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Remembered Today:

MPs opposing Britain's entry into the Great War


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DavidMillichope
.... It is fascinating to see how the decision to go to war seems to have been taken by very few individuals.... I have been reading the Dutch historian J.H.J. Andriessen's book 'De Andere Waarheid' ( 'The Other Truth' )........ French Foreign policy, particularly from 1893- 1914 , involved very a small elite group of politicians, and Foreign Policy was not really discussed openly, and most politicians were not taking part in any debate ..

Michael

This seemed to be the way things were done prior to WW1. In Britain, the Foreign Office seems to have been left to get on with things without too much interference because they were regarded as the 'experts'. The Foregn Secretary periodically reported to both cabinet and Parliament but there was often little debate. In that respect Lloyd George was correct when he says how little was debated in Cabinet (although he was probably saying this for 'mischievious' reasons to support his point that Grey was ineffective - LG's memoirs are regarded as unreliable generally, because he had so many axes to grind ).

The thing I found most interesting was that the British had been holding military discussions with the French since 1905. Both the Foreign Office and the War Office were briefed in 1906 and became progressively more involved as time went on. Both Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith were informed ( as PMs) but did not bring this to Cabinet for full discussion. By 1914 there was a full Army Plan for putting the BEF onto the continent alongside the French ( something which would have horrified most senior politicians at the time). The first that most members of the Cabinet knew about this was in the crisis meetings immediately before Britain declared war !! Collective government by Cabinet (as we know it today) was not really working for foreign affairs in 1914.

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This seemed to be the way things were done prior to WW1. In Britain, the Foreign Office seems to have been left to get on with things without too much interference because they were regarded as the 'experts'. The Foregn Secretary periodically reported to both cabinet and Parliament but there was often little debate. In that respect Lloyd George was correct when he says how little was debated in Cabinet (although he was probably saying this for 'mischievious' reasons to support his point that Grey was ineffective - LG's memoirs are regarded as unreliable generally, because he had so many axes to grind ).

The thing I found most interesting was that the British had been holding military discussions with the French since 1905. Both the Foreign Office and the War Office were briefed in 1906 and became progressively more involved as time went on. Both Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith were informed ( as PMs) but did not bring this to Cabinet for full discussion. By 1914 there was a full Army Plan for putting the BEF onto the continent alongside the French ( something which would have horrified most senior politicians at the time). The first that most members of the Cabinet knew about this was in the crisis meetings immediately before Britain declared war !! Collective government by Cabinet (as we know it today) was not really working for foreign affairs in 1914.

Thanks David M, interesting points. I have been finding J.H.J. Andriessen's book fascinating because it has made me consider how Foreign Policy was set by all the leading powers in the run-up to 1914. It would be hard to call the process 'democratic' by any stretch of the imagination. In David Lloyd George's memoirs he acknowledges that foreign affairs were less of a concern than domestic matters to the cabinet meetings of the Summer of 1914 until the last few days before Britain went to war, but also claims that there were popular expressions of support for war in the those last few days 1st August -4th August 1914, both in Britain and in Europe. I know that Niall Fergusson has already questioned the notion of a 'popular enthusaism for war' in his work ' The Pity of War'. Which has led me to wondering what political opposition there was immediately when war was declared.

I tend to agree that with regard to the despatching of the BEF to France and the presentation of DORA to be supported by parliament , the expression 'Here's one I prepared earlier' springs to mind.

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From reading a bit more round this topic, it seems that one quite important body in influencing both foreign and military policy was the Imperial Defence Committee , and Lloyd George was a member. So perhaps he was not kept so much in the dark about developments in the time period 1911-1914 as his memoirs imply.

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LG had been made aware of the Anglo-French military talks since 1911 ( along with a few other prominent political figures). I think the point he was making was that Cabinet did not discuss them and were not in a position to influence policy. He has a point. That said his memoirs are very self serving and regarded by many as "iniquitous" in their influence. Much of WW1's negative image started with the newspaper publication of them. It must always be remembered he was regarded as a radical with a self confessed mission to destroy toffs and priviledge.

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Constitutional government meant no more in 1914 than it meant in 1938. Classical Liberals and Conservatives were wholly behind the case for war. Several leading lights within the Labour Party had privately signalled a willingness to overcome their distaste and back the Asquith government. Why ? Because all levels of British society wanted the war. Yearned for it as a grand epreuve or as one man put it it, like 'swimmers into cleanness leaping'. War with Germany had been on the cards since 1897. Fleet Order No 10 designed to organise a blockade of Germany first entered the naval lexicon in 1912. Apart from a few marginalised loonies, everyone wanted war and that war was now duly served up on a plate.

