Saturday, 5 July 2014

Countdown to War. Day 8, 5 July: Did someone say war?

One hundred years ago today, on Sunday 5 July 1914, the young Mancunian Martin would have visited his Methodist Minister, to collect the Observer once he’d finished with it.
Like the Manchester Guardian the previous day, the Sunday paper reflected on the Entente Cordiale or cordial understanding between France and Britain. 

Now that this instrument of peace and understanding between the two nations is such an accepted, and let us hope a solid, factor in international polity, a certain retrospect is all the more welcome...

Peace and understanding. The hallmark of 1914, as US and Canadian troops showed when they met in Vermont the day before, for joint commemorations of the end of the War of 1812 a hundred years earlier. That was the spirit when “the American Ambassador was the principal guest at a banquet given at the Savoy Hotel last night by the American Society in London in celebration of Independence Day,” an event attended by 250 and which “evoked much enthusiasm.”

As usual, however, neither peace nor understanding were particularly in evidence in Ireland. Although the paper reported on a speech by Tory MP Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland: “the chance of civil war, in his opinion, had become very small,” which ought to be encouraging, Martin remained sceptical. Their denials only reinforced the ideas politicians tried to dismiss, if only because they raised them. In any case, another article, headlined  “Rifles in Belfast”, pointed out that “the South Belfast Regiment of the Ulster Volunteers openly carried rifles and bayonets through the streets of Belfast in a march yesterday afternoon.”

That hardly seemed like a gesture for peace.

It also seemed that the repercussions of the shooting in Bosnia still hadn
’t entirely died down, as Martin had begun to believe:

According to a telegram from Sarajevo it has now been ascertained that ten persons were implicated in the conspiracy. They have all been arrested. All telegraph and telephone communications with Sarajevo are now under strict censorship, and are only permitted to be made in German.

Clearly, the Austrians were taking things seriously in their restless province. That was underlined by another piece which, like the comments about Ireland, only increased the fears it was trying to allay:

A semi-official communiqué issued in Budapest warns Servia that although Austria-Hungary does not desire a war with Servia, she expects the Servian Government to fulfil all [its] obligations in connection with “the crime which was undoubtedly promoted in Belgrade.”

War? That word hadn’t been used before. Even mentioning the possibility seemed to raise the spectre of a tragic event being turned into an international disaster.

German troops in the formerly French city of Strasbourg in 1915
Meanwhile elsewhere, another “semi-official” announcement had been issued, this time by the German authorities, for their province of Alsace, seized from France 43 years earlier:


A semi-official warning against the wearing of the French colours was published here today. The warning states that it has recently been observed that French colours and badges have been worn in a conspicuous manner, especially by persons returning from excursions across the frontier, and adds that it is desirable to recall the fact that the public display of these colours in an offence punishable under a decree of 1848, which has been confirmed by numerous judicial decisions with imprisonment and fines.

So it seemed that even among local people, tensions were still simmering over which nation should control the province.
The Royal Navy: never stronger
It was unfortunate that France and Germany couldn’t patch up their differences. After all, Britaincordial understanding with France didn’t prevent her having equally cordial relations with Germany. Why, even their navies, though rivals, got on well enough. The Observer carried an item from Kiel, Germany’s main base on the Baltic:

It is announced that before the departure of the British Squadron from Kiel on Tuesday, Vice-Admiral Sir George Warrender sent the following telegram by wireless from his flagship King Geroge V. to Admiral von Cörper, the commander of the Baltic station:–
“Before leaving Kiel Bay I beg you and the commander-in-chief to accept the hearty thanks of the British Squadron for the magnificent hospitality shown to officers and men, comrades in the past and always.”



Anonymous said...

No wonder the Brits feel pressured. Why was it called Entente Cordiale? Why couldn't it have been called Cordial Understanding? Or something in latin? The trouble with the French is, give them an inch and they make 2.54 cms of it!


David Beeson said...

Not sure how cordial it was anyway. And I think there may have been quite a degree of misunderstanding