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Are you interested in gaining an insight into the early days of air combat?

Fig.1. World War One: Aviation Comes of Age

This free, open, interactive and connected online course is about to start. It runs for only three weeks and will take a couple of hours a week to do, a little longer to take part in, and as long as you like to indulge.

From First World War

Fig. 2. Gustav Hammel – an early aeronaut who my grandfather saw fly in age 13

I’m doing it to refresh my knowledge from my late grandfather who say the very earliest aviators as a boy and then after 18 months as a machine gunner on the Western Front successfully transferred to the Royal Flying Corps to train as a pilot.

The course is led by a retired former senior RAF officer, Dr Peter Gray with whom I’ve already had a lecture courtesy of the MA in Military History, also with the University of Birmingham. His lecture was on how to read and review a book, and on how to write a competent essay. I’ve been respectively three, then one then ? marks shy of a distinction with my essays so he got me pointed in the right direction.

These courses are known as MOOCs for ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ because courtesy of the Internet they are global and can attract thousands of participants and ‘open’ because they are free to do and talk about … the other two are obvious. An off-putting acronym for a set of rich, multi-media webpages designed for learning? Lord Reith of the BBC, one of the founding fathers of the BBC, would have approved as these MOOCs from FutureLearn entertain, inform and educate.

Anyway, the course is about to start. It is open to anyone, and it is free. So see you there?


Why did Britain go to war in 1914?

The complex reasons that took Britain to war

A handful of belligerent political leaders, primarily in Berlin, but also in Vienna, exploited the murder by a youthful, idealistic Serbian nationalist of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June 1914 to realise the long-held belief in German governing circles for ‘Welpolitik’ (word policy), even a right to ‘Weltmachtstellung’ (world power). Leaders in both Russia and France did more to aggravate than to alleviate Germany’s paranoia over encirclement on the one hand, and frustrated rivalry with these established empires for land and influence around the globe.

1. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary with his wife Sophie and children

Ultimately, and especially after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the machinations, deviousness, obfuscations and at times ineptitude and delusions of Germany’s leaders led Britain’s elected leaders, reluctantly, in August 1914, once all efforts at mediation had failed, and enough of Britain’s divided Conservative-Liberal coalition cabinet had united after Germany’s invasion of Belgium, to go to war when Germany failed to respond to Britain’s 4 August 1914 ultimatum.

2. Theobolad von Bethman-Hollweg, Germany’s Riechs Chancellor

Original documents identified and collated for the purposes of explaining the actions, decisions and feelings of the participants in the lead up to what became a world war (1914-18) by the likes of Imanuel Geiss (1967), John Röhl (1973) and Annika Mombauer (2013) show that Germany was inclined to risk trying to achieve world power status through conquest: a gamble that Germany’s Reich Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg (Fig. 2) described, when it went awry, as  a ‘House of Cards’.

3. Kaiser Wilhelm II

4. Gottlieb von Jagow, Germany Secretary of State

5. Helmuth von Moltke (the younger): Chief of German Staff

A handful of German leaders: the German Emperor and Prussian King, ‘Kaiser’ Wilhelm II (Wilhelm II) (Fig.3), Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the Imperial German Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister, 1909-1917 (Bethmann Hollweg), Gottlieb von Jagow (Fig.4), the Secretary of State in the Auswärtiges Amt, 1913-1916 (Jagow) and Helmuth von Moltke (Fig.5), the Chief of the German General Staff 1904-1914 (Moltke), in particular, were inspired by, reading about, dreaming of, and planning ways to achieve their ambitions that ‘challenged the status quo in three ways: colonial, naval and economic’.

6. Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of General Staff, Austro-Hungarian Army

Whilst in Russia, a military response and opportunity to support Serbia manifested itself, firstly, the longer Austro-Hungary’s Chief of Staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf (Fig. 6) procrastinated and secondly, because French President Raymond Pointcaré  (France) would actively support his ally Sergie Sazanov, the Russian Foreign Minister (Russia), thus implicating both the Russian and French leadership in the causes that led to the outbreak of war.

7.  French President Raymond Pointcaré

8. Russian Foreign Minister Sergie Sazanov

The German leadership used the excuse of Franz Ferdinand’s murder in Sarajevo in June 1914, Moltke’s ‘slogan for a great war’, to risk a belligerent and acquisitive policy, firstly by bolstering Austria-Hungary against Serbia with a ‘blank cheque.’

9. Prince Lichnowsky, German Ambassador in London.

This was misguided; Jagow’s excuse to Karl Max Prince von Lichnowsky (Fig. 9), German Ambassador in London 1912-14 (Lichnowsky) was that this somehow kept the balance of power. Wars are instigated by people, not countries. When we personify Germany, Britain, France or Russia we mean a few leaders with executive power. In Germany, this meant kaiser Wilhelm II, the Reich’s Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg, Jagow and Moltke; they are the reason Britain went to war in 1914.

