Thursday, 31 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 34. 31 July: will the government want to intervene in a Great War or stay neutral?

One hundred years ago today, on Friday 31 July 1914, Martin and his crew of Manchester track layers would have found the Manchester Guardian grim reading.

It is time that the public should consider whether there is any valid reason why this country should permit herself to be involved in a great European war, if one should break out; and, if there is not, then to take good care to avoid any steps which might lead us into it.

“Oh, hell,” said Martin, “people still feel we should go in.”

“Not the Guardian,” pointed out the Cynic. “But the Times does, and it speaks for the people who run the country.”

“Asquith hasn’t said that.”

“What Asquith runs is the government. More or less: I don’t reckon he has much control over Churchill or Lloyd George, and they’d be up for war. But as for the country, it’s the Tories who run it. After all, they own the country.”

Surely, Martin thought, there had to be some legal framework for war. And there wasn’t. Or at least there was no legal obligation. The paper quoted Asquith, who was asked that very question:

As has been repeatedly stated, this country is not under any obligation, not public and known to Parliament, which compels it to take part in any war. In other words, if war arises between European Powers, there are no unpublished agreements which will restrict or hamper the freedom of the Government or of Parliament to decide whether or not Great Britain should participate in a war.

That seemed clear enough. Britain had no need to take part in a war even if one broke out across Europe.

The Labour Party was taking a lead in ensuring that the country kept clear of the fighting.

At a meeting of the Labour party, held in the House of Commons yesterday, the following resolution was carried unanimously:-

“That the Labour party is gratified that Sir Edward Grey has taken steps to secure mediation in the dispute between Austria and Servia, and regrets that his proposal has not been accepted by the Powers concerned. It hopes, however, that on no account will this country be dragged into the European conflict, in which, as the Prime Minister has stated, we have no direct or indirect interest, and the party calls upon all labour organisations in the country to watch events vigilantly, so as to oppose, if need be, in the most effective way any action which may involve us in war.”

Vigilant. Yes, Martin was happy to be vigilant. And he was glad his Party would be leading the movement to oppose war. Leading the labour movement
, it would represent a redoubtable force. 

Kaiser Wilhelm II visiting his troops
In France, there was uncertainty, principally concerning Germany.

French diplomacy is still in the dark as to whether the present crisis is one which Germany desires, or one which has gone beyond anything she expected. To all appearance the general war which now threatens is not the war which would suit Germany. Has German diplomacy been involved by Austria in worse trouble than she bargained for?

France is ready to mobilise, but has not mobilised. It is believed that Germany is exactly in the same position.

French officers saluting the colours
Russia still hadn’t shown her hand. A lot seemed to hang on her decision.

And then there was a report, from Austria, more chilling than the others: “THE CITY IN FLAMES”.

An official despatch says:- “About midnight machine-gun fire was opened from Belgrade, and in reply the Austro-Hungarian monitors bombarded the city. At one o’clock in the morning a powder magazine in Belgrade blew up.

“At dawn the Servians made another unsuccessful attempt to destroy the bridge, as shots were fired from the Servian Customs-house upon our troops. Our artillery was trained on the building, which was quickly demolished. This was followed by a sound of rifle fire. Simultaneously fires broke out at different points in Belgrade.”

An Austrian Monitor firing
“Jesus. They’re shelling a city. That’s – kids being burned in their beds.”

“Still think you’re going to avoid what’s coming?” said the Cynic, “why should we be spared by people who are prepared to roast kids?”

One of the other railwaymen had picked up the paper. He laughed as he read.

The Dublin correspondent of the Central News, telegraphing last night, says:- It has been reported that at about 10:30 this morning 2,000 rifles were landed at Bullock Harbour, Dalkey, county Dublin, and conveyed into the city. While the work was carried out the police were misled by a jarvey with some game cocks in a basket. The police followed in the track of the game cocks, expecting that a cock fight was to be held.

“What a bunch! A real war’s started and might spread here, and all they can think of is their own miserable fight against us.”

“And what a police force!” chimed in another voice, “spots a cockfight but can’t see rebels smuggling guns.”

Meanwhile, in London, the Metropolitan Police had intervened to prevent publication of a Suffragette poster campaign, under a law of 1869. Martin shook his head. Yes, that was the issue of the day. Stop women using posters to agitate for the vote.

Meanwhile, Belgrade was burning.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 33. 30 July: the war has started, but surely the people, and above all the socialist people, can stop it spreading

One hundred years ago today, on Thursday 30 July 1914, Martin’s crew found that the Manchester Guardian included the Austrian Emperor’s Appeal to his people. Or rather peoples, since the Empire included so many ethnicities: Germans, Hungarians, Italians and a whole slew of different types of Slavs.

The original assassination took place in Bosnia.
Here Bosnian troops are inspected by Austrian Archduke Eugen
It was my fervent wish to consecrate the years which by the grace of God still remain to me to the works of peace and to protect my peoples from the heavy sacrifices and burdens of war. Providence in its wisdom has otherwise decreed. The intrigues of a malevolent opponent compel me... to grasp the sword after long years of peace... an end must be put to incessant provocations of Servia... I must, therefore, proceed by force of arms...

Gloomy reading.

“At least it doesn’t affect us,” said a voice.

“It will,” said the Cynic.

“I don’t see why,” said the man holding the paper, and read from a leader article:

We wish Servia no ill; we are anxious for the peace of Europe. But Englishmen are not the guardians of Servian well-being, or even of the peace of Europe... We ought to feel ourselves out of danger, for, whichever way the quarrel between Austria and Servia were settled, it would not make a scrap of difference to England...

That all seemed clear enough. Unfortunately, the article didn’t end there.