Slate LG as much as you will but as the war bloodily unfolded at least he had the brains to realise that unless he creamed off pliable hearts within the mainstream Labour Party and trades union movement with offers of ministerial office, the war effort would have come to a shuddering halt by the summer of 1917. I don't credit many of his peers with this level of perception. And even if they had recognised the necessity of engaging meaningfully with the labour movement, they would have lacked the ability to bring such intercourse about. LG and only LG could have forged that coalition (after all a Tory dominated coalition) and kept it going.

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It must always be remembered he was regarded as a radical with a self confessed mission to destroy toffs and priviledge.

And quite happily used the war to that end, using death duties to break up many estates, especially when several members of the same family were killed. Unfortunately there were unintended (or rather not even considered) consequences from the sudden break up of large well established estates - many non toffs lost jobs and even homes as tied cottages were sold

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Classical Liberals and Conservatives were wholly behind the case for war. Several leading lights within the Labour Party had privately signalled a willingness to overcome their distaste and back the Asquith government. Why ? Because all levels of British society wanted the war. Yearned for it as a grand epreuve or as one man put it it, like 'swimmers into cleanness leaping'. ... . Apart from a few marginalised loonies, everyone wanted war and that war was now duly served up on a plate.

That's one point of view and certainly years of flag waving, drum beating and singing nationalistic songs would encourage jingoistic sentiment.

Personally, I would make a distinction between wanting war in the sense of thinking war would be a "glorious and jolly gape" ( and yes there were not insignificant numbers of these) and wanting war as a release from the tension of the seemingly inevitable. Even on that level I'd add two more qualifications. Firstly that there was a goodly number of people who did not welcome war ( Edward Grey himself and most of the Asquith cabinet to name but a few ) . Secondly, whatever war most British people thought they were going to be involved in, was not the war that actually transpired.

... as the war bloodily unfolded at least he had the brains to realise that unless he creamed off pliable hearts within the mainstgream Labour Party and trades union movement with offers of ministerial office, the war effort would have come to a shuddering halt by the summer of 1917. I don't credit many of his peers with this level of perception. And even if they had recognised the necessity of engaging meaningfully with the labour movement, they would have lacked the ability to bring such intercourse about. LG and only LG could have forged that coation (after all a Tory dominated coalition) and kept it going.

A valid point. However I don't think that it is an unecessarily harsh criticism to point out that he did and said some things which were not helpful, or that they were self-serving. LG was IMHO a very able man. He made major contributions to the wellbeing of the British nation. His memoirs,however, did not represent one of his shining moments, neither do some of his views on the war stand up to scrutiny.

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I think LG was the epitome of the crooked politician. A liar to the core of his being, he was nevertheless no worse than most of his peers or the military idiots playing soldiers on the Western Front. Edward Grey may have thought the lights were going out but having enjoyed privileged opportunities to keep the dialogue flowing, he had ultimately done little to prevent the power cut which followed.

Unlike the rest LG had a supreme strategic brain combined with personal charm, animal cunning and ruthless efficiency. LG knew the war against the U-boats would be won or lost in 1917. The coalition did just enough to keep the labour movement on board. A workable Lib-Lab axis operating within (but capable of flouting) a Tory dominated coalition was the fundamental platform for securing that victory. It kept those miners mining and the collier ships chugging down the North Sea and St George's Channel to feed the power stations of Britain and France. That essential axis kept the shipyards, the steel works and the munitions factories working. Dockers unloaded cargo, railwaymen transported it day and night. The fact that senior personnel within the seaman's unions were allowed to sit on the Board of Trade, kept the Merchant Navy afloat at a time when some counsels considered that things were getting a little too dangerous. The adoption of convoy was one of the trade-offs (although other factors applied)

Sure, there were strikes. From time to time the wilder elements flexed their industrial muscles but for the most part LGs coalition held the line. This was the essential economic battle ground of the industrial nations, where Britain won the War and the Central Powers lost it. And LG was architect of the axis that kept the war show on the road.

Oh and one more point. If LG's memoirs owe more to fiction than fact - well that puts him on a comparable plane to Haig and Rawlinson, both of whom re-wrote their diaries, doubtless for the sake of posterity, pro publico bono...Not.

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A liar ... no worse than most of his peers or the military idiots playing soldiers on the Western Front ...

Edward Grey ... had ultimately done little to prevent the power cut which followed.

Unlike the rest LG had a supreme strategic brain ...

Haig and Rawlinson, both of whom re-wrote their diaries, doubtless for the sake of posterity ...

I guess this is where we part company ...