Due to the nature of the German constitution Wilhelm II, a constitutional monarch like Britain’s, held too much power in the burgeoning German Empire and had influence that tipped then slid others towards conflict with Germany’s neighbours.

10 The British Empire in 1937: Not so different 23 years previously

Wilhelm II held the view that Germany deserved and required the status of a Great Power like that of the British Empire (Fig. 10). Used to viewing with envy, for example, the scale and grandeur of the British Fleet in his youth, Wilhelm II, a grandson of Queen Victoria, whatever the consequences and however it could be achieved, desired that Germany too should have such a fleet, something he was able to progress through Grand-Admiral von Tirpitz, State Secretary of the Reich Navy Office (Tirpitz), and by finding a way to get around budget restrictions imposed by the Reichstag; something that the then Reich Chancellor Bülow assisted with by removing Wilhelm II’s sentimental references to his youth spent in Plymouth in a proposal document, thus indicating how those around Wilhelm II would compensate for his failings as a politician and diplomat where there was, according to Lichnowsky, a preponderance of, ‘the politics of sentiment, not Realpolitik’.

11. Grand-Admiral von Tirpitz

Although a constitutional monarchy, Wilhelm II wielded power with few checks. In the case of the kaiser this was unfortunate as he wished upon himself either the role of a great Prince of Peace ‘Friedenskaiser’ or of a great warlord ‘Obersterkriegsher’. Wilhelm II would oscillate between the two perspectives, tipping him swiftly, depending on the circumstances or his company, from being in favour either of war or of peace and thus leading to a foreign policy that Lichnowsky later described as ‘either, or’. Wilhelm II’s passions could not help but influence others, according to Röhl, for example, after 5 July 1914 ‘the tub-thumping voice of Wilhelm II became one of the most effective weapons in the hands of those statesmen in Vienna who were recklessly playing with war’. While according to Sean McMeekin Wilhelm II’s ‘incandescent rage over Sarajevo gave way to recklessness’. Two weeks later on 28 July 1914 Wilhelm II, feeling certain that Austria-Hungary could be satisfied by Serbia’s overall compliance to the ultimatum presented as a result of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand believed that ‘every reason for war drops away’.

12. Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Minister

It was in response to such extreme oscillations that Britain’s Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey (aka Britain) tried to find a response that would maintain peace; though his prevarications and desire to see the British Empire initiating rather than following suggestions, for example an alliance of the powers pushing Austria-Hungary to resolve its situation with Serbia through mediation without Germany’s interference, may have stifled one of the few opportunities to avoid general war. Nonetheless, the undercurrent, in Germany, was and had been belligerent for some years, planning for war, not peace, as was apparent in the conference Wilhelm II called for on 8 December 1912 that Bethmann Hollweg described as a ‘War Council’.

13. Viscount Richard Haldane, British War Minister (1905-12)

At this conference Wilhelm II reported on what Viscount Richard Burdon Haldane (Fig. 13), British Minister of War, 1905-1912 (Haldane) had told Lichnowsky about Britain’s view of Germany. Wilhelm II in his opening address talked of the state of preparedness of the German army and navy. According to Röhl, Germany had wanted, or at least had expected, a war for some years.  Another example of the Wilhelm II’s state of mind and intent are his marginal notes (Fig. 14) . These ‘marginalia’ were so influential, that differences of opinion in the Auswärtiges Amt could, according to Geiss ‘swing round wholly and unreservedly to the harsh course ordered by the kaiser’.

14. Heinrich Leopold von Tschirschky und Bögendorff,  the German Ambassador in Vienna.

In a telegram between Heinrich Leopold von Tschirschky und Bögendorff (Fig. 14), the German Ambassador in Vienna, 1907-1916 to Jagow, for example, from Vienna, 24 July 1914, Wilhelm II wrote that ‘Austria must become preponderant in the Balkans … otherwise there will be no peace’.

15. Wilhlem II’s marginalia

While on the 29th July, Lichnowsky,  reporting on a visit to the British Foreign Secretary, Grey regarding Britain’s desire for mediation and the suggestion that Austria confine herself to occupying Belgrade Wilhelm II’s marginal note handwritten alongside Grey’s proposal, would, according to the kaiser result in Germany leaving ‘Austria in the lurch as if we were common as dirt and Mephistophelian!’ And then, throughout the telegram from Lichnowsky to Jagow, on the 1st August you are left with the impression that Wilhelm II’s excitable ‘marginalia’ must have been fuel to hawks.