But, though our neutrality ought to be assured, it is not. Mr. Asquith speaks with a brevity natural, perhaps, if we were directly concerned, but quite unnatural if it were certain, as it ought to be, that we should not be involved. Sir Edward Grey walks deliberately past opportunities of saying that we are and will be neutral in the quarrels of Europe... This official reticence is in contrast with unofficial garrulity. The “Times,” whose influence at great crises in our foreign affairs has almost always been for evil, yesterday took it for granted that if the war were not localised this country ought to take the side of Servia and Russia. It exhorts us to patch up our difficulties about Home Rule in Ireland in order that we may the better be able to see fair-play between Austria and Servia. Who made us the arbiters of “fair play” between Austria and Servia, and what conceivable interest have we in subordinating any British interest whatever to so gratuitous a task? Having sacrificed Ireland to Servia, the “Times” wants us to sacrifice England to Russia’s eccentric notions of what is in the interests of her people.

“See?” said the Cynic, “they’re going to take us in.”

“I wish they’d stop talking about England,” interjected the lone Scotsman in Martin’s crew, “they’ll send us along with you lot if they do go in.”

“Hold on, hold on,” said the reader, “hear what they say.”

How could we serve [the balance of power in Europe] better by throwing our influence on the side of Russia rather than on the side of Germany? Why strengthen the hand which is already beating us in Persia, and which, if it triumphed over Germany, would presently be felt in Afghanistan and on our frontiers in India? Why should the Slav be so much dearer to us than the Teuton that we should tax the necessaries of the poor to famine prices and the income of the rich to extinction? For that is what our participation in a great European war must mean to England.

“See? See? It makes no sense. We’ve no reason to prefer one lot to the other. So we’ll choose neither. Help make peace if we can, keep out of the way if we can’t.”

“You all need to learn to listen to the silences of politicians,” said the Cynic, “if they’re keeping quiet on something, you can sure they’re about to spring it on you.”
“Personally,” said the man who’d always been uncomplimentary about the French, “I’d rather have the Germans alongside us than the Frogs.”

Why indeed the French rather than the Germans, Martin wondered? Why in particular the Russians? Why were we so keen on them? Weren’t they making the trouble far worse?

Everyone professes to be anxious to “localise” the war. But only one Power can do it, namely Russia. If Russia attacks Austria, Germany is bound by treaty to join in defence of Austria; if Germany fights, France is bound to do the same...

The paper was right. It would be up to Russia to turn the war into a continent-wide conflict. If they did that, why should Britain support them?

Anyway, the general conflict hadn’t started yet, and the people were against it. Another article from Berlin reported on several tens of thousands of Socialists who had attended meetings and then paraded in the streets of the city chanting “Down with War!” These were the brother organisations of Martin’s own Labour Party.

Once more he was proud of the movement he belonged to. Socialism was by its nature international. It would lead the people, across nations, to uphold their rights and foremost among them, the right to life unthreatened by war. With so many demanding neutrality, what government could resist? If the people stood firm, Ministers could hardly ignore them.

But a small news item gave a different view.

Natives of Austria and Hungary resident in Manchester who are liable for service with the Austrian army have already, to the number of about 250, reported themselves at the offices of the Austro-Hungarian Consul...

They were signing up for the fighting? His spirits, briefly raised at the idea of Socialist and popular opposition to the war, sank again. If the people themselves were the accomplices of their own downfall, how could anyone prevent it?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 32. 29 July: War. But Britain can stay out. And we're still torturing women.

One hundred years ago today, on Wednesday 29 July 1914, there was really only one news item Martin and his friends had to absorb: war had started.

The group of railwaymen would have discovered from the Manchester Guardian that Austria-Hungary had taken the fatal step the day before, a month to the day since the Sarajevo murders, and declared war on Serbia.

There was still a possibility that war could be contained to just those two nations. But no one was taking any chances. Not even the British. The First Fleet, still assembled at Weymouth and Portland, had given its men some leave. But then at 8:00 all leave had been cancelled.

The masters-at-arms of the various ships were sent to both Weymouth and Portland for the purpose of recalling the men to their ships, and the assistance of the police was also sought in searching all places of amusement and all haunts of the sailors to acquaint them with order.

It wasn’t like him, but the Cynic smiled.

“Can’t you just picture the scene?” he asked, “In those ‘places of amusement’? Not hard to guess what what the sailors thought of their leave being cancelled. No wonder they needed the local bobbies with them.”

The might of the Royal Navy,  protecting Britain's shores
But was it time for an army too?
Not everyone felt Britain should rely so entirely on the navy, anyway. Take Field Marshall Lord Roberts, a star of the British military scene and a champion of introducing conscription in Britain.

“That old fart?” the cynic exclaimed, “made his name beating up the Boers. Now he’s become the king of the bores. No worse windbag than a retired general.”

Well, retired general and windbag he might be, but what he was saying wasn’t all nonsense.

He believed we had the best ships and the finest seamen in the world, but as regarded modern sea fighting we were in a state of transition and of inexperience, and ... it would be the height of madness to trust the defence of these shores to the navy alone...

Is it not in consequence of our not feeling absolutely certain of naval supremacy that we have been compelled to seek foreign alliances of ententes, which have drawn us more intimately than we perhaps like to to admit into the minor issues of world politics...?

“Damn right,” said another of Martin’s mates, “we need to keep our distance from Europe. Britain for the British I say.”

Martin wasn’t so sure about that – we needed allies on the Continent because we had enemies there, though he wasn’t still quite sure which were which. But he was interested in what Roberts had to say about the need for an army to defend the country, and not just a navy, and concerned at the idea that it wasn’t “at the present time in a condition to carry out the duties for which it was intended and which it may at any moment be called upon to perform.”

Well, he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. But it would be useful to have it there, just in case. Though maybe a few alliances wouldn’t be such a bad plan either, even if they did have to be on the Continent.

Certainly, it was best to be prepared. Especially now that war was under way. Though that was apparently not quite as grim as one might have thought:

Austria has declared war on Servia. It was expected, and the invasion of Servia is just as likely to improve as to worsen the relations between the Great Powers. If, as they say, Austria is chiefly anxious to humiliate Servia publicly, and seeks no territory, the occupation of is capital ought to satisfy her, and fortunately Belgrade lies just over the River Danube, and its occupation ought not to give much trouble.