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Because all levels of British society wanted the war.

Could you please provide some pre-4 August evidence that the working class of Britain wanted a war.

Haig and Rawlinson, both of whom re-wrote their diaries, doubtless for the sake of posterity, pro publico bono...Not.

I have seen Rawlinson's diary. Can you please provide evidence that it was re-written.

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.... the intrigues of French Foreign policy, particularly from 1893- 1914 , involved very a small elite group of politicians

believe me, nothing has changed in that respect. French foreign policy is traditionally the preserve of the president. The foreign minister is purely a cipher

cheers Martin B

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Could you please provide some pre-4 August evidence that the working class of Britain wanted a war.

Well that rather depends if you want the primary source material 'Miners Federation of Great Britain' annual meeting minutes 1909-1913 or reactions to ILP speakers (warning against any future war with Germany) at engineering union meetings at Armstrong Whitworth's works 1912. We could study issues dominating the July 1909 Croydon by-election or look at some yellow press letter columns (For regional newspapers aimed at the working classes, the letter pages of Jan-Feb 1909 prove particularly interesting) or the lyrics of certain music hall songs, 'We have four and we want more...'. . Now why did we want more and what is the link with Mahanesqe doctrine ? Perhaps I could throw in coverage of the launch of HMS Invincible and the songs reportedly sung by the crowd about what they were going to do to the Germans. A reader might take interest in the popular reaction towards Le Queux's 'The Invasion of 1910' and its portrayal of Germans, or examine why a recruiting office was set up in the foyer of Wyndham's Theatre when 'An Englishman's Home' opened in January 1909. Then there is my research amongst Great War veterans including; Walter Hare, Michael Manley, Jack Barron, Tom Easton, Frank Lindley, Reg Glenn. All were asked about what they thought of the Germans before hostilities.

I could go on and on and on but that would be mutually tiresome. I fully concede MartinBennitt's contention that society was not monolithic and not everyone welcomed war. If the Germans had not invaded through Belgium the case for war would undoubtedly have been a harder sell in August 1914 (the day before Britain went to war, a massive anti-war demonstration had been planned for London. You might like to examine its genesis and denouement). I would however argue however that die had been decisively cast well before 1914. The language of imperialism was homogeneous and partly functioned as a connective tissue within British society. By 1913 the shrill Unionist press had persuaded large sections of society that war with Germany was acceptable, inevitable and yes, desirable. Again I concede MartinBennitts point that expectations of the future war, differed and for some August 1914 may have been a cathartic release. While not everyone believed that war was a glorious business and the British always won, most had been led to expect a North Sea Boche biffing contest with Jack Tar coming decisively out on top. A short, sharp Trafalgar rather than an attritional slog through Flanders. But as Confucious say, if man chase tiger of war, man must not be surprised if tiger stop, turn around - then bites head off.

The best single study in working class ideological indoctrination 1897-1914 I know of is Bill Williamson's 'Class, Culture and Community'.

'I have seen Rawlinson's diary. Can you please provide evidence that it was re-written'.

Ah but which version did you read ? I have studied two versions of Rawlinsons diary, the Churchill College version and the NAM version. I will leave you to play 'spot the difference'...

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believe me, nothing has changed in that respect. French foreign policy is traditionally the preserve of the president. The foreign minister is purely a cipher

cheers Martin B

Hi Martin, yes I have heard this said about Ponicare from becoming president of France as from January 1913: I don't want to go too far off topic here but in the future I might well start a separate thread about French politics at the time. Thanks

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I think that many important points have been made about whether Britain's entry into the Great War was popular; Lloyd-George maintained that Britain's entry was "universally acclaimed' on 4th August 1914 ( in his memoirs) , which seems to have been not quite true judging by the numbers of MPs who people can cite who did not agree.

Yes I fully accept that the crowds who did cheer for war that long weekend in August 1914 would have had no concept of what type of war this country would be fighting, and yes some might have hoped for a couple of 'Trafalgar' type sea battles.

But it looks like my reading so far that the case for opposing Britain's entry into war was marginalised at this stage.

I think that many important points have been made about whether Britain's entry into the Great War was popular; Lloyd-George maintained that Britain's entry was "universally acclaimed' on 4th August 1914 ( in his memoirs) , which seems to have been not quite true judging by the numbers of MPs who people can cite who did not agree.

Yes I fully accept that the crowds who did cheer for war that long weekend in August 1914 would have had no concept of what type of war this country would be fighting, and yes some might have hoped for a couple of 'Trafalgar' type sea battles without a long war of attrition on land or any conscription.

But it looks like my reading so far that the case for opposing Britain's entry into the Great War was marginalised at this stage.