16. Leopold count Bertchold von und zu Ungarshitz, Austria-Hungarian Foreign Minister

After the presentation of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum by Leopold count Bertchold von und zu Ungarshitz, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister (Berchtold) to Serbia, and its aftermath, Wilhelm II made his views of the proposed conferences emanating from Grey clear and Wilhelm II was not the only German leader whose right-wing conservatism inclined the country towards conflict. Bethmann Hollweg’s will and actions, in his own words ‘like a house of cards’ were to build a position against which Britain had to act. Britain, in this respect went to war because Germany dared to try aggression to achieve its aims once unrealistic and bungled efforts to secure Britain’s neutrality in 1914 had failed. Such diplomatic ineptitude was no clearer than when Bethmann Hollweg called in Britain’s ambassador, Sir Edward Goschen (Fig.17) on the evening of Wednesday 29 July 1914 and made  ‘a diplomatic blunder of the first order’ by passing remarks respecting the integrity of Belgium after a war that was yet to commence.

17. Sir Edward Goschen, British Ambassador in Berlin.

 Bethmann Hollweg and Wilhelm II did not act alone, there were others in the German leadership and administration, as well as in Austria-Hungary, whose collective machinations led Britain to go to war in 1914: Jagow and Moltke drove Germany’s aims while in Austria-Hungary Franz Freiherr Conrad von Hötezendorf, Chief of the General Staff, 1906-1911 and 1912-19176 (Conrad) was equally belligerent, demonstrated by a career of warmongering against Serbia. Jagow, as early as December 1912 had said that he wasn’t against war; to Lichnowsky he took the view, like that of Wilhelm II, that Austria was weak and falling behind as a power in the Triple Alliance.  Then, by way of example of his continued belligerence, after the devious way in which the Ultimatum was presented to Serbia Jagow then urged Austria to begin the war as soon as possible in order to ‘knock the bottom out of the attempts at reconciliation’. He wouldn’t stand for one of Grey’s conferences which according to Jagow, would be a ‘court of arbitration’, where the ‘timid would win through’ and in any case it was ‘Austria-Hungary’s not Britain’s nor Russia’s business. Jagow then failed to treat Grey’s initiative for mediation with any degree of urgency waiting until two hours after the time limit on the Ultimatum had expired whilst making it clear to Austria-Hungary of his tacit refusal to consider Grey’s offer. On the other hand Jagow tried to impress upon Britain that he had given the Austrian’s immediate and positive indication that he supported the British initiative. On the 25 July 1914, during a series of exchanges with Lichnowsky, Jagow insisted, hypocritically given Germany’s involvement through giving Austria-Hungary a ‘Blank Cheque’ to tackle Serbia firmly, that the ‘matter must be localised by the non-interference of all Powers’.

Moltke, was another of the German belligerents. There’s evidence of this in the Moltke-Conrad Agreement of 1909 which indicates how clear Moltke had been on how a war might play out. While in the War Council of 8 December 1912 Moltke took the view that ‘war is unavoidable sooner or later’. Then, to avert potential mediation through conference rather than sticking to Conrad’s plans for Austro-Hungarian action by the 12 August 1914, Moltke informed Lt. Colonel Biernerth the Austrian-Hungary Military Attaché in Berlin to mobilise. Moltke pushed for war throughout July 1914 because he believed that victory for Germany was possible and desirable.

According to Geiss other belligerents in Germany included leading officials in the Foreign Ministry, Count Hoyos, Forgach and Macchio in particular, and on the military side Baron Conrad von Hötzendorf Chief of the General Staff, Kribatin, General Potiorek the Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was German Imperialism and ‘Wilhelmine Welpolitik’, that according to Giess provided the latent tensions. Germany, in contrast to its agrarian neighbours Austria-Hungary and France, was an industrial force with a rapidly expanding population. Unified under the Prussian Bismark only 40 years earlier, by the turn of the century, as Hans Deltbruck put it in November 1899, ‘we want to be a world power’ achieved ‘with England means peace; against England means – through war’. Whilst Britain could tolerate a degree of Austro-Hungarian hegemony in the Balkans, it could not tolerate Germany’s potential hegemony of continental Europe. As Haldane had said to Lichnowsky ‘England could not tolerate Germany’s becoming the dominant power on the Continent and uniting it under her leadership’. Geiss believes that as one of the most powerful conservative forces in the world the German Empire would ‘uphold conservative and monastic principles by any means against the rising flood of democracy, plus its Weltpolitik, made war inevitable’ . It was born out of Germany’s fear of encirclement and of Russia’s burgeoning might, that Russia’s army was on track to become huge and that along with improved communications could by 1917 be an overwhelming threat.