The question is what Russia’s reaction might be. So far, it had been limited:

... to partial mobilisation against Austria and to the threat... of complete mobilisation if Belgrade is occupied.

The worry had to be that the paper’s suggestion of what might satisfy Austria, the occupation of Belgrade, could trigger the reaction from Russia everyone most feared. Meanwhile, the Germans had turned down Sir Edward Grey’s suggestion of a mediation conference.

What was most frightening was the sheer scale of the forces in play. The paper asked what would happen if Russia went to war: “what is her military strength?”

[The Russian Army] is the most gigantic military machine in the world, and no one really knows its fighting value. On its peace strength it disposes of a million of men between the German and Austrian frontiers in Europe and the seaboard of Vladivostock in Manchuria. If mobilised in its entirety it would quadruple the astounding numbers of its peace strength... The European army corps of Russia from the point of view of numbers are considerable enough to give pause to both Germany and Austria if their efficiency is equal to their ponderous numbers.

Unfortunately, the efficiency of that army is far from proved, something the “war correspondent” who wrote the article put down to the “Slav mind” and “congenital” issues.

The main asset of the Russian Army is “Ivan Ivanoff,” the Russian soldier. Unimaginative, uneducated, docile by the circumstances of his lot, he is the best material for the manufacture of the soldier that has to die in heaps in the world.

Officers of the Russian Tsar
An army impressive in its numbers, but how about its military value?
Dying in heaps. Martin was far from unimaginative but he couldn’t imagine anything particularly attractive about that picture. If that was what the Russian Army was good at, then a war precipitated by the Tsar was one to avoid at practically any cost. He hoped the government was clear on that point.

Oddly enough, ordinary life still went on despite these momentous events abroad. There was a brutal reminder:

The Church League for Women’s Suffrage, of which the Bishop of Lincoln is president, has addressed a letter to the Home Secretary protesting against forcible feeding.

So women were still demanding the right to vote. And why not? Having the vote would at least allow one to vote against war. Meanwhile, the government was still torturing them. And why would they stop? Martin was sure that it was as hard to break with violence as with anything else, once it had become a habit.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 31. 28 July: hovering on the edge

One hundred years ago today, on Tuesday 28 July 1914, Martin the Mancunian railwayman might have taken some hope from the first article he and his fellow tracklayers read in the Manchester Guardian.

Europe’s hopes of avoiding a great war over the Austro-Servian dispute rose yesterday. Fighting had not begun, although soldiers of the confronting States fired at one another on the Danube, and every day’s delay multiplies the chance of successful mediation by the other Powers.

Sir Edward Grey, in the House of Commons yesterday, said he had instructed the British Ambassadors at Paris, Berlin, and Rome to ask the Governments if they would be willing to arrange for their Ambassadors in London to meet him to endeavour to find an arrangement of the present difficulties. He had not yet received complete replies. The cooperation of the four Powers was essential. The efforts of one Power alone to preserve peace must be quite ineffective.

The four Powers not directly involved might be able to persuade Russia and Austria to hold back from actual military operations.

Austria was disdainful of Serbia’s reply to its Note, but:

Otherwise the news fromVienna also suggests a brighter prospect. Austria apparently is not disinclined to a peaceful issue.

It seemed that France and Germany were working well together, and agreed that the key was to obtain a compromise in St Petersburg and Vienna. For the first time since the 24th, when he’d read about the harshness of the terms in Austria’s note to Serbia, Martin felt that there was a real hope that war might be averted altogether. Not just war spilling over into other countries, but any kind of war at all, even between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

The Guardian leader writer was unequivocal on the subject.

We want peace in Europe, but we want England to be and remain at peace even more. We wish that all Englishmen would think and say the same. Most of them certainly do. But there are some who, while anxious for European peace, still think that if we cannot share the blessings of peace with others we must share with them the curses of war.

It was true, Martin agreed, that there would always be warmongers, keen on involvement in war. But there must be a massive majority against it in Britain today, as the paper seemed to imply. No government could possibly resist such a huge groundswell of opinion and take us into war despite of it. Could it? Surely not.

An excellent point had been made by a Labour MP, John Robert Clynes, at a public meeting in Manchester. He was:

...profoundly sorry for the absence of a properly constituted court before which quarrelling nations could be required to bring their case, just as quarrelling individuals were required to bring theirs before a court of justice. It was astonishing in these days of a so-called high civilisation that the act of a fanatic or a fool should bring nations to such a state of disturbance as was evident now throughout Europe.

“That’s true,” said Martin, “those murders in Sarajevo were terrible, but I thought they’d just lead to police action. You know, arrests, a trial, a bit of a show of punishing the guilty. But a whole Continent thinking about war? It doesn’t make sense.”

“That’s because you keep leaving Great Power politics out of the picture,” replied the Cynic, “Russia and France have got a reckoning to settle with Germany. Germany’s got grievances to resolve with everyone else. No one gives a damn about the Sarajevo business. But they need a pretext, and it provides one.”

At the time of the first ever Labour government in 1924
Jimmy Thomas, Ramsay MacDonald, John Robert Clynes and Arthur Henderson 
“Well, I’m proud of the Labour Party,” Martin retorted, nettled. “At least it’s got its head screwed on. The Tories are nowhere. Maybe Labour can be the real Opposition to the Liberals. Opposition on the Left – that’d be good, wouldn’t it? It’d make Britain a different kind of place to live.”

“Yes, maybe. I shouldn’t get your hopes up, though. When people get into government, they become the government, and they behave like the government. Whichever party they come from.”

Martin shook his head. And turned to the news that Lancashire had secured a convincing victory over Gloucestershire. Much needed and all the more satisfactory for that.

Some good news, then, on a mixed news day.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 30. 27 July: well, it may be war. But it doesn't have to involve us.