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Lloyd George 'crooked'. Pre-Marconi scandal surely not. He had made a principled and unpopular opposition to the Boer War, was right about his 1909 Budget

and is a major architect of the foundations of the Welfare State. Even when selling honours he was right that there had to be negotiation with Sinn Fein despite the 'nutters' like Churchill who was wrong on Ireland as he was on intervention in the Russian civil war and later on India (and the General Strike).

Grey had helped to avoid international crises developing into war - Morocco, Agadir and the Balkan Wars. He tried again in 1914 but the Kaiser's blank cheque to Franz Joseph meant there was no diplomatic option.

DLG's great achievement by the way was mobilising the nation for total war and applying collectivist solutions to winning the war. It was of course a LG Liberal/Labour/Tory coalition- DLG had wrecked the Liberal Party by conspiring with Beaverbrook and Bonar Law - this was 'crooked' but probably had to be done as Asquith was not the man for post-Somme leadership (if he was before!). Another great achievement was bringing the trade union movement and the Labour Party into partnership for winning the war which he had already started as Minister for Munitions.

You need to read Sheffield and Bourne's introduction to the Haig diaries before exaggerating the 'rewriting!

Clio....

I think LG was the epitome of the crooked politician. A liar to the core of his being, he was nevertheless no worse than most of his peers or the military idiots playing soldiers on the Western Front. Edward Grey may have thought the lights were going out but having enjoyed privileged opportunities to keep the dialogue flowing, he had ultimately done little to prevent the power cut which followed.

and Bourne's introduction to the Haig diaries before exaggerating the 'rewriting!

Unlike the rest LG had a supreme strategic brain combined with personal charm, animal cunning and ruthless efficiency. The coalition did just enough to keep the labour movement on board. A workable Lib-Lab axis operating within (but capable of flouting) a Tory dominated coalition was the fundamental platform for securing that victory. It kept those miners mining and the collier ships chugging down the North Sea and St George's Channel to feed the power stations of Britain and France. That essential axis kept the shipyards, the steel works and the munitions factories working. Dockers unloaded cargo, railwaymen transported it day and night. The fact that senior personnel within the seaman's unions were allowed to sit on the Board of Trade, kept the Merchant Navy afloat at a time when some counsels considered that things were getting a little too dangerous. The adoption of convoy was one of the trade-offs (although other factors applied)

Sure, there were strikes. From time to time the wilder elements flexed their industrial muscles but for the most part LGs coalition held the line. This was the essential economic battle ground of the industrial nations, where Britain won the War and the Central Powers lost it. And LG was architect of the axis that kept the war show on the road.

Oh and one more point. If LG's memoirs owe more to fiction than fact - well that puts him on a comparable plane to Haig and Rawlinson, both of whom re-wrote their diaries, doubtless for the sake of posterity, pro publico bono...Not.

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Largely agree with your last paragraph and much of your first (LGs contribution towards ensuring victory tends to be overlooked on this web site). However Grey of Falloden was widely regarded as incompetent - and not just by the Opposition.

Thank you for the book recommendation but you could say I am familiar with it already. Sadly 'Douglas Haig, War Diaries and Letters 1914-18' does not critically analyse the fact that there exists both a manuscript version of the diaries and a typescript component. The typescript 'diary' in CAB42/1 is undoubtedly a later composition, almost certainly post-war. This does not mean that DH's recollections were in any sense false but it does mean that the typewritten text cannot be afforded the level of primary source weight that Bourne and Sheffield would have us believe.

In return may I have the temerity to suggest that you might like to read 'Douglas Haig and the First World War'. A nuanced volume analysing complex issues and esconced in a very different league to the aforementioned Bourne/Sheffield work.

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Author???

Largely agree with your last paragraph and much of your first (LGs contribution towards ensuring victory tends to be overlooked on this web site). However Grey of Falloden was widely regarded as incompetent - and not just by the Opposition.

Thank you for the book recommendation but you could say I am familiar with it already. Sadly 'Douglas Haig, War Diaries and Letters 1914-18' does not critically analyse the fact that there exists both a manuscript version of the diaries and a typescript component. The typescript 'diary' in CAB42/1 is undoubtedly a later composition, almost certainly post-war. This does not mean that DH's recollections were in any sense false but it does mean that the typewritten text cannot be afforded the level of primary source weight that Bourne and Sheffield would have us believe.

In return may I have the temerity to suggest that you might like to read 'Douglas Haig and the First World War'. A nuanced volume analysing complex issues and esconced in a very different league to the aforementioned Bourne/Sheffield work.