18. The Balkans after the First Balkan War

The murder of Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 by Serbian fanatics should have no more brought Britain into armed conflict in continental Europe than the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912/1913). Before 1914 the principle of national self-determination directly threatened the Ottoman Empire and caused the First Balkan War against Turkey. Here, at the edge of Europe, with the desire for national self-determination being achieved at a cost to the Ottoman Empire the very same movement threatened Austria-Hungary, itself ruled by a monarchy that clung to its dynasty with its threadbare grasp on its multivarious peoples. In July 1914 Jagow told Lichnowsky that as a result of her lack of energy Austria was ceasing to count as a Great Power and weakening their Triple Alliance. And so it is that Germany turned a defensive alliance into an offensive one with its aim to achieve ‘Weltmachstellung’ (world power). Britain went to war in 1914, sooner and then again later in 1939, against this enactment of a desire in the German leadership for Germany and Germans to be part of a world power.

Understanding why Britain went to war in 1914 necessitates understanding why Germany left Britain with little choice – this cuckoo in the European nest wanted to dictate to all on the continent with Britain a tame ally or at least neutral. Britain had historically always acted against a single power dominating continental Europe. Lichnowsky’s insightful thoughts on the nature of foreign diplomacy compares Britain to a step by step approach of ‘partly, partly’ while in Germany their policy had been ‘either, or’. This is how Britain went to war in 1914 with Grey’s cautious and negotiated steps as Lichnowsky described in 1928.

19. Sir Eyre Crowe, Assistant Under-Secretary of State

Whilst Britain was reluctant to take part in an armed conflict and Serbia doubted how it would cope against Austria-Hungary without Russia’s support, in France and in Russia, war was seen as an option. Lichnowsky felt that ‘Britain’ did everything to avoid war. ‘It would have been absolutely insane to precipitate it’.Such efforts at mediation were delayed, ignored, obfuscated, discombobulated and stonewalled by the likes of Bethmann Hollweg, and spurred on by the albeit oscillating and sentimental politically inept Wilhelm II.  A coalition cabinet of Liberal and Conservative politicians governed Brtiain, with Grey, the Foreign Secretary guided and advised by experienced and informed career civil servants, ambassadors and military leaders such as Sir Eyre Crowe (Fig. 19), Assistant Under-secretary of State in the British Foreign Office (Crowe), Sir George Buchanan, Sir Horace Rumbold and Sir William Nicholson.

Britain, with Grey pivotal, could not have known or believed how duplicitous Germany could be, though expert insight and analysis had been and would be provided by Crowe: Germany had ambitions and the means for aggrandisement both in Europe and Africa. ‘Either Germany is definitely aiming at a general political hegemony and maritime ascendancy’, Crowe advised in his memorandum of 1 January 1907 ‘Germany distinctly aims at playing on the world’s political stage a much larger and much more dominant part than she finds allotted to herself under the current distribution of material power. Here Crowe elucidates the dichotomy that was this fledgling cuckoo at the beginning of the 20th century: on the one hand a 20th century commercial and cultural powerhouse, on the other a 19th even an 18th political entity where the likes of Bethmann Hollweg, according to Erdmann could dream up an ‘eighteenth century cabinet war’.

According to Lichnowsky, writing in 1928, from his earliest dealings with Grey, and having spoken to Haldane he ‘repeatedly received hints to the effect that England could not remain an idle onlooker in a European war’. For the German leadership to believe that Britain would remain neutral flies in the face of the diplomatic reports they received from Lichnowsky who suggested that ‘We required [Grey] to make the Austrian standpoint as much his own as we did’. Repeatedly Grey took the initiative to see if the issues could be resolved. For example Lichnowsky to Jagow 25 july 1914, Grey’s and therefore Britain’s problem was that he ultimately came up against Germany’s fait accompli. The final days of July 1914 and the first days of August show what Grey did to try to avoid Britain having to take part in a continental war.  Röhl describes the end of July 1914 as,

‘A race between the Powers in their moves to mediate and Germany in her endeavour to bring Austria-Hungary into the war at the earliest possible moment and so give still great force to the fait accompli with which the world was to be confronted’.

On the 26 July 1914 Grey’s proposals for a four power conference would involve those countries which were not, he believed, directly involved in the pending conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia: Britain, France, Italy and Germany. To this end Grey instructed Sir Edward Goschen, British Ambassador in Berlin (1908-1914), to promote ‘the direct exchange of views between Austria and Russia’ not realising that Austria was already at war with Serbia and that Russia had begun premobilisation. Although the Great Powers desperately tried to prevent the local war against Serbia as the best means of averting a major one (for example, Telegram 199. 27 July, Jules Cambon, French Ambassador in Berlin to Jean-Baptiste Bienvenue-Martin, the acting French Premier/Foreign Minister from 15th to 29 July 1914), on the proposal by England for Germany to join the cabinets of London, Paris and Rome, ‘to prevent hostilities between St. Petersburg and Vienna’.