One hundred years ago today, on Monday 27 July 1914, the Manchester Guardian carried a story of particular interest to Martin’s gang of railwaymen: “A party of about forty men from the railway works at Ashford, Kent, travelled to London on Saturday to lay before the Prime Minister their views on women’s suffrage and to protest against the treatment of women.”

Interesting. Railwaymen like them. Railwaymen. If they could see the merit of the suffragettes’ cause, perhaps it was time Martin embraced it too.

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith
Unavailable to see railwaymen campaigning for Women's Votes
Not that the deputation had got far: Asquith had been out of town and they’d only seen his private secretary. 

Almost more shocking because it had become so banal, another headline announced bad news from Ireland: “TROOPS FIRE ON DUBLIN CROWD”. 

A serious conflict between soldiers and police on the one side and National Volunteers on the other took place in Dublin yesterday... Later on, as the troops were returning to barracks, they were stoned by a crowd upon which they were ordered to fire, with the result that four persons were killed and about forty were wounded, ten seriously.

The conflict followed a successful attempt by the Volunteers to land 3,000 rifles and a large quantity of ammunition.

John Redmond of the Irish Nationalist Party
presenting a flag to Volunteers
Sometimes it seemed that Civil War wasn’t threatening in Ireland, it had already started. What had the paper been saying the other day? Britain could hardly afford to get embroiled in a Continental conflict – it had more than enough to occupy it right on its doorstep.

If Britain wasn’t careful, there was plenty to embroil it, however. It seemed that the world was “on the brink of a Great War” only to be avoided by the “last attempts to preserve European peace.”

Austria and Servia hesitate on the brink of war. Hope that they will compose their differences without an appeal to arms is vanishing, and if war comes Russia is only too likely soon to be involved. Both Germany and Italy, whose treaties with Austria expose them to immediate dangers, look to Great Britain to procure a peaceful settlement. ... The First Fleet of the Royal Navy, concentrated at Portland, has been ordered not to disperse.

The Royal Navy, the most powerful in the world, wasn’t sending its ships home after the Fleet review. It was as though Britain felt it might soon need the defence it offered.

The world's most powerful navy assembles in review
Meanwhile, Serbia apparently believed that it had met all of Austria-Hungary’s demands bar one. 

A declaration, prepared in Vienna, condemning the pan-Serb propaganda would be published and communicated to the army, officers involved in the agitation would be dismissed, anti-Austrian societies would be suppressed, the press law altered, but Austrian delegates would not be admitted to an exercise of authority in Servia.

Austria however wasn’t prepared to accept that as sufficient.

A late Vienna message says if Servia wishes for peace now she will have to grant all the original demands and also find the money for Austria’s military preparations.

Serbia had mobilised its forces, the government had moved out of Belgrade which was too close to the border. And the worst news:

The Tsar and Imperial Council have discussed the situation, the cities and governments of Moscow and St. Petersburg have been placed under modified martial law... and mobilisation is to be proceeded with at once.

Just as the papers had been saying. A slide towards war, with Russia now getting ready to join in.

in this weird state of affairs, a particularly odd development was that even before the fighting started, there was already a prisoner of war.

General Putnik, Chief of the Servian General Staff, was yesterday arrested at Budapest while hurrying back to his post from a holiday resort in the Austrian Alps.

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At least Martin himself was in the right place. The leader article was dedicated to “a terrible danger”.

Last week Russia threatened war on Austria unless she did certain things that she has since refused to do. Should Russia carry out her threats and attack Austria, Germany will be compelled by the terms of her alliance with Austria to go to her assistance, and if the two members of the Triple Alliance are at war with Russia it is doubtful whether France could, even if she would, remain neutral.The European war which has been talked about for so long that no one really believed that it would ever come is nearer embodiment than any of us can remember. The responsibility is a terrible one, even for England, which has no direct interest in the quarrel between Austria and Servia, and is in no danger of being dragged into the conflict by treaties of alliance.

Those were perhaps not the most heroic words for a proud Briton to read, but Martin couldn’t deny he found them comforting. Politicians and commentators seemed agreed: Britain’s role must be to mediate and to work for peace, and nothing more. The paper quoted Sir John Simon, Attorney General: “Let us all resolve that ... the part which this country plays shall from the beginning to end be the part of a mediator, singly desirous of promoting better and more peaceful relations.”

“Well, I can drink to that. Peacemakers not warmakers. Sounds good me,” said Martin.

The Cynic, who that day was reading out the paper, held up a hand.

“Don’t get your hopes too high.”

He read out:

Let Austria be left quite free to take what military steps she thinks necessary for the punishment (if Servia refuses to punish without being forced) of those concerned in the murder of the Archduke. The occupation of Belgrade should suffice...

“Serbia should allow a foreign power to occupy its capital city?” exclaimed Martin, “I don’t see that happening peacefully.”

The Cynic went on.

War between Austria and Servia would be very regrettable; still, it would not be a European calamity, and, when all is said, Servia would have brought it on herself. Perhaps it is not too late to prevent a more general European war, and the Power which hastens by a single hour so frightful a disaster is a traitor to civilisation.

“Now that’s true. We could let Austria and Serbia slog it out between them,” said the Cynic, “while the rest of Europe sits on the sidelines and spectates.” He nodded. “A bit cynical but what’s wrong with a little cynicism if it at least keeps you alive?”

Fortunately he didn’t see the smile Martin failed to suppress.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 29. 26 July: relations broken off between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. What will the Great Powers do? Will Britain stay neutral?

One hundred years ago today, on Sunday 26 July 1914, Martin the young Mancunian railwayman would have been impatient to get his hands on the Observer. He would have wanted to see whether there had been any further intensification of the crisis developing between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. 

The volume of news in the paper wouldn’t have disappointed him, though its contents may have left him far from pleased.

“Diplomatic Relations Broken Off” was the headline over a brief piece recounting that after the Serbian reply to the Austrian Note was delivered at the Belgrade Embassy, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador and the entire legation staff had left Serbia.

