The Shot that started the World War page 2
Let us turn for a moment to the situation in Ireland. The Nationalists had at last, after years of struggle, succeeded in persuading the Government to agree to Home Rule, but the people of Ulster would have none of it. They intended to remain under British rule as distinct from Home Rule, and they were prepared to fight to defend their rights. They would have no government from Dublin, they said. There were already reports of clashes on the border, of shots being fired. There were, in fact, all the materials gathered in one small country for the production of a very bloody war. The newspapers devoted columns to the situation; they sent special correspondents to what was every day expected to be the scene of fighting. The government, and the greater part of the nation, devoted more time and attention to the Irish menace than to the Shadow slowly creeping over Europe.
On Tuesday, July 21, there was opened the famous Buckingham Palace Conference, where representatives of both sides of the dispute, as well as Members of the British Parliament assembled to talk over their differences. There were the Speaker of the House of Commons (Mr. J. W. Lowther), the Premier (Mr. Asquith), Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Bonar Law, Lord Lansdowne. From Southern Ireland Mr. John Redmond and Mr. Dillon were present; Sir Edward Carson and Captain Craig represented Ulster.
But the Conference was doomed to failure. There were only four meetings, and then on the 24th of July it finally broke down and acknowledged a deadlock. The Speaker issued an official statement in which he said that the possibility of defining an area to be excluded from the provisions of the Home Rule Bill had been considered, but that the Conference had been unable to agree either in principle or detail upon such an area. Therefore it had brought its meetings to a close.
Mr. Asquith said the Amending Bill would be taken in the House on the following Tuesday, July 28. But before that day came something else had occurred - something which finally put Irish affairs into the background.
For days there had been rumours afloat on the Continent which only those behind the scenes could interpret. Charge and counter-charge between the Austrians and the Serbians as to the responsibility for the Sarajevo murders had been passing between the respective capitals. Two suspicious-looking Russian tramps were arrested in France carrying bombs and pistols. They told a story of having come with the intention of assassinating the Tzar, who was shortly to visit France. Russian patriots disbelieved them - or professed to do so.
Earlier in the month there had been a strike at Woolwich Arsenal. An engineer named Entwhistle had been dismissed because he had refused to erect machinery on a concrete bedding which had been prepared by a non-unionist. Over 10,000 men came out. The dock gates were strongly picketed, and there were several scuffles. The strike lasted for only five days. But one wonders what effect the news of this stoppage may have had on those across the sea who were getting ready to make war.
It was an eventful month in other ways. It was in July that Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, his dream of Tariff Reform still unrealised, passed away. The king and queen had gone for a visit to Scotland, and in Edinburgh there occurred a little incident, small in itself, but reflecting the times. As they drove through the streets a woman suffragist threw a bundle of leaflets from an upper window. They floated harmlessly down, and it is doubtful if the Royal pair even noticed the incident.
On Thursday, July 23, the Austrian Note was delivered to Serbia. It was less a note than a demand, and it was couched in what many people considered offensive terms. It demanded a reply within forty-eight hours.
It recalled that Serbia had declared friendship to Austria, on the advice of the Powers, on March 31, 1909 - at the end of the crisis which attended the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It charged Serbia with aiding and abetting propaganda against the monarchy, and with at least indirect responsibility for the assassination of the archduke and his wife. It seemed clear, said the note, from the confessions of the assassins that the outrage was planned at Belgrade, that the assassins were provided with arms and explosives, and that they were passed over the frontier.
"The Government is therefore compelled to demand," went on the note, "from the Serbian Government a formal assurance that it condemned that dangerous propaganda; that it would insert a declaration to this effect in the Serbian, official journal, and that it should be embodied in an Army Order. Further, it insisted that proceedings should be taken against Serbian subjects against whom specific charges were made, and that Austrian help should be accepted in suppressing propagandists.