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Saying that Lloyd George was "right" about the 1909 budget is an interesting point of view. Forcing a confrontation with the House of Lords brought out the best in the Liberals - lying to the King, pushing through the Parliament Act 1911, clinging on to power by giving in to the Irish nationalists and nearly precipitating a major rebellion in Ulster. Genius.

Simon

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JP Harris, Cambridge University Press.

'..oh it ain't no mystery if its politics or history

one thing you got to know is, everything is showbiz....'

You think LG's contempt for Parliament, aristocracy, Monarchy (German imports) Conservative and Unionist Party and last but not least, the Liberal Party establishment, was not fully justified ?

Maybe, just maybe LG recognised that liberalism had been fatally weakened by attacks from its own enfants terribles. Lofty Apollonian values had been rendered void and it was high time to embrace those terrifying Dionysian forces undermining liberalism - or at least persuade the more amenable elements to travel in a useful direction...

I rather think the virtues of the 1911 Parliament Act rather speak for themselves (or at least they do on other web sites) unless, of course, you believe that the hereditary Lords (with its natural Tory majority) had a greater right to say how Britain should be governed than a democratically elected government.

At least the Irish Nationalist MPs were playing by the democratic rules. Can the same be said of Carson and his papist-hating militias ? And what does the Curragh affair reveal of the Army hierarchy's regard for Parliamentary democracy ?

'.clinging on to power by giving in to the Irish nationalists...' I can recall a British government of not so very long ago which clung on to power by virtue of votes from an Orange bloc in the HoC.

Same show, different cast.

- 'Genius' ? most certainly if your intention is to demonstrate credentials to a nascent labour movement with a view to facilitating a future bridging role between left and centre.

All very Nietzschian but perhaps the all-too-apparent limitations of his peers made LG seem more of an ubermensch than he actually was.

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It's been mentioned on this thread that the day before war broke out, an anti-war demonstration had been planned for central London. Anyone know who the organisers were? Thanks

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Not sure on this.

My first money was on the UDC but this was formed in response to the outbreak of war. Two other possibilities are the ILP or the Neutrality League. Maybe an ad hoc group of pacifists ?

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Hi David

From reading 'A Question of Conscience Conscientious Objection in the Two World Wars' by Feleicity Goodall; the author mentions Harold Bing ( later to become a CO) walking from Croydon to Trafalgar Square on Sunday 2nd August 1914 to attend an anti-war demonstration. Ten thousand people were said to have attended and Keir Hardie was one of the speakers.

According to Niall Fergusson's 'The Pity of War' the British Neutrality League and the British Neutrality Committee were set up in July 1914 . He doesn't particularly mention whether they were present on 2nd, so more than likely the 2nd August rally was an ILP initiative.

Not sure on this.

My first money was on the UDC but this was formed in response to the outbreak of war. Two other possibilities are the ILP or the Neutrality League. Maybe an ad hoc group of pacifists ?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Found the answer to the question of the Trafalgar Square rally ; I was at the British Library in Euston yesterday and consulted 'Radicalism Against War' by A.J. Anthony Morris, (1972) .It was a group called International Socialist Bureau. The British Neutrality League had been busy around this time distributing 500,000 copy of a leaflet called 'Shall We Fight for A Russian Europe' ? But I am not sure if were at Trafalgar Square that day.

Hi David

From reading 'A Question of Conscience Conscientious Objection in the Two World Wars' by Feleicity Goodall; the author mentions Harold Bing ( later to become a CO) walking from Croydon to Trafalgar Square on Sunday 2nd August 1914 to attend an anti-war demonstration. Ten thousand people were said to have attended and Keir Hardie was one of the speakers.

According to Niall Fergusson's 'The Pity of War' the British Neutrality League and the British Neutrality Committee were set up in July 1914 . He doesn't particularly mention whether they were present on 2nd, so more than likely the 2nd August rally was an ILP initiative.

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Michael

I agree that the rally was probably an ILP initiative. Socialism was seen as an international philosophy and, therefore, British socialists argued strongly that they should not be forced into a war which was going to be fought against, and largely by, the German and British working classes. After all, they argued, they had no quarrel with them, but were being forced into it by the ruling elites.

Out of interest and at the same time, a group of some sixty Oxbridge academics signed a letter which was published in the Times, condemning the impending war against Germany. Germany had been highly regarded as the centre of scientific and cultural influence in Europe, so much so, that the British middling classes often gave German second names to their sons and sent them to German academic institutions for their tertiary education.

Two things arise immediately out of the above: how quickly those attitudes changed on the declaration of war and how British propagandists were quick use this against Germany with the word "Kultur."

TR

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