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Mike Donoghue

Expectations of War, media coverage, spring/summer 1914

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Mike Donoghue

Could someone assist me in determining to what level was the general public, in London for example, aware of a possible outbreak of war. The period I'm interested in is the spring/summer of 1914. I am writing a fictional story (a personal/family perspective) about my grandfather's life pre and during WW1. He was a professional soldier, having served abroad prior to going to France with the BEF. I would appreciate any referrals to reading material that would reference the general public's awareness of what might be looming ahead. Is the Times Archives a good place to research for that and other topics of conversation the general public would have been talking about at that time?

Thank you in advance for any help!

Mike

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truthergw

There was no general public fear of war or awareness that war was in the air, simply because it was not. The political situation in Europe in summer 1914 was the most peaceful there had been for several years. There was a complete lack of international tension. The matters concerning the man on the Clapham omnibus were Irish Home Rule with a real threat of civil strife and universal suffrage especially votes for women.

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Mike Donoghue

Thank you very much for your reply Tom. When do you think soldier's like my grandfather, a Private stationed in Aldershot, would have first entertained the idea they might be going to war in France? Was it only after the declaration on Aug. 4th? Was was the idea that the war would be over by Christmas based upon? Was the military perspective any different?

With appreciation again, Mike.

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truthergw

Hi Mike. A quick answer here. As a soldier, he would have heard the rumours of service in Ireland which were sweeping the army in the wake of the Curragh affair. That was the focal point of interest for anyone interested in political affairs and the one which appeared to be most likely to involve soldiers. The reasons for expecting a short war were many and are still argued over. There was a financial argument that international trade was so necessary to a country like Britain that any war would be quickly ended and the differences solved at the treaty table. A related argument was that modern war was so expensive that no country could afford to wage war for more than a few months. There was a strong feeling that modern European countries were too civilised to wage war against each other so again, sense would prevail very quickly and differences settled by negotiation. When we look through the powerful lens of hindsight we can see that most ' reasons' were simply wishful thinking. Most people simply thought a long war should not happen and sought reasons to show that it couldn't. I ought to say that these questions have been discussed in depth on the forum and a lot more ideas and good arguments will be revealed if you spend a bit of time with the search function. That is not a criticism, simply a fact.

Edit. I missed the part relating to when he knew he was going. The decision to go was only taken on 5-6 August but the fleet had not dispersed after the annual review. That ought to have been a very broad hint that a mobilisation was on the cards. The general idea that Britain would go to war with Germany was abroad and had been for several years. Accepted as inevitable by the officers and educated classes in the main, if not universally. That notion would almost certainly have trickled down to the ranks. At the same time, the army was not an institution that welcomed sharp analysis by soldiers of any rank. It certainly frowned upon independence of thought in any circumstance short of extremis. Your Granda, like mine when he joined the New Army, was expected to just do as he was told and leave the thinking to ' them wot is paid to do it'.

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MichaelBully

Hi Mike

Another thread which has crossed over to this subject has been the' MPs opposed to the War' thread

 

Niall Ferguson 'The Pity of War' -chapter 'The August Days- The Myth of War Enthusiasm' might be worth consulting.

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Mike Donoghue

Thank you very much Tom and Michael for your comments. I will certainly follow up on your suggestions.

Mike

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AndyHollinger

My perception was that everyone thought the Kaiser was sane and he'd back the Austrians down ... nobody thought there would be a war and the British thought they'd stayed aloof. (witness the French reaction to Grey saying that Britian was not committed)

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MichaelBully

Hello Mike, going back to your original post, I am curious to know more about your grandfather. How long and where had he served as a soldier by the Summer of 1914 ?

Have you read 'Britain's Last Tommies -Final Memories from Soldiers of the 1914-18 War In Their Own Words' by Richard Van Emden ? There is a section on 1914 and the former soldiers' expectation or lack of expectation of war.

I have been trying to read up on the Foreign policy of the time , and the complex system of alliances and discussions going on behind the scenes well out of the way of the public eye leading up to the Great War breaking out was incredible.

But so far from what I have read from people at the time, it seems that British people largely believed that international issues were not really giving rise to any concern in the first half of 1914, and as Tom has already highlighted, the question of possible Civil War in Ireland was far more significant well into the Summer of that year.

Could someone assist me in determining to what level was the general public, in London for example, aware of a possible outbreak of war. The period I'm interested in is the spring/summer of 1914. I am writing a fictional story (a personal/family perspective) about my grandfather's life pre and during WW1. He was a professional soldier, having served abroad prior to going to France with the BEF. I would appreciate any referrals to reading material that would reference the general public's awareness of what might be looming ahead. Is the Times Archives a good place to research for that and other topics of conversation the general public would have been talking about at that time?

Thank you in advance for any help!

Mike

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kenf48

Over 20 years since publication but still an accessible account for those new to the period and, in her usual style, great for accounts of veterans, is Lyn Macdonalds 1914. I've little doubt many of us came to this study through her work.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/1914-Days-Hope-Lyn...d/dp/0140116516 2nd hand copy available for less than a quality Sunday newspaper!

 

Ken

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Gheluvelt

My Grandfather, was a soldier before 1914, joing up in 1905, and leaving in 1912. As he was on the reserve list, he was recalled in August 1914. My Dad told me many years ago, that Grandad literally had the call up, and had to go, in a matter of days, so I imagine there was little warning.

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