Friday, 4 July 2014

Countdown to War. Day 7, 4 July: massacres in the Balkans, trouble in Ireland, getting on with the French

One hundred years ago today, on Saturday 4 July 1914, Martin, the young Mancunian railwayman, reading the Manchester Guardian with his workmates, would have seen a chilling report on the horrors inflicted on each other by people in the Balkans.

After reading the carefully documented evidence to be found in the second half of the volume, one is driven to find all the races – Bulgars, Greeks, Serbs and Turks – guilty of massacring upon occasion their enemies, men, women and children, as well the wounded as the whole. Two points should, however, be noted before judgement is passed. The share taken in the fighting by armed bands of irregulars may be held to have justified a severer method of warfare than could be excused in more highly civilised combatants; most of the outrages, and those the most dreadful, were committed by irregulars.

It was some comfort, despite the pity he felt at such tales, to know that he at least belonged to one of the West European nations which had learned to civilise their behaviour, even in war. And had, after all, known forty years of peace.

The paper still had much to say about death in high society, though the Austrian Imperial family seemed to have slipped down the agenda. Several articles dealt with the departure of Joseph Chamberlain two days earlier. The former Radical Mayor of Birmingham had latterly become the champion of Tariff reform, wanting to protect British industry by erecting customs barriers against imports from abroad. He had also emerged as a major figure in favour of Imperialism, opposed in particular to any kind of concession towards Home Rule for Ireland.

The history of English politics between 1892 and 1895 is mainly the story of Mr Chamberlain’s attempt to destroy the Home Rule Administration. For the first two years he attacked Mr. Gladstone in his effort to carry Home Rule by every means known to the skilful Parliamentarian. At last the Grand Old Man’s strength gave way under the strain, and he resigned.

“Important stuff,” said one of his mates, “but it's 1914. Remind me again: when did Gladstone die? He was my Dads generation. My Granddads.”

Sixteen years ago, came the reply from one of the older tracklayers.

“Yes, more history than news,” said Martin, “Even so, that stuff about Ireland’s still a bit of an issue, isn’t it?

A point underlined by a story about Ulster Boundaries. The Saturday Review had written to thank the Manchester Guardian for its compliments on a leader article the previous week. The piece had concerned a supposed new map of the north of Ireland allegedly being considered by the government, to draw “an artificial boundary line for Ulster – in order as far as possible to divide the province into Protestant and Roman Catholic areas.” This was a worrying and radical suggestion, “and we should be really glad to know, as a fact, whether the Government is considering an artificial boundary between the Protestant part of Ulster and the rest of Ireland.”

St James's Street in London
Decorated for the visit of French President Emile Loubet in 1903
The year of the signing of the Entente Cordiale

It was links across the Channel rather than across the Irish Sea that drew the intention of a Monsieur Yves Guyot. He had written to underline the importance of the “Entente Cordiale” between France and Britain:

The question as to the use of the formal term “entente” or “alliance” is of no importance. What is really of importance is the conviction that our two countries should lend each other reciprocal support for their mutual security and in the interests of peace.

Yes. We really needed to pull together with the Frogs. Waterloo was nearly a century behind us, after all, and we’d fought the Crimean War together. In an uncertain world, a cordial alliance – or understanding – would offer some welcome stability.

France v England, 1913
England won 20-0. France came bottom of the table.
Those were the days...
Just as long as they didn’t start beating us at rugby in that new-fangled Five Nations championship.


Anonymous said...

Have you thought of becoming a history teacher when you grow up?


David Beeson said...

i hadn't contemplated growing up

Awoogamuffin said...

I liked the rugby joke!

David Beeson said...

I enjoyed the rugby joke too. Though with a little irony, given how often the French beat us these days.