser’s Dawn: The Untold Story of Britain’s Secret Mission to Murder the Kaiser in 1918