“I don’t know much about diplomatic niceties,” Martin told his Minister, who’d dropped the paper round to him and stayed on a few minutes, “but that doesn’t sound like the best way of building good neighbourly relations.”

“It isn’t,” he said, ‘they’re not beating swords into ploughshares. Rather the contrary.”

“But they’re Christian countries... what about turning the other cheek?”

“Christianity doesn’t impose acceptance of injustice you know, Martin. God doesn’t ask of us that we accept what He deems unacceptable.”

Another article talked about “England’s Position”. Sir John Simon, the Attorney General, had spoken at a meeting the night before.

Let us all resolve that whatever may be the difficulties and dangers which threaten peaceful relations in Europe the part which this country plays shall from the beginning to end be the part of a mediator, singly desirous of promoting better and more peaceful relations.

The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Francis Dyke Acland, had also spoken to a public meeting and painted a stark picture.

There was a cloud over Europe, he said, the position being far graver than the position in Ireland. No one could imagine the disasters a war in which great European Power was involved might bring to the whole world... The whole of the influence of this country would be used in the interests of peace.

“Well, I say Amen to that,” Martin remarked. “Yes. We should act as a peacemakers if we can. We mustn't get sucked into a conflict on the Continent. Surely we’re not that stupid. Blessed are the peacemakers, aren’t they?”

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” said the Minister, “and we have friends. We may be called on to stand up for them. With them. And I hope we shan’t be found wanting.”

“That’s a greater duty even than ‘Thous shalt not kill’?”

“Sometimes it can be greater than that,” said the Minister as he picked up his hat and made for the door.

Martin returned to the paper. Graver than Ireland? That was seriously worrying. Why, yesterday Sir Roger Casement, who seemed to be for the Nationalist Irish what Sir Edward Carson was to the Unionists in Ulster, had declared that:

...when the volunteers were equipped with 160,000 rifles and ammunition Home Rule would become a reality. “We stand for an armed Ireland,” he said; “in other words, for a free Ireland.”

That sounded like a pretty desperate mess. And the whole of Europe might be getting into something even worse?

Serb Infantry in 1914
An article headlined “EUROPEAN PEACE IN DANGER” pointed out that many had long said that “the Great War, if it ever came at all, would come with utter unexpectedness.” The situation could still be saved by Serbia backing down: while admitting that “no wise man can approve wholly the unmitigated violence of the Hapsburg [i.e. Austro-Hungarian] ultimatum and the tremendous hazards of its indirect challenge to Russia”, no-one could reasonably side with Serbia. On the contrary, referring to the Sarajevo assassinations of 28 June, “the whole state of things which led to these infamous murders ought to be condemned and repressed with uncompromising sternness by every principal Government in Europe, and, above all, by that of the Tsar.”

Martin understood that the starting point of all this was the Greater Serbia movement, which was doing its utmost to bring all territories Belgrade saw as Serbian under its control. It had seized other areas in earlier Balkan Wars; now it wanted Bosnia. That was bad enough but what made it worse was that it had resorted to terrorist means to achieve its aims, in the assassination of the Archduke and his wife. No one could stand by and allow terrorism to succeed; all the powers had to unite against it. 

The matter was well summed up in a single sentence: “the moral point to remember is that in this business Austria Hungary is fundamentally justified and Servia is fundamentally wrong.”

That being said, Austria in pursuing a legitimate aim was in danger of over-reaching: the ultimatum was too unreasonable and it had awoken a response in Russia, as “with the approval of the Tsar a decision was taken to mobilise at once five Army Corps.”

Punishing Serbia might make sense, but surely not at the cost of threatening the peace of the whole Continent.

What about Britain? The Observer was clear: ”The duty of this country, in the first place, whatever it may be in the end, is to mediate, mediate, mediate.”

Whatever its role might be in the end? Again he was reading words that could both thrill and chill. But he agreed that for now the job was mediation. Work to secure the peace if at all possible.

The French didn’t seem too worried yet. Reuter’s reported that diplomatic circles in Paris regarded the situation as ”very grave, but not desperate”. Apparently, France and Russia had been making joint representations to the Austrians. However, the Germans seemed unhappy about the involvement of France, judging by how vehemently they denied it.

To-day business men and public opinion generally were thrown into a state of tense anxiety by the ominous news from St. Petersburg. The Foreign Office remains calm, and refuses to see in the Russian official declaration that Russia cannot remain an indifferent spectator to the Austro-Servian quarrel anything more than a warning that the fate of Servia is a close concern of Russia’s... The German Government has no knowledge as yet of any intervention by Russia or other Powers. [...] The Vienna statement that the German Ambassador in Paris has presented a Note to the French Government, warning France that intervention by a third Power would bring the two groups of alliances into sharp opposition, is denied...

It seemed that a lot of posturing was going on. Austria-Hungary and Serbia; then Russia with France; now Germany issuing or not issuing warnings. He had a terrible sense of a snowball beginning to gather mass and speed.

Interestingly the Germans too, apparently, thought that Britain wouldn’t become involved if a conflict developed and spread to other countries.

There is naturally much speculation as to the attitude of Great Britain in the case of the conflict spreading beyond Austria and Servia. There is a fairly general expectation that the Irish situation and the lack of public sympathy with Servia will relegate Great Britain to the position of a neutral.

Peacemakers or Belligerents? British Cabinet Ministers in 1914
Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary (left) with Winston Churchill,
First Lord of the Admiralty next to him
British neutrality. British mediation. At least a lot of people seemed to agree that this was the most reasonable stance for Martin’s country to adopt.

In spite of his Minister’s words, Martin wondered whether perhaps God was more inclined to assert “blessed are the peacemakers” just now, rather than “greater love hath no man...”

Friday, 25 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 28. 25 July: Austria-Hungary pressurises Serbia; Alliance and Entente manoeuvre

One hundred years ago today, on Saturday 25 July 1914, the Manchester Guardian would have added further fuel to the fears the previous day had woken in Martin, our young railwayman. 

