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


Anonymous said...

What's the opposite number of a man who is both P.M. and Foreign Minister?


David Beeson said...

Depends on which role he's playing at the time. On this occasion, he met the Foreign Minister because that's what he was being.

Sorry for the dull, straight answer...