20. Jules Cambon, French Ambassador in Berlin

Although we know that the duplicitous Jagow while saying that ‘he was disposed to join the Powers and do all he could to preserve peace’, had only a few hours earlier expressed his regret to Berchtold that military operations against Serbia were ‘too long drawn’ and that ‘proceeding without delay to place the world before a fait accompli’ was vital.

The German Government again on the 28 July 1914 steadfastly rebutted all attempts at mediation – to have participated in mediation would have soon revealed the extent of Germany’s duplicity.

On the 29 July 1914 the British Cabinet met after which Grey sent for Lichnowsky repeated his suggestion that Germany take part in mediation …  ‘à quatre’  On the doctored version of the original telegram that Jagow put before Wilhelm II, one of the kaiser’s marginal notes states a preference for England making it clear to Russia and France that she will not side with them, which that night, early on the morning of 30 July 1914 turns into Bethmann Hollweg’s bid to secure British neutrality. Grey in turn explains in a conversation with Cambon, French Ambassador in London, 1898-1920, that in a general conflict Britain would not be able to remain neutral, though he explained also that there could be no guarantee of intervention by Britain until the position of Belgian neutrality was understood. Paul Cambon now asked Grey to reconsider their correspondence in 1912 and Raymond Poincare, the French Premier, attempted to make it clear to Sir Francis Bertie, Ambassador to Paris, that only an unequivocal of England’s support could save the peace.

Come 31 July 1914, Grey continues to talk peace and mediation. Nor could Grey undertake any definite agreement learning that Russia had ordered a complete mobilization of her fleet and army, ‘I still trust that situation is not irretrievable’ he said while Germany, according to Grey, Germany did not expect Britain’s neutrality. Whereas in fact, due to the mistaken weight Wilhelm II gave to a letter of 28th July 1914 from his brother Prince Heinrich, Prince of Prussia. It was Grey, by refusing to take the neutral route that caused Bethmann Hollweg’s ‘House of Cards’ to collapse. Britain went to war in 1914 because Germany had staked too much on Britain’s neutrality; under the circumstances, as the conflict escalated, Britain, the erstwhile super power and empire, was quite unwilling and unable to remain neutral.

On 1 August 1914, in a last-ditched effort to conjure up the impossible Grey had a telephone conversation with Lichnowsky that the Prince interpreted as an assurance of Britain’s neutrality in the event that France remained neutral too, though what Grey had intended to mean, some authors contend, was that he had meant to imply that Germany too would remain neutral.

21. Herbert Asquith, British Prime Minister

There were other internal reasons why Britain had not been early to make a firm stand against Germany, not least division in the British cabinet that risked a collapse of the British Government or taking a non-interventionist route, therefore having by the time the cabinet met, the support of the Unionist Part was crucial to the policy of Grey and Herbert Asquith (Fig. 21), British Prime Minister 1908-1916.

 22. Henry Wilson, Director of Military Operations

Even more importantly, Henry Wilson, British General, Director of Military Operations 1910-1914 (Fig. 22) had been successful in securing interventionist Tory pressure on the Liberals. Grey said he would resign if Viscount John Lord Morley of Blackburn, Lord President and the Council and Cabinet Minister 1910-14 (Fig. 23) and the ‘Little Englander’ faction desired ‘an uncompromising policy of non-intervention’.

23. Viscount John Lord Morley

At this stage on 1st August the cabinet still said no to Churchill, but by 3 August 1914, with the most vociferous non-interventionists gone, the cabinet approved Churchill’s previous mobilisation of the Fleet. And now, according to Cambon, if Britain would fight at sea, they would fight on land as well. Speaking in the House of Commons that day Grey declared that ‘if Britain stands aside, forfeiting her Belgian Treaty Obligations’, then we would ‘sacrifice our respect and good name and reputation’. Although Grey had, according to Lichnowsky been, ‘a force for peace’ with Germany’s invasion of neutral Belgium removing all doubts and barriers from Britain’s apparent and from Germany’s point of view plausible and desirable neutrality, Britain went to war with Germany.

24. H G Wells: The war that will end all war.

The usually misquoted H.G. Wells’ phrase, ‘the war that will end all war’ – the title to a pamphlet he wrote in November 1914, expresses what all the leaders of the combatants understood – that this would be a war on a scale like none that had gone before, a risk the German leadership wanted to take, opening a Pandora’s Box. Grey, and others, such as Viviani understood this which explains their kind of diplomacy that to some appeared then and since as evasion or indecision, whereas the evidence in the original documents shows that actions were designed to achieve peace against the odds.  Although it was the invasion of aliens that H.G. Wells (Fig. 24) wrote about in his fiction, several other authors had written about a fictional invasion of Britain by Germany, something that initially the cabinet and British Military leadership planned for and what was seen as an eventuality should Germany have been successful in conquering France and Russia. In its position as the dominant and established World Power, it was the British Empire that felt it had to meet the obligation to support France, not least because consideration had been given to alternative outcomes: France and Russia defeating Germany leaving the defensive alliance in tatters and other parts of the British Empire vulnerable.

25. Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener

Ultimately Britain alone did not ‘go to war’, but rather the British Empire, with Kitchener (Fig. 25) as its military leader, a stalwart of successful colonial rule in India and of battles in Sudan and Southern Africa, with dominion and colonial forces to call upon, blocked Germany’s way to Paris. Having paved the way for seeking common ground on foreign policy in 1904. With Britain’s own issue of internal national self-determination to manage, the question of Irish Home Rule and the Protestant countries of the north, postponed and with parliament’s and the cabinet’s support to do so, Britain presented Germany with its ultimatum.

Britain had not declared her position too late, rather she had left the door open for as long as possible hoping for mediation.

The extent to which German leaders, Bethmann Hollweg and Jagow lied about Germany’s role and actions in relation to pushing Austria-Hungary into war with Serbia and deliberately stymied British efforts to bring the Powers to conference has only subsequently been fully realised. Though the evidence was lacking, advice and insights from the likes of Buchanan, Rumbold, Nicholson and Crowe from Britain, as well as from Pointcare and Sazanov from France and Russia respectively, must have come close to confirming Grey’s fears regarding Germany’s desire to be and to prove that it was a World Power.

26. Europe in 1914 (Maps.com)

Where Germany was belligerent, Britain sort peace; where Germany was devious, Britain was politically correct; where Germany was inept, Britain was a paragon of considered diplomacy; Germany was blunt while Britain was coy, and whereas Germany’s leaders worked in the cabal of monarchic rule Britain’s leaders worked as part of a cabinet and reported to Parliament. Ultimately, Britain could not remain indifferent ‘when all Europe was in flames’ Whilst compared to other neutral states (See map Fig. 26), be it the Netherlands, Sweden or Spain, Britain and its Empire could and had to act according to its status, having the means to do so with the Fleet and the British Expeditionary Force and having, with German’s breach of Belgian neutrality, and cabinet support, not without resignations and abstentions, the legal means to do so.



Audio-Rouzea, S and Becker, A “14-18 Understanding the Great War” (2000) Hill & Wang

Clark, C (2013) “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914”. Penguin eBook.

Geiss, I (editor) “July 1914: The Outbreak of the First World War. Selected Documents”. (1967) Norton Paperbound

Geiss, I (1976) “German Foreign Policy 1871-1914”. Routledge Direct Editions

Lichnowsky, K.M. Prince von (1928) (2014 print on demand, copy of the original) “Heading for the Abyss”. Translated by Sefton Delmer. Kessigner Legacy Reprints. Payson & Clarke

MacMillan, M (2013) :The War that ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War”.

McMeekin, S (2013) “July 1914: Countdown to War”. Icon Books eBook.

Mombauer, A  (2002) “The Origins of the First World War”.

Mombauer, A  (editor and translator) (2013) “The origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and military documents”. Documents in Modern History. Manchester University Press.

Renouvin, P (1925) (2014 an authentic reproduction of the original text) “Les Origines Immédiates de la Gueere”. (28 Juni – 4 Aoüt 1914) Gale MOML Print Editions

Röhl, J.C.G “The Kaiser and his Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany” (1994) The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge

Röhl, J.C.G (edited and introduced by) (1973) “1914: Delusion or Design: the testimony of two German Diplomats”. St. Martin’s Press

Strachan, H “The First World War” (2003) Simon & Schuster

Strachan, H (2001) “The First World War: Volume I: To Arms”. Oxford University Press. eBook.

Wells, H.G. “The war that will end war” (1914) Reprint 2014 The Library of Congress and Amazon.co.uk


Further Links

The BBC: 1914. Day by Day.

Ten interpretations of who started the First World War

What can historians tells us about the concept of Europe?

Who ignited the First World War?



Can a veteran’s story be believed?


As the grandson of a veteran of the First World War I took my grandfather’s stories to be accurate to the letter – though how I visualised his antics as I grew up bore very little to the reality, but rather a boy’s perceptions from his surroundings, TV and books in the 1960s and 1970s.

As I study for an MA in British First World War studies the chance exists not only to entrench my research into his journey through the Machine Gun Corps and the fledgling RAF but to consider the accuracy of any veterran’s account – as the years pass their stories can be coloured by what they read and hear so that they may say what people expect to hear.

The opportunity may also exist to do some original research, even to be in touch with the relatives of those featured in his story.


Is it possible, for example, to put names to the faces in a set of photographs of the RAF cadets who were barracked at the Queen’s Hotel, Hastings in May and June 1918?