A leader, baldly headlined “The European Crisis” considered Austria-Hungary's demands of Serbia, contained in its Diplomatic Note:

The Austrian Note to Servia is very stiff in its terms, but would not any country be angry which believed that the heir to its throne had been assassinated by a conspiracy of army officers in a neighbouring country and in furtherance of a design to detach one of its provinces from its allegiance?

The leader writer set out to take a balanced of the two states, pointing out that:

The strictly correct course for Austria would have been to send copies of the depositions of the Sarayevo inquiry to Belgrade, to ask the Government to try and punish the incriminated officials in accordance with her law, and, further, to take steps to fulfil the promises [of good neighbourliness it had made in 1909]. She has not asked her to inquire into and punish the offences of her subjects, but to apologise at once and inquire afterwards.

For these reasons, Serbia had a right to be aggrieved, and say so. But:

On all other grounds Servia would be well advised, on political grounds, not to press the legal objections to Austria’s Note, but to promise once more to be a good neighbour, to take the necessary disciplinary steps, to express regret for any unlawful actions of her subjects, and to undertake to try all officers and civil servants against whom Austria makes out a prima facie case.

So far so good, even if it was all a bit pious, a bit too much like wishful thinking. Concessions by Serbia might save the peace, but would she make them? Would Austria-Hungary accept them as sufficient if they were offered?

“Don’t be silly,” said the Cynic, “Austria-Hungary wants war. King Peter could crawl on his belly to Vienna and still they’d want war.”

“But why?” asked one of the other railwaymen, the very question Martin wanted answered,
 “Why would anyone want war for something they could get without one?”

“Because their little mates in Berlin are calling the shots. And the Germans want to tempt the Russians to over-reach so they can stitch 
em up. And the French.”

Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
Who really holds the reins? Who's leading the way?
The very next words in the article seemed to confirm his view.

We deeply regret that Russia has decided to encourage Servia in resistance to Austria.

Russia? He’d already felt a couple of times over the last week that Russia’s name was cropping up in the news a little too often, in contexts where, it seemed to him, nothing was happening that was in any sense their business. Now it looked as though the Tsar was indeed testing his reach. And what made that most worrying was all the talk of that Dual Alliance Russia had with France which might involve her in any conflict and, as a result of her Entente with both powers, Britain too.

The leader writer concluded on just that point.

Our Ambassador in St Petersburg seems to have been consulted by the Russian Government in the course of yesterday. But we hope that he gave no sort of encouragement to Russian policy, and in any case it will be [Foreign Secretary] Sir Edward Grey’s task not to destroy our influence for good in Europe by marching us into the camp of the Dual Alliance, or for that matter into any camp.

President Poincaré of France with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Would they expect Britain to join them if it came to war?
“Good God, no,” said Martin, “None of this has anything to do with Britain. Why would we get involved? I’m sorry that the Archduke and his wife were murdered, but it isn’t our quarrel. What do we need to do except send condolences?”

“Wait and see,” said the Cynic.

Meanwhile, in other areas business continued as usual. 

A cargo of arms had been intercepted off Queenstown, the port of Dublin. 

As war loomed, Manchester was planning to celebrate peace and had set up a special committee to organise festivities for the centenary of peace between Britain and America. A good antidote to all the sabre rattling on the Continent.

And Middlesex had lost its first match of the entire season. Now that was a turn up for the books. Not that it was likely to do much good for Lancashire, which had made a bad start against Yorkshire in “some dull cricket” in Hull.

Finally, it seemed that “the second annual open tournament in connection with Bowden Croquet Club, which has proved highly successful, concludes to-day.”

Really? Were there people genuinely interested in that kind of stuff, he wondered? With war on the horizon and Lancashire doing so badly in the County Championship?

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 27. 24 July: Vienna's Note to Belgrade. Does Austria-Hungary want war?

One hundred years ago today, on Friday 24 July 1914, Martin’s crew of railwaymen would have discovered from the Manchester Guardian that the heavily trailed Note from the Austrians to the Serbs had been delivered. And, it seemed, the tone was nothing like as moderate as optimistic commentators had previously suggested.

The future Emperor Charles inspecting a guard of honour at Budapest



Austria-Hungary has addressed a strong Note to Servia, attempting to place upon her a great part of the responsibility for the murder at Sarayevo of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife. That crime was, it is known, the outcome of the Greater Servia propaganda, which aims at joining the Serb provinces of the Dual Monarchy to Servia.

The Austrian Note is severer in tone than well-informed persons thought probable, and its delivery may be followed by a grave international crisis.

“That doesn’t sound good,” Martin interrupted the young man reading the article.

“Crises seldom do,” said the Cynic.

The reader continued.

The Austro-Hungarian Minister this evening presented the Servian Government a Note upon the Sarayevo crimes, demanding a reply before six o’clock on Saturday evening, July 25.

There was a list of grievances, not just the Archduke’s assassination on 28 June.

The history of recent years, and in particular the painful events of June 28 last, have shown the existence in Servia of a subversive movement, with the object of detaching a part of Austria-Hungary from the Monarchy...

The Royal Servian Government... has permitted the criminal machinations of various societies and associations, and has tolerated unrestrained language on the part of the press, apologies for the perpetrators of the outrages, and the participation of officers and functionaries in subversive agitation.

Criminal machinations: the Austrians weren’t mincing their words. And what did they want Serbia to do?

The Royal Servian Government shall publish on the front page of its official journal for July 26 the following declaration:-

“The Royal Servian Government condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary and the whole tendencies of which the final aim is to detach from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy territories belonging to it, and it sincerely deplores the fatal consequences of these criminal proceedings... [It] considers it its duty formally to warn officers and functionaries and the whole population of the kingdom that henceforward it will proceed with the utmost rigour against persons who may be guilty of such machinations...”

And the article ended by pointing out that:

Among other demands Austria-Hungary asks for the suppression of Pan-Servian societies, to purify the public instruction, to dismiss officers and functionaries implicated in the propaganda, to arrest stated persons, and to admit Austrian co-operation in enforcing such measures.

