8th November 1902. Sleep-Walk to Nightmare.
It has been said that ‘We sleep-walked into World War I’, a war fought under the auspices of grandchildren of Queen Victoria.(1)
Things seemed different Today in 1902 when ‘Kaiser Bill’, the eldest grandson of Victoria, was in London to improve Anglo-German relations. The previous year his uncle Edward VII had created him a British Field Marshal. Only seven years before the outbreak of war, London crowds were cheering the Kaiser on a state visit. (2)
The major countries had been metaphorically trundling barrels of gunpowder around Europe for years, not least with the naval race between Germany and Britain’s building of its Dreadnoughts.
Also Britain and France had worked out details of a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) by 1911 suggesting a commitment to fight.
Then it was revealed at that time by Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, that talks had taken place back in 1906 by The Army Staff which never reached Campbell-Bannerman’s Cabinet, suggests the military were setting the agenda.
By July 22nd 1912 Britain was withdrawing her Dreadnought Battleships from the Mediterranean to place on patrol in the North Sea. This was in response to the continuing German Naval build-up after the breakdown of talks aimed at slowing down the rate of Naval expansion.
The ‘gun-powder ‘ now only needed the spark of a fanatic to kill the Austrian Arch-Duke Franz-Ferdinand in June 1914 to ignite: the result was war.(3)
The Austrians who had long wanted to destroy the growing nationalistic ambitions of the Serbs now took action; the Germans supported Austria. Russian, which mobilized on 29th July, backed Serbia.
On 1st August Germany declared war on Russia and two days later on ‘weak’ France and invaded Belgium.
Now the long-planned German Schlieffen Plan could be executed which had involved building long station platforms near the Belgium border and precision troop-movement rail timetables.
Once France was defeated, the idea was then to turn to Russia. France declared war on the 4th of August: too late!
The die was cast when Britain received no confirmation by Germany, of Belgian neutrality which we had guaranteed under the 1839 Treaty of Washington. At 11 pm local time (12 midnight German time) we were at war. Time to awake!
(1) Theme of book by Christopher Clark’s ‘How we went to War. 2012.
(2) The Kaiser was stripped of the Order of the Garter in 1915.
(3) In 1905 Germany had concluded an alliance with Russia to avoid any dispute should the shaky Austro-Hungary Empire disintegrate.
Ref: historytoday v.62. Iss 12. 12.12.2012. Sean McMekkin.
Ref: timeshighereducation.com/how-europe-went-to-war. review of book by Christopher Clark.