4/8/1914 War unites Germany

Germany too is enjoying a new found unity. The Kaiser addresses members of the Reichstag in his palace. He declares the war to have been forced upon Germany by Serbia and Russia. He receives a warm response from across the political spectrum. He responds emotionally: “Ich kenne keine Parteien mehr, ich kenne nur Deutsche.” I see no more parties, I see only Germans.

Later Bethmann Hollweg addresses the Reichstag. He talks of war having been forced on the country. Perhaps unwisely, he accepts that the invasion of Belgium is contrary to international law but asserts that it is necessary for Germany’s survival. The assembled deputies vote for war credits, with the SPD falling into line with their capitalist colleagues.

4/8/1914 France: l’union sacrée

The funeral of Jean Jaurès takes place in Paris. But something strange has happened to France and to the French left. The funeral of the great pacifist and opponent of war somehow becomes an occasion for socialists to affirm their support for the struggle with Germany.

The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate meet in joint session. A letter from Poincaré is read out by Viviani, calling on them to put aside class and factional differences. Poincaré’s letter talks of a country united in a sacred union: l’union sacrée. The politicians unanimously vote for war credits. Previously socialists had talked of a general strike to prevent war, but now socialist deputies queue up to affirm their support for the conflict.

3/8/1914 Germany declares war on France

In Paris, Wilhelm von Schoen makes his way to the French foreign ministry. The German ambassador’s car is attacked by French ultra-nationalists and he has to provided with a police escort. At the foreign ministry, Schoen presents Viviani with Germany’s declaration of war. Schoen leaves Paris that night.

3/8/1914 Grey wins over the House of Commons

In the morning Lichnowsky and Grey meet once more. To win British neutrality, the German ambassador says that Germany will not send its fleet to attack the French coast. Germany will also restore Belgium to its full sovereignty after the war. Grey makes no promises.

It is a bank holiday Monday, yet the cabinet is meeting again. The House of Commons will also be sitting in the afternoon. Germany’s ultimatum to Belgium has won most of the cabinet to war, though some ministers are opposed to war in any circumstances and tender their resignations.

In the afternoon Grey addresses the House of Commons. In a long and boring introduction he rambles on about how the crisis has developed and reveals that Britain has agreed to defend France’s coast from the Germans. But after an hour he hits his stride and makes an impassioned plea for his country to come to the defence of plucky Belgium. This provides the perfect mix of national interest (preventing German access to the Belgian coast) and lofty idealism. The foreign secretary finishes to thunderous applause. Two of the anti-interventionist ministers are won over, withdrawing their resignations.

But support is not unanimous. The Labour Party rejects involvement in the war, as do a small bloc of Liberals. And Lichnowsky wires home that the speech still leaves room for negotiation; he suggests that the British leadership are not completely behind war.

Other speakers in the House of Commons include John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He proposes that Britain withdraw its forces from Ireland, as the Irish Volunteers and Ulster Volunteers will jointly defend it. These two militias had been on the brink of fighting each other over the Home Rule question.

The Cabinet meets again in the evening. Grey sends a note of protest to Germany regarding Belgium, though not an ultimatum.

Back in his office in Whitehall, Grey sees the gaslights being lit in St. James’ Park and he comments: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We will not see them again in our lifetime.”

image source

2/8/1914 Germany demands right of passage through Belgium

Belgium sees the winds of war blowing in its direction. Luxembourg has been invaded and reports have come from its consul in Cologne of packed troop trains moving out continuously, not south towards France but west to the Belgian border. As a precaution, Belgium has mobilised its army and readied the fortifications at the border town of Liège.

At 8.00 pm the Below-Selaske, Germany’s ambassador, arrives at the foreign ministry with an ultimatum. Germany proposes to send its troops into Belgium tomorrow to secure it from the French. The note promises to respect Belgium’s sovereignty but the Germans will use force against any resistance to their invasion. The Belgians have until 8.00 am tomorrow to say whether they will accept Germany’s occupation.

King Albert presides over a cabinet meeting and a meeting of the army chiefs. Despite the juggernaut coming their way, they agree to reject the German ultimatum and fight for their nation’s survival.

2/8/1914 Britain will defend Belgium and the French coast

In London, Grey tells Cambon that Germany’s occupation of Luxembourg will not trigger British intervention. Cambon is disgusted.

Meanwhile, Herbert Henry Asquith’s weekend has been ruined. The 62 year old prime minister had planned to slip away with Miss Venetia Stanley (26), but the crisis is keeping him in London. Today is Sunday and he is having to chair another cabinet meeting, in which the divisions between the pro- and anti-interventionists are at boiling point.

At the meeting, a secret Anglo-French naval agreement is revealed; the French are sending their fleet to the Mediterranean in the expectation that Britain’s fleet will defend their north coast. After some hesitation, the cabinet agrees to honour this agreement, though it does lead to one resignation.

After some further tense discussions it is more or less decided that the invasion of Belgium would represent a casus belli.

Dramatis Personae