Just the day before the paper had suggested that in Austria-Hungary’s Note, “no demands will be made upon Servia to which she will not be able to accede without loss of dignity.”

“Now they want Serbia to let them in to enforce their demands on Serbia’s own territory?” exclaimed Martin.

“Perhaps they’re not that concerned about Serb dignity after all,” said the Cynic.

What’s more, this was all to happen by – well, the next day now, 25 July, just two days after the delivery of the Note.

King Peter I of Serbia with his officers
In Skopje, Macedonia during his successful war against Turkey
For the first time Martin felt a distinct chill. Though perhaps also a slight thrill. This wasn’t women’s suffrage. It wasn’t further degeneration of the bitter atmosphere in Ireland. It wasn’t an uprising in Mexico or a massacre in the Levant. This was Europe. This was Austria-Hungary whose behaviour directly impinged on Britain and its standing in the world. 

And damned if it didn’t feel as though it was trying to get itself into a war.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 26. 23 July: Austria-Hungary prepares a "Note" for Serbia. But not to worry about war.

One hundred years ago today, Thursday 23 July 1914 provided a welcome break from a period of unusual heat: “There was yesterday a welcome change from the oppressively hot weather of Tuesday in the North of England,” wrote the Manchester Guardian, “to conditions decidedly cooler and less enervating.” An anticyclone was due “to give several days of fine, stable weather, at first rather cool and subsequently very warm.”

On the Continent, however, things were as hot as ever: “The heat in Germany and Northern Europe continues extreme.” Further south, things might – or might not – be warming up, but that didn’t have much to do with the weather.

Serious Turn Improbable

In the Lower House of the Hungarian Parliament to-day the Premier, Count Tisza, said the Foreign situation is now not of such a nature that a serious turn can be regarded as certain or even probable. The situation abroad is now absolutely uncertain. It can be settled by peaceful means, though the possibility of serious complications also exists.

A report from Paris added:

In well-informed quarters it is believed that the Austro-Hungarian Note to Servia will not be presented until the end of this week. While its terms are not yet known, it is understood that on the whole counsels of moderation will be found to have prevailed, and that generally speaking no demands will be made upon Servia to which she will not be able to accede without loss of dignity.

“So...” said Martin hesitantly, “Things are certain or they’re completely uncertain. Peaceful means are possible but there may be serious complications. Counsels of moderation sounds good, but if they fail, just how extreme will things get?”

“They’re getting tough,” said the Cynic, “Austria-Hungary
s winding itself up to put pressure on Serbia. That’s what that means. A diplomatic note is how a country tells another it’s pissed off. This one isn’t going to be nice.”

“But... what about the counsels of moderation and all that?”

“What? You’ve never seen wishful thinking before?”

Austro-Hungarian troops. Getting ready?
The article went on:

The “Neue Freie Presse” says what we demand from Servia does not go beyond what two States wishing to maintain friendly relations must grant each other, as Austria-Hungary actually grants it to Russia...

Russia? That nation’s name kept cropping up these days. But what did the business of the assassination of Francis Ferdinand have to do with Russia?

“Fellow slavs. And a rival empire to Austria’s.

At least there was another piece, “Austria and Servia”, that was a little reassuring.

Vienna is notoriously the most jumpy capital in Europe, and the talk about war between Austria and Servia is surely not to be taken seriously. The nearest parallel to the quarrel now in progress between Austria and Servia is the quarrel between England and France in 1868 over Orsini’s attempt on the life of the Emperor Napoleon. Orsini’s headquarters had been in London and France complained very bitterly of our allowing our capital to be the centre of a conspiracy against he life of her Sovereign.

A good point. There had been no war between Britain and France in the 1860s. Why should there be war now between Austria-Hungary and Serbia? 

“When people start telling you there’s no danger of war, get ready to take cover,” said the Cynic.

For light relief, they turned to another story, about an “Ulster Suffragette’s Trial”.

Miss Dorothy Evans, organising secretary of the Ulster branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union, was placed in the dock at the Belfast Assizes yesterday for trial, but owing to her conduct no progress could be made, and after a series of remarkable scenes the case against her was adjourned to the next assizes, and she was forcibly removed from the dock protesting.

Belfast Evening Telegraph photo of Dorothy Evans (right) and
fellow-suffragette Madge Muir on their release from gaol in April 1914
Amusing. Women’s suffrage and Ireland were the questions most troubling Britain these days, he supposed. And here they were coming together. Characteristically, in a noisy confrontation.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 25. 22 July: France getting close to Russia doesn't spell harmony for Germany. And where does Britain fit in?

A hundred years ago today, on Wednesday 22 July 1914, Martins group of railwaymen might have read a Manchester Guardian report of the French President’s meeting in Russia with the Tsar. Despite the unfortunate incident earlier, when the President’s ship collided with a Russian barge, it seems things had worked out pretty well in discussions between the French Foreign Minister (who, confusingly, was also the Prime Minister) and his Russian opposite number.

The two Ministers examined in an entire community of views the external questions interesting France and Russia, so as to reach agreement for the establishment of harmony between the two countries in the general policy of Europe.

René Viviani, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of France
Clearly venerated in his home country as "man of the day"
Harmony sounded good. But – only between the two of them? He knew France loathed the Germans pretty cordially, after all.

“So do the Russians,” said the Cynic, “and they
’ve got the biggest army in Europe. Like France has the cleverest. Them two pulling closer together isn’t designed to breed much good feeling towards Germany.”

Looked like the harmony on Russia’s side didn’t extend to Britain, anyway, however close we might be getting to their allies, France.

Commenting on a recent article in a French newspaper under the heading “Silver Wedding of the Alliance,” the “Petersburgski Kurier” takes exception to the favourable opinions expressed by the Paris journal concerning the policy of Great Britain. “We cannot,” it says, “fully concur in this view. Up to the present Great Britain has given no proof whatever of her readiness to pay for the services of France and Russia with services of equal value. We await such proof.”