And where he marked the spot where he buried his mates Dick Piper and Harry Gartenfeld is it feasible to look for them or leave a permanent stone?

Shooting the Front | Imperial War Museums

Shooting the Front | Imperial War Museums.

A ghost in the Hotel – Royal Hotel, 1911

Bob Ritchie was the manger of the pub downstairs.

He’d just turned fifty when I started because they had a bit of a do for him. He had a wife, Beth, and a daughter Jane.

The pub would be packed on Mondays, but the hotel itself was never busy.

I had Bob Ritchie and his wife convinced the place was haunted

There was this telephone in a wooden booth. It was down the passageway from the office. You could just get in and close the door and get yourself sat down. There was a ledge you could lean on to write messages and that. There was this missing panel underneath with a piece of canvas across that was probably put in to service the bell-pull strings that came in from the various rooms, but it seems everyone had forgotten about that. There were all these strings coming from all the rooms. I’d be in there waiting for a phone call for someone to put their order in and I’d fiddle on with these strings. House telephones would often exploit the wiring previously provided for the bell pushes which summoned servants … or in this case the hotel manager or his wife. This access point must have been created when the Hotel and Offices had the wiring carried out with many of the pull strings for the guest rooms remaining. The telephone was known as butter-stamp receiver, because of its shape.

Beth Ritchie was so terrified by all these bells going off that she wouldn’t go to bed.

I kept it going for some time and I never let on. I wasn’t aware I was doing anything. It would die down then Muggins would be in the box waiting for someone to make a call and it would start up again. Bob Ritchie died at the Royal Hotel, Blackhill, on January 19th, 1911. I’d just been there six months. He had a heart attack. When I heard someone suggest it was to do with the torment of the bells going off I worked it out and thought I might get the blame.

Ordering toy planes from Gamages c1912

Toy Planes from Gamages


We used to send off to A.W. Gamages for these model aeroplanes made from balsa wood.

They were made with three-ply tea-chest wood and had a propeller with a bit of an elastic band. Gamages were at 116-128 Holborn, London. They sent you a 900 page catalogue every Christmas. Billy and I got paid lugging this equipment around for Lubbock, making deliveries to the big houses, which is how we got to know everyone, and fixing the cars. We knew what made the things tick and with no mechanics about we learnt to do the job. I could drive at 13; I’d manoeuvre them about the yard and from time to time father would take one of the cars saying he had to run it in or check the new tyres or something. There was no traffic to speak of, mostly gigs and tub traps. You had to watch out for startling horses and upsetting old ladies who liked to carry their loads down the middle of the road.

An office boy on this 14th birthday in the offices of the North Eastern Brewery

Office Boy in the offices of the North Eastern Brewery


One day my father comes up to me and says.

“Mr Murray wants to see you up at the house at Six O’clock. There’s a vacancy in the office.”

I was not fourteen so I couldn’t leave school.

I went up to the house where J.G. had me writing and one thing and another. He asked what class I was in. “Standard Seven” I said, which was about as far as you could get.

“You’ll learn a lot more in the office.” He said. And he was right.

I started work at the North Eastern Breweries in August 1910.

I was fourteen years of age. I was on Five Shillings per week and got an annual increment of Half a Crown which was (2/6d) – 2 shillings and 6 pence (Around £11 in 2012 money)

(In today’s money, 2012, Jack  was getting around £25 a week for doing five days plus Saturday mornings.  A 44 hour week? He was only 14 though and learning the ropes).

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I walked the two miles up the hill to work.

Bill Baron, who was the cashier lived down in Shotley Bridge took me in. He’d started work as a clerk at a railway station. His mother Margaret lived in Bywell. He had two sisters. He was a bit older than me; he was 28 when I started. He walked up from Shotley Bridge which was further away still and fetched me up to the offices which were right up at the top.

Tom Young was in my class; his Family lived on Harvey St.

He joined the Consett Iron Company works as a clear. And one called Ripley, who made a fortune; his father was a coalminer and his mother was from Stanhope.

He became a foreman at the works.

The Royal Hotel, Consett. Head Office of the North Eastern Brewery in 1910

The Royal Hotel


The Royal Hotel was a huge stone built building with these five massive windows.

It was built for business; it’s all finished now. There was a station near by and next door the Mart for all the Blackhill farmers round about Lanchester. There was a huge yard. The station took all the deliveries for the Paper Mill and Flour Mill in Shotley Bridge.

There were six in the office above the bar and taproom.

