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.


Anonymous said...

I fear the worst. I am sure so does Martin.

PS What's with "Martin"? Your alter ego of sorts?

David Beeson said...

Odd, isn't it? In "Good Company', the original for Jim was called Martin (not the original for Martin). Somehow that name just sprang into my mind for this series too, and I tend not to ignore that kind of intuitive feeling (I don't get that many of them).

David Beeson said...

By the way, in "Good Company", if anyone's based on me it's Colin.