What the hell? We were supposed to prove to Russia that we’d pay her in services? For what?

Why, even the French were hardly that impressive. Apparently, “the French Minister of War has ordered a Board composed of General Gaudin and Controller General de Boysson, to investigate how the money voted under the Three Year Service Law was applied and the manner in which important defence works have been carried out.”

Ships that run into each other, money misappropriated, and it was up to Britain to prove something to those two...

It probably made more sense to concentrate first on getting the problems on our own doorstep sorted out. And it seemed that the King himself was willing to help, with a conference on the problems of Ireland and Home Rule.

“You think the King takes that kind of decision?” sneered the Cynic.

“The King, the government, whoever,” said Martin.

Invitations have been issued by his Majesty to, and have been accepted by, two representatives of the Opposition, two representatives of the Ulster Unionist party, two representatives of the Irish Nationalist party, and two of his Majesty’s Government.

Yes. Much better that we focus on our own concerns rather than getting too entangled in all these murky goings on among Continental powers. Especially up here in Manchester where we had our own difficulties to deal with, not least, it turned out, on the cricket field:

Lancashire sustained their fifth defeat of the season yesterday at Kennington Oval, when Surrey gained an easy victory.

Problems enough to be going on with, without looking for more of them abroad.

Cricket at the Oval, home of Surrey County Cricket Club

Monday, 21 July 2014

Janka: In Memoriam.

“She slept on my bed. I could barely move my legs,” my son Michael told me. “In fact, she peed on the bed.”

That was the confirmation that Janka had really moved in with us. I say 
confirmation because I’d had the first intimation the night before. I was sitting at the table in the garden of the farmhouse where we were on holiday in Hungary, when I suddenly realised that there was a little bundle of black fur lying on the bench next to me. 
A bundle of fur. With her brother in the hutch where we found her
We’d collected Janka earlier in the day and she’d spent it shy, apprehensive, frightened even. After all, she’d never been away from her parents and her siblings before; this new family seemed strange and unaccommodating. But that impression began to improve when Danielle gave her milk and food. It was after that big step in settling her down that she’d jumped on the bench next to me without my noticing.

Sleeping on Michael’s bed and christening it for him really marked her complete assimilation
Bundle of fur adapting to her new life
Within days we’d imposed on her an experience that would become a hallmark of her life with us: a painfully long journey. Twelve hours or so, across quite a lot of Hungary, a bit of Austria and the width of Germany to get to Strasbourg where we lived at the time. 

One of the most harrowing moments of the trip was when we stopped for a meal at a service station, and left her in the car. From where we were sitting, we could see her with her forepaws up on the dashboard, barking her heart out in desperation at the world. 

The Traveller. On a cross-Channel fery
Later she would get used to that kind of existence, as we took her from Strasbourg to Stafford, from Stafford to Luton, even from Luton to Edinburgh, in cars or trains. She put up with it all, with little pleasure but great stoicism.

And she also had a lot of fun. 

Running for sticks (until she managed to bust her cruciate ligaments doing it)
What was the Black Forest made for but this?
Come on! Come on! You can throw it again!
Enjoying company of different kinds, in different settings

Playing with Aya, when both of them were younger
Conversing on serious matters with our Finnish friend Sami
Helping Natasha with her work, by joining her at her desk
Aha. Sheepdogs can look like that too, can they?
Just enjoying walks

On Cannock Chase, near Stafford
And it was worth going out even if she was made to look silly
just on the pretext that it was raining a bit
Or having a rest

Dignity? It's not about dignity
My little friend Misty, you take a heck of a lot of space
And he was like that even when he was small
Playing in snow
Racing Danielle's sledge downhill
Waiting for the chance to start again
Now, these are the conditions for the good life
Snow really suited her, if only because of her fur. That was her defining characteristic. If left to grow, it formed dreadlocks down to the ground, as befitted her breed, the Puli. Though I always preferred the breed name given her by one of Michael’s contemporaries, and our good friend, Zane Householder: “Jamaican shepherd.” 

Just how well that label fitted her was demonstrated by a young black man, from somewhere in the French Antilles, who had some impressive dreadlocks himself but stopped as though struck by lightning when he met Janka on a Strasbourg street, and exclaimed “why can’t I have hair like that?”

Bob Marley sheepdog
The other name for the breed is “Hungarian water dog” but we never used that for Janka: she loved water as long as she was never out of her depth and could see the bottom. Walking in – fine. Swimming – not on your nellie. She swam, to our knowledge, just twice in her lifetime.

Yes. Looks very exciting. Fun, I'm sure. But I'm not going in
This is how to use water. When it's hot outside. And when I can paddle
Getting wet, as long as she didn’t have to swim, was a delight for her. But later in life she began to find it hard to cope with the sheer weight of the water in her fur, so we had to clip her regularly. 

Danielle's students gather round for the first Janka-clipping

Later clipping became more professional
And more drastic
It changed her look but not her behaviour. She remained, till her death, the bundle of fur I’d spotted next to me on the bench in Eger. She liked to lie with us, so we could stroke her; she let our cat Misty rub himself against her and share her mats with her, though he often took far more than half the space.

Misty misses her and even now prefers to sleep in a basket lined with one of her old blankets impregnated with her smell. 

Misty enjoying essence of Janka
for a little while longer
We miss her too. It’s sad no longer to hear the barrage of barking, irritating when she was alive but leaving a gap now she’s gone: the silence is deafening when we turn the key in the front door. It’s odd throwing out empty yogurt cartons without having her lick them out. It’s strange trying to think up an excuse to walk in the park, the loveliest part of Luton, which I used to visit daily, sometimes three times a day, when Janka needed walking.

The joyous welcome we'll have no more
Still. We had thirteen excellent years with her and they’ve left a lot memories. And I think she had thirteen happy years with us. 

Starting right back there when she was a bundle of fur in Hungary.

When Janka joined us...