J.G. had a private office across the passageway. I was the office boy. Joe Trones was on the sales ledger, Bill Barron, was the principal ledger clerk (tenants, free trade). Tommy Morland, who came from Medomsley, was the cashier; he held the bank cash book. He was 38 when I stared. Then there was Ernie Caldwell, the estate agent and local brewery area manager. Mr Gardener was General Manager of the branch and stores. Mr Gardener was in his fifties. He’d been with the North Eastern Breweries for 26 years. I got to know his son later on. John Gardener was just a year older than me. His mother lived into her eighties as did John. I must have been the Spa water we were used to drinking!

Bill and I used to do the column.

We’d sneak out of the office and go down the corridor to the billiard room that overlooked the spirit store and bottling factory.
There were two tables. We’d slide in and keep the door from the office locked. We’d sneak back as if we’d come back from the telephone. We got to know Tom Brown who worked for the Consett Iron Works. He used to play billiards when it was open. Tom and Bill were a similar age. Tom was from Wokington. He was nearly 30 when I started at the North Eastern Brewery. He lived at 7 Constance Street, Consett . They were a five of them, there was Bill, Dick, George and his sister Florence. His father, George was from Yorkshire. His mother, Mary was from Durham. Tom was a big strapping lad. Before the war his brother was shot in the leg and he lost it from gangrene.

Bill had a brother called Ridley who was a good footballer.

Just before the War Bill got a message to say his brother had been killed in a fall of stone in the mine at Busty Pit, Medomsley. Ridley had started out as a coal hand puller ‘underground’ at Busty Pit when he was 14. He was killed on 8th October 1912. He was kirning in a longwall gateway in a seam 2 feet 2 inches thick when a large stone fell between slips canting out some props and crushing him.

Bill was broken hearted. In those days all the mines were going: Hunter, Busty and Derwent interlinked with their own railway with iron ore from Spain.

Ernie Caldwell used to count all the coins, it was all gold then.

He had this desk next to a massive iron safe. When the figures didn’t add up he’d put it down to petty cash. When they came to move the safe they found all these coins stuck down the back. Ernie Caldwell came to me one day.

“John, I’ll show you how to work a pub stock out.”

And he put this pub stock sheet in front of me.

One of my jobs was to take all the coins down to the bank.

With it being the brewing trade a lot of them got sticky. I remember once the bank manger got fed up with getting sticky fingers and handed me the bag back.

“Go and wash them; I’m not handling them like that.”

So from then on before I went to the bank I’d take the coins into the lavatory and wash them in the sink.

There were three joiners and two horse keepers for the twelve Cleveland Dray Horses. The pop factory was run by Tommy Blackburn. There were six bottling girls and a bottler we called ‘The Dummy.’ They bottled Bass, Guinness, Wheatley Hops and their own beers.

Crossley Gas Engines ran the machines – there was no electricity. That factory was sold to the Venture Bus Company, now the Northern.

All the letters were hand written with copying ink.

You put an oil sheet in, damped the blotting paper, put your letter in and squeezed it to make a copy – that was before the typewriter.

Canon Ross Lewin looked after the Church

Canon Ross Lewin


There was Tatty Walton’s the Grocer’s and Addison’s the Newsagents. These supermarkets have killed all of that.

The pubs were the ‘Kings Head’ and ‘The Commercial’.

Canon Lewin lived at the Vicarage at 1 Church Bank.

He was in sixties and lived with his two sisters. They had two domestic servants. St. Cuthbert’s was designed by John Dobson, which says something about the money that could be raised in Shotley Bridge at the time.

I noticed in the Homemaker section of the Journal a house for sale by the riverside for £330,000 with twelve stables and lodges and fishing rights.

That was Lois Priestman’s House.

There were three brothers, another one was Jonathan Priestman, a long time MD of Concert Iron Works; he lived at Shotley Lodge. And one of them lived up at Snow’s Green.

There were no swimming pools in Shotley Bridge – you had the river

Swimming by the Papermill Sluice


There were no swimming pools

We went down to the Papermill dam and used to swim under the sluice. The sluice runs for 600 yards alongside a gently running race. There are pools, rapids and diving spots. It’s still there, not operational though. The other place for swimming was Tiger’s below the Papermill.

We spent all our summers with a string and bent pin fishing for tiddlers.

The Paper Mill was owned by the Annandale’s.

They lived in a big mansion, Shotley Grove House up at Snow’s Green. James Annandale lived to be ninety. He was born in 1827 and died January 1917; my mother told me that in a letter I got when I was a Machine Gunner on the Somme. Mr Annandale’s wife was called Anne. They had four children: Charles, Annie, Nora and James. The younger James lived with his old man at Shotley Grove with his wife Elizabeth and their baby daughter Margaret; they had a domestic servant and a nurse of their own.

The Papermill produced 95 tones of paper a week and employed 300.

There were plenty from school got took on by the Mill, which was preferable than going down the mines and liked by some better than going into domestic service. The Papermill was established by John Anandale in 1799; that’s how old the sluice would be they put in to run the machinery.

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