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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Awareness of the coming conflict in 1914


dorrie

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Just a very open ended question on how much do people think that the ordinary folk of Britain and the Colonies were aware of the growing crisi looming in 1914 and before.

Dorrie

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Very much aware. By 1910 or so, to anyone able to read a newspaper in any of the countries in Europe, it would have been a question of when not if. There are a great many books on this subject. The colonies are a different question. Although the imminent war would have been just as obvious, the question of how deeply they would get involved would be open. Many may have thought that the coming war would be over before they were called upon. The one exception to all this would have been the Indian Army. The sepoys and other Indian troops may not have been as knowledgeable re current European politics. Presumably the same might be said of Pied Noires and black African French troops but here I am merely conjecturing.

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I know in New Zealand there must have been some awareness, especially as the Defence Act of 1909 created the territorial forces and cadets.

Allie

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Weekly pictorial newspapers for the massess were very common by the early 20th C and thanks to 20 or so years of compulsory and free (if rudimentary) education the majority could read. The new education system also did much to instil an enormous sense of pride and devotion to the King and Empire to such an extent that when the call for volunteers was made in August and September 1914 men joined up in droves. (Much of early education for the working class was about teaching them "their place" in society). Thanks to the newspapers, the working men were well aware that the British Empire had made a promise to Belgium and the patriotic fervour ensured a plentiful supply of volunteers ready and willing to help.

In a similar vein, the aristocracy and monied classes raised their young men to expect to lead and do their bit also for King and Country. They had more ready access to a higher level of information, but were, no less conditioned intheir expectations of their place and duties in life.

The rest as they say . . .

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In sorting my books today I have come across a copy of The Year Illustrated 1913 - published by the Daily News and Leader - The Second Picture / feature is headed THE KAISER - TWENTY FIVE YEARS OF PEACE - it reads:

"The twenty fifth anniversary of the Emperor William's (sic) accession was celebrated at Berlin on June 16th, within a month of the wedding of his only daughter. At seven in the morning the massed bands of the guards played "Now Thank We All Our God" and an old folk song, in the courtyard of the Royal Castle. At eight, dressed in white and in national colours, 7000 school children marched in and sang old chorales. Then in the great Knight's chamber the Kaiser received deputation after deputation, representing all classes of German nation and Empire, bringing addresses and presents.

Among the deputation was that headed by Mr Carnegie bringing a magnificent illuminated address from fifty-four peace societies of America. The Kaiser was specially gracious to Mr Carnegie, who thanked him for twenty five years of peace. "I hope", said His Majesty "I shall have twenty five years more". With a bow Mr Carnegie paid the Kaiser the following tribute "You are the best ally we have in your great country""

I am not sure if this wasnt all wishful thinking - yet elsewhere in the same book there is a description of the wedding and I notice that the portrait in the front of the book of our own King George and Queen Mary was taken in Berlin. It certainly seems that at that time in the public imagination we seemed far from war. Elsewhere in the book however there is a harbinger of doom with a long article and many photos of the "Balkan War".

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I don't know about in Britain, but over much of the Continent, during 1914 the real concern was the situation in Albania.

Please don't ask me to explain the politics of that place - I don't understand them, but I can say that in many, even most newspapers, the shooting in Sarajevo was a small story and the latest twist in the Albanian saga was half the front page. It was really only during the last half of July - when the Serbian-Austrian crisis arrived, that the events that led to the start of the war really became headline news.

Of course, this doesn't mean that there was no concern at all across Europe, there was certainly concern about German expansionist tendencies.

The papers even in Luxembourg - which was supposed to be a disarmed and neutral country - were full of German creeping takeover tactics; demanding that signs in railway stations be only in German, for instance, especially signs to the German Customs offices. In fact, there was a libel suit over a remark in a Belgian newspaper that one Luxembourg paer had 'Prussians up their nose' (equivalent to 'Prussians on the brain' in English).

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The Prime Minister of Canada was holidaying in Muskoka (a renowned lake district) in late July, 1914, seemingly unaware that any sort of crisis was looming. He rushed back to Ottawa on July 29. Canada, of course, went to war with Britain. Seems rather late for there to be so little awareness of imminent war, although I don't know what was going on politically in Ottawa. For my research, I combed through the newspapers for that summer, and truly, the Irish question seemed to be the big crisis at that time, at least in the Toronto papers.

Gabriele

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