The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime. - Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, British Foreign Secretary, 3 August 1914.
1st August 1914 - The start of a Bank Holiday weekend in Britain. The primeminister, Herbert Asquith, is kept in London by a looming crisis on the Continent wherein Germany is preparing to attack Russia which may drag Russia's ally, France, into a war with it. The German ambassador in London, after a conversation with Sir Edward Grey, believes Great Britain would be neutral in such a war and that Britain is also guaranteeing French neutrality if Germany does indeed attack Russia.
The British Cabinet meets but is in no mood for war but Winston Churchill, First Lord of The Admiralty, argues for full British mobilisation. Another minister, Herbert Samuel, emphasises that the decision should depend on whether the neutrality of Belgium is violated by Germany or whether Germany attacks France's north-west coast.
At 4PM the French government orders full mobilisation of its military forces to begin on 2 August. An hour later the German Kaiser orders full German mobilisation.
At 7PM the German 16th Division invades Luxemburg.
At 7.30 PM the German ambassador in St. Petersburg hands over Germany's formal declaration of war on Russia. The evening is passed with the British attempting to clarify the confusion caused by Sir Edward's Grey's first conversation of the day with the German ambassador. Late in the evening crowds pour on to the streets of St. Petersburg. A telegram from King George V to his cousin, the Kaiser, suggesting a misunderstanding between Grey and the German ambassador arrives in Berlin at 11PM and as a result of that the Kaiser tells General Moltke, the German commander, "Now you can do what you want".
2nd August 1914 - Having met the German ambassador earlier in the morning - Bank Holiday Sunday - Herbert Asquith chairs a Cabinet meeting. The cabinet remains divided but it is decided to allow Grey to tell the French that Britain would not allow Germany to use the English Channel for operations against northern France. Grey tells the French ambassador that "If the German fleet comes into the Channel or the North Sea to undertake hostile operations against the French coasts or shipping, the British fleet will give all the protection in its power".
In the mid-afternoon reports are arriving in Paris that German troops are crossing the Franco-German border. French general mobilisation has begun.
At 7PM the German ambassador in Brussels informs the Belgian Foreign Minister that Germany has evidence that the French are preparing to enter Belgian territory to enable them to attack Germany and because of this Germany will need to enter Belgium to defend itself. The Belgians are allowed 12 hours to reply but within a couple of hours the King of The Belgians and his Council of Ministers have agreed that Belgium could not give in to German demands and a reply is drafted.
3rd August 1914 - In Britain it is Bank Holiday Monday. At 7AM the Belgians respond to the Germans' note refusing Germany's demands and the King of The Belgians appeals to King George V for diplomatic intervention to safeguard Belgium's integrity.
After a Cabinet meeting in the morning, Sir Edward Grey addresses The House Of Commons at 3PM and lays out the case for defending Belgium and the north west coast of France. While King George V and Queen Mary are cheered by crowds in London the Russian ambassador in Berlin is attacked by a mob.
At 6PM the German ambassador in Paris informs the French government that Germany considers itself to be in a "state of war with France".
The British Cabinet meets again in the evening and agrees to insist that the Germans withdraw their ultimatum to Belgium and afterwards Grey tells the French ambassador that if the Germans refuse to do so then "it will be war". In the late evening a friend, John Alfred Spender, visits Grey at the Foreign Office and, in the gathering dusk, they stand at a window in his office and watch out across St. James Park at the lamps being lit in Pall Mall. Grey says "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime".
4th August 1914 -
At 8.02AM 6 infantry divisions and 3 cavalry divisions of the German Army invade Belgium at Gemmerich to begin an attack on the town of Liege. At 9AM a Belgian cavalryman, Antoine Fonck, is shot by German troops near Battice and becomes the first man to die in the First World War.
Meanwhile in London, Sir Edward Grey is still seeking reassurances that Germany will respect Belgium's neutrality. At noon the King of The Belgians calls on Britain and France to come to his country's aid.
At 2PM Sir Edward Grey instructs the British Ambassador in Berlin to request Germany's respect for Belgium's neutrality and that he requires a response to this request by midnight, German time, which will be 11PM in London.
At 4.45PM, Herbert Asquith addresses the House Of Commons while crowds gather outside waiting for the declaration of war. At the end of his speech the House votes £105 million for the national services. A few minutes later a Royal proclamation is read outside the Royal Exchange which calls up all army reserves.
Across Britain and the rest of The Empire people await news of the declaration of war. At 11PM, having received no German assurance of Belgium's neutrality, The United Kingdom of Great Britain And Ireland and its Empire is at war with Germany.
The British Declaration of War is binding on its Dominions which therefore also find themselves at war with Germany - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Newfoundland. As quoted on the stamp issued recently by Australia Post, the Australian prime minister, Joseph Cook, says "If there is to be a war, you and I shall be in it. We must be in it. If the old country is at war, so are we."
Thus it was that the events of a bank holiday weekend meant young people from across the whole of Britain and its Empire would soon find themselves involved in a fight that would become known as "The Great War" or "The War To End All Wars". In the first month after the Declaration of War, in Britain alone, 500000 men had volunteered to join the forces and right across The Empire hundreds of thousands more volunteered to join the fight. Even in Ireland, nearing an uprising against the British, men came forward to join the British forces:-
Sadly, despite all the sacrifices, instead of ending all wars, the First World War set the scene for another great conflict and afterwards our current world where war is anything but disappeared.
A few of the ordinary young men who fought in the War have been depicted on postage stamps:-
and, as described in Blogs 386 and 382, by using his photograph as the basis for a sheet of British "Smiler" stamps, I have my personal commemoration of my own grandfather, Richard White, who saw his first action at the age of 17 in the Second Battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915. Today I have used the stamp on a pair of recorded mail envelopes, the £1.10 postal rate being made up by stamps from the new British First World War stamps and Machin definitives, sent from my local post office with clear 4 August 2014 cancellations. If they arrive safely and unspoiled I will depict them in a future Blog.