The Serbian reply was mild in tone, almost apologetic. It agreed to everything that the Austrians had asked, with one exception. It declined to allow Austria to assist in "suppressing" propaganda. Meanwhile, Serbia appealed to Russia for help - moral help at the moment. Serbia's reply was rejected; it was said to be "inadequate." The Austrian. Minister left Belgrade and went home.
All the Powers worked hard to avoid war - all, that is, except Austria and Germany. On the other hand, there were demonstrations of patriotic fervour in Berlin and in Vienna. Cheering crowds paraded the streets clamouring for war. For the first time - though it was not to be the last - the famous "Wacht am Rhein" was heard in the streets - in the theatres, and the restaurants.
In England, on this 26th of July, there was little excitement about things that were happening abroad, but in Ireland there came the first serious clash in what was feared would be a civil war. A cargo of 3,000 rifles was landed near Dublin. The National Volunteers went to meet it, and were carrying away the arms, marching to Dublin, when they were met by a battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers. There was a fight and a bayonet charge, but the Volunteers got away with their rifles.
When the Borderers returned to Dublin they were stoned by a howling mob. Shots were fired; three persons were killed and many injured. This was the beginning and the end of the "Civil War in Ireland," upon which our enemies had banked so heavily. Greater things were to happen soon.
On the following day Sir Edward Grey appealed in the House of Commons for a London conference to stop the downward slide of affairs in Europe. He invited France, Germany and Italy to talk with British representatives - those Powers who were not concerned in the differences.
It must be obvious, he said, that the moment the dispute ceased to be a local one it could only end in the greatest catastrophe that had ever befallen the Continent of Europe at one blow.... Its consequences would be incalculable. France and Italy accepted the invitation. Germany was undecided; she hedged; she obviously "knew something."
News began to be delayed from Vienna; it trickled through spasmodically. Nobody seemed to know just what was happening. In England there was a fall in consols, a nervousness on the Stock Exchange. The price of flour in London increased by a shilling. A run on the German Savings Bank was reported from Berlin.
At home preparations both in the navy and the army were going on. The king had just completed the Spithead Royal Review, when the greatest gathering of ships of war that the world had ever seen took place. Irish affairs had kept his Majesty in London longer than he had expected, but he reached Spithead in time to lead his fleets to sea. He was sailing in the Royal yacht, Victoria and Albert.
With him on deck stood the Prince of Wales, the present Duke of Windsor, and Lord Louis of Battenberg. The yacht anchored, and there steamed past it, line ahead, the might of Britain on the sea. There were such names as these: Lion, Queen Mary, Iron Duke, New Zealand, Lord Nelson - and as each ship reached the stern of the yacht the cheering began, and the crews took off their hats and waved them in unison.
It was a wonderful sight, and in the dark days that followed it must have remained a wonderful memory to the "Sailor King," a memory and a knowledge of the strength and the loyalty of England's iron walls. Possibly it inspired his Majesty's message to the Navy at the beginning of the war, when he referred to it as the "Sure shield."
The state of Europe at that time was a curious one. Most of the nations were bound - or semi-bound - by treaties, the result of years of secret diplomacy. Germany and Austria were definitely allied, with Italy as a probable third party in the concert of the Central Powers. France and England were bound by the Entente - Russia was by treaty bound to France. Belgium was a neutral - her neutrality had been guaranteed. Mark how the scheme worked out, for it meant in two respects the breakdown of the bargaining system, the two countries concerned being Italy and Belgium. When Austria declared war on Serbia that country appealed to her big sister, Russia, for aid. Russia, probably as a gesture in this big game of bluff, ordered partial mobilisation. Germany, as the ally of Austria, promptly sent a twelve-hours' ultimatum to Russia - which, by inference, also applied to Russia's ally, France.
