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Believing the Unbelievable: The Myth of the Russians with 'snow on Their Boots' in the United Kingdom, 1914

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In the opening months of the First World War, a rumour spread across the United Kingdom that Russian soldiers – identified by the 'snow on their boots' – had landed in Scotland en route to the Western Front. Despite being relegated to history's footnotes as a comical but meaningless episode, this article takes the rumour seriously. Unconcerned with questions of 'truth' (the rumour was dismissed as fantastical by late October 1914), it will argue that the real value of this story lies in what it reveals about British society at the outbreak of war. The rumour emerged as the British Expeditionary Force entered its first big test of the Great War – the battle of Mons – which would result in Germany's first great victory and thousands of casualties. As such the rumour can be interpreted as a form of 'secular apparition' bringing consolation to many. It was one of the ways ordinary people made sense of their newly threatening world.


Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of History, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Treliever Road, Penryn, TR10 9EZ, UK;, Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2014

More about this publication?
  • Recent epistemological challenges have shaken the core assumptions of many historians. Culture is now seen as intrinsic to social practice, and therefore at the heart of society itself. Cultural and Social History, the official peer reviewed journal of the Social History Society (SHS), aims to address disciplinary shifts, and create a dialogue between social and cultural historians. The journal emphasizes the ways the social and culture are mutually constitutive and that study of one enables a deeper understanding of the other. The and in our title is important: all submissions to the journal should aim to contribute to the understanding of both cultural and social history.


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