Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 19. 16 July 1914: talk of war. And – the shock of 1914 – mixed bathing in Manchester

One hundred years ago today, on Thursday 16 July 1914, Martin and his railwayman friends, reading the Manchester Guardian during a break in work, would have seen that the French Socialists at their conference had discussed strike action as a means of avoiding war.

The speakers were divided in opinion, some maintaining that it was useless to talk of revolts and strikes in war time since they knew that such movements were impossible, while others declared more confidence should be placed in the force of Socialism. This afternoon, M.Vaillant and M. Jaurès advocated a general strike as a means of preventing war.

Ah, yes. Jaurès. It took him a while to work out how to pronounce the name, but eventually he decided he must be the French Socialist the clever young men from University spoke of so highly at Labour Party meetings. A pretty significant figure, it seemed. And he was right: if preventing war wasn’t a big enough question for a general strike, what would be?

“Ah,” said the Cynic, “so now we think there might be a war to prevent?”

There were certainly enough trouble spots that could breed war around the world. 

The young men kept on reading the Guardian. “Huerta’s family leave”, they discovered: it seemed that the rebels had won in Mexico and the President was going. 

Just the day before they’d read about another arms shipment being seized on the way to Dublin; today it was “Confiscation of 1500,000 Cartridges” in “cement bags at Stockton”; apparently “they were going to Belfast”, so each side was clearly arming as fast as it could. 

Response to hunger-striking suffragettes
The torture of force feeding
A different kind of conflict was taking place even within England itself: an article headlined “Case against forcible feeding” quoted a speaker at a public meeting saying that the participants:

...were there to protest against torture, and especially against torture by forcible feeding as carried out in prisons. As medical men they wished also to protest against the degradation and prostitution of the medical profession by compelling its members to act as torturers and executioners.

Somehow, though, Martin didn’t think French trades unionists would be contemplating a general strike against the government of Mexico, or over the brewing civil war in Ireland – surely a British matter anyway? – and least of all over the mistreatment of British women in British prisons.

“No,” said the man holding the paper, “here’s a piece that’s nearer the mark.”

German Crown Prince Wilhelm
One can just imagine his charming line in self-deprecating humour

It was headlined “Germany’s hour of destiny” and concerned a telegram from the German Crown Prince to the author of a pamphlet that claimed:

... the military preparations in France and Russia will be so far advanced in the spring of 1915 that an invasion by such mighty armies as have never been seen before on earth must be daily expected.

War in Central Europe itself? Surely not. But the article pointed out that the Crown Prince had written:

I have read your excellent pamphlet with the greatest interest, and I wish it the widest circulation among our German people.

Did that mean that Germany was genuinely afraid it might soon face war? That didn’t sound good. 

Even more chilling was the piece about Hungary’s view on Serbia:

In the Lower House of the Hungarian Parliament to-day Count Tisza, the Premier, replying to an interpellation regarding Servian connections with the Sarayevo murders, said that Austria-Hungary’s relations with Servia must be made clear. [...] The question had been raised whether the present uncertainty must not inevitably be decided by war. He must say that the State which did not consider war the “ultima ratio” could not call itself a state.

“What the hell’s an ‘ultima ratio’ when it’s at home?” asked the man reading the piece out loud, “what’s wrong with using English in an English paper?”

István Tisza, Hungarian Prime Minister
A laugh a minute for an evening together, one imagines
But the question that had been asked was whether war was inevitable. Inevitable? That was far more sinister than anything he’d heard previously since that Archduke had been murdered. Were things turning nastier than Martin had imagined?

It lightened the mood when the reader regaled them with the news that an experiment in mixed bathing in Withington, near Manchester, had been a success. It had been carefully managed: 

The regulations of the Committee provided that individual bathers would not be admitted, and this was rigidly enforced. In the matter of costume the Committee had laid down strict rules. Men were permitted to wear only what is known as the University or Amateur Swimming Association costume of dark blue or black material, and women were also limited to a dark costume of like material. If bathers do not possess these they can obtain them at the bath upon a minimal payment.

“Let no-one say that 1914’s not a year for boldness, then,” proclaimed Martin.

“Cautious boldness anyway,” said the Cynic.

“I think I might go for a swim in Withington myself this weekend,” said Martin.

“Why? Do you think you can persuade a woman to go with you?” asked the Cynic.

The baths get bold in Withingotn


Anonymous said...

Could you find time to squeeze in your thoughts on the re-shuffle?

Like the Xmas truce?


Anonymous said...

No, I can't imagine anything about Prince Wilhelm, least of all his line in self-deprecating humour.
Can you elaborate?