Austria, willy-nilly, was dragged into these declarations on the heels of her ally. Up to that moment she had threatened nobody except Serbia. It was a case of the tail wagging the dog. Italy at once declared her neutrality; she refused to be dragged into a war as the ally of her old hereditary enemy, Austria. Later, when Turkey joined the Central Powers, Italy threw aside her ties to the old Triple Alliance and came in on the side of the Allies. Now for the details.
On July 28 Austria officially declared war on Serbia. Reports of spasmodic fighting - little affairs of river-boat seizures and the like - followed. They were given great prominence in the English newspapers. That day the Times made a national appeal for a settlement of the Irish dispute in view of the grave position abroad. It was widely supported by the Press generally.
In the House of Commons on July 29 Mr. Asquith said the situation was one of extreme gravity. His Majesty's Government, he said, were not relaxing their efforts to do everything in their power to circumscribe the area of possible conflict. The following day he said that the issues of peace and war were hanging in the balance. He appealed to the patriotism of all parties to postpone "acute controversy" in regard to domestic differences.
Mr. Bonar Law supported the Premier. Whatever our domestic differences might be, he declared, they did not prevent us presenting a united front in the councils of the world. These statements were received with cheers; they virtually ended any possibility of further strife in Ireland in the face of the grave menace from overseas.
King George on Friday, July 31, appealed to the Tzar of Russia to do all in his power to keep peace. Russia was then mobilising. Germany responded by declaring a state of Martial Law. It seemed as though in every country the war spirit was rampant. M. Jean Jaures, a French socialist leader, was murdered at Montmartre because of his protest against a possible war. In England the bank rate was doubled - from four to eight per cent. Leading bankers went to see the Government. The Stock Exchange was closed.
On the following day many of the daily papers produced Sunday editions. It was the day before Bank Holiday; people were going by train, by road and on foot to enjoy the delightful weather of this summer at the seaside or in the country. On the way they were able to read more startling news. The German Ambassador on the previous day had handed to the Russian Foreign Minister in St. Petersburg a declaration of war. Then he had left for home.
Germany, without declaration of war, invaded Luxemburg, the neutral state between France, Germany and Belgium. Its neutrality had been guaranteed by the Treaty of London, 1867. Britain called up all her naval reservists and all marine pensioners under fifty-five years of age, as well as the whole of the Volunteer Reserve.
The Cabinet was in almost continuous session. The King met his Ministers at all hours, sometimes as late as two o'clock in the morning. Lord Kitchener, who was to have started for Egypt to take up his position there, postponed his departure - there was to be greater work for him in England. The bank rate rose to ten per cent. A moratorium on certain bills of exchange was declared, postponing payment for a month.
On Sunday there were special prayers in the churches throughout the land. In the afternoon the Primate preached a sermon in Westminster Abbey.
"It is, I suppose, just conceivable," he said, "that for us in England the storm clouds will roll by unbroken. God grant it. But the searching discipline has come to us for our abiding good. Take heed that it be not wasted or distorted from its Divine purpose."
On the same day thousands of people congregated in Trafalgar Square, where an anti-war demonstration was addressed by Mr. Keir Hardie, M.P., Mr. Ben Tillett, Mr. G. N. Barnes, M.P., and other socialist speakers. Among the crowd there were many foreigners - Germans as well as Frenchmen.
Frequently during the meeting there were scuffles, but nobody seemed to get hurt; this fact being due probably to the good humour displayed by the police on duty. The socialists proposed, and declared carried, a resolution in favour of international peace - that the workers of the world should use their industrial and political power in order that the nations should not be involved in the war.
The South Wales miners condemned the war. At a meeting of the Federation at Cardiff they passed a resolution calling on the Government to continue its neutrality, and urging miners of Europe to enforce their views upon the governments implicated in the conflict.
At seven o'clock on Sunday night Germany handed her ultimatum to Belgium. It promised that if Belgium would permit free passage of troops through her land Germany, when peace came, would maintain Belgian independence. If Belgium refused this, Germany added, she would be treated as an enemy - and twelve hours was allowed for a reply.
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