1914, World War I, Britain, Germany and Me  by David Childs 

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1914, World War I, Britain, Germany and Me by David Childs

My uncle Thomas Haslam, a rifleman of the 16th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, died of wounds on 17 July 1916. He is buried with 1,230 other Commonwealth soldiers at Daours Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France. The extension was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Thomas had volunteered on 22 October 1914.  Thomas’s cousins were luckier.  Alan Maguire served in the North Lancashire Regiment from June 1914 until April 1919.  He was wounded in the shoulder.  He was also hospitalised for two bouts of Gonorrhea.  Brother, John H Maguire also rose to the rank of sergeant, in the same regiment, and survived from 1914 to 1919.  From Leicester, John Childs served ‘King and country,’ from 20 November 1914 to 1 June 1919.  He was convicted of using abusive language to a superior officer and of ill-treating a horse and twice given detention.  He was not my father,  he was my father’s cousin.  John Arthur Childs of Bolton, was my father.  Aged 18, he was discharged on 8 August 1917 as ‘no longer physically fit for war service’.  His military character was described as ‘good’, and his character ‘awarded in accordance with King’s Regulations’ was ‘sober and steady.’  He had served from 1914 and later served in the Territorial Army with the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry, 1924-28.  My father’s mate, in the special constabulary from 1938, Jess France, had a massive mark and missing flesh, from his World War I leg wound.  My father’s colleague on the Bolton Borough Council, Fred Maughan who often visited us, told us how he had injured himself deliberately with his rifle, because he had lost faith in the 1914-18 war.  He got away with it.  Alf Booth enlisted in the Army on 8 December 1915.  He was listed as having been killed in action on 21 August 1917 but was in fact still serving with 11 Bn Lancashire Fusiliers.  He was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans in early 1918, spending the rest of the War as a prisoner of war.  He wrote home expressing the hope that the War would be over before his younger brother Richard was caught up in the fighting.  Richard was killed in action in Belgium on 27 April 1918, aged 18, while serving as a Private with 15th Bn Durham Light Infantry.  Alf became Alderman Booth, Congregational lay preacher, Mayor of Bolton, 1941–42 and MP for Bolton East.  He seemed to relish telling audiences, some of whom complained about post-war rationing, about having to eat roast rat as a prisoner of war.  Very often, a smartly dressed, tall man made his way to work in the gas board office near us.  He never looked at any one and I felt embarrassed to look too closely in his direction.  He was missing one arm and one leg.

I remember the tales adults told about the Germans.  They were afraid of the Gurkas.  They were terrified of the Scots because, first seeing them in kilts, they did not know whether they were men or women.  The called them, ‘the ladies from Hell’.  The Germans turned the cadavers of their dead into soap.  This revealed just how desperate they were.  The Times reported, 17 April 1917 that the Germans were rendering down the bodies of their dead soldiers for fat to make soap and other products.  It was not until 1925 that the British Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain officially admitted that the ‘corpse factory’ story had been a falsehood.

As a child, the First World War was all around me but it seemed to get lost because we were already into World War II.  Even the bombing raid which we experienced in 9 January 1941 fell under the shadow of the LZ21 Zeppelin raid of 25 September 1916 when 13 people were killed.  Two months later the same airship was shot down off Lowestoft.  All 17 men on board were killed.  Having lost her only brother, my mother did talk about it.  She had lost her father in the great flu pandemic of 1919 Alan and Jack had lost their father in an accident at work before the war.  Brought up mainly by Alan and Jack’s mother, Margaret Alice Maguire (nee Haslam) my mother was very bitter about it all.  Margaret Alice was a Socialist, an admirer of Tom Man and thought it was all a capitalist class conspiracy.  For reasons I never discovered, she had books about the Boer War, 1899-1901.  My mother and her Aunt Margaret believed nothing much that was positive had come from the war of 1914-18.  Were they right about it all?

Two programmes on TV attempted to deal with this question.  Max Hastings argued that if Britain had not declared war, Germany would almost certainly have won in 1915 or 1916.  This, he believed, would have been an absolute disaster.  In his view the Kaiser’s Germany was only a little less evil than Hitler’s Germany: an undemocratic country run by an autocrat, in thrall to the military, which committed some appalling atrocities.  For him the Kaiser and his generals were very largely to blame for the war.

Niall Ferguson, in his programme, argued that Britain was as much to blame for turning the war into a truly global conflict.  As for German society, it was actually far more democratic and progressive than Britain, where, in 1914, about 40 per cent of its male population and all of its women, still did not have the right to vote.  To imply comparisons between the Kaiser’s Germany and Hitler’s Germany was quite wrong.  According to Ferguson, if Germany had won the war in 1916 it would not have been so bad: we would simply have ended up with a Kaiserreich version of today’s EU.


How did British people view Germany before 1914?

If we look through the parliamentary reports in Hansard in the period before the First World War, we find the questions asked by MPs about Germany were not just about the German fleet, they covered a wide variety of subjects.  Some politicians attempted to influence this country in a positive direction by such interventions.  In 1903 a question was asked about the growth of private wealth in Germany and in 1904 Parliament was presented with reports on brewing in Bavaria and technical instruction in the Reich.  School meals and school hours in Germany were among the issues which interested MPs in 1906 and state railways and municipal trading in 1907.  In the following year there were questions about working-class housing in Berlin and unemployment in Berlin and London.  In 1909 questions were put about the new German Industrial Amendment Act which restricted the labour of pregnant women.  The Secretary of State for the Home Department was asked, 'If he can give any assurance that, in the interest of the physical well-being of the nation, the Government had any intention of raising British law on this point to the German standard'.  In 1911 there was interest in the electrification of the Prussian state railways and, of course, in national insurance.  In 1912 questions were asked about wages in Germany and in 1913 about schools in Berlin.

To nineteenth-and early twentieth-century British liberals the Germans were regarded as being on a higher plain than many other foreigners.  They saw that Germany was having a positive influence on Britain.  Professor W. H. G. Armitage of the University of Sheffield has recorded in his book The German Influence on English Education the great contribution made by Germany to British society.  He reminds us that many of our universities, London, Manchester, Nottingham and others were founded under German influence.  He also mentions the very large sums of money given by German firms to establish German-type scientific training in England, Imperial College being just one of the recipients.  Businessmen of German origin and progressive-minded British businessmen were eager to promote the German model in education.  There were those who both admired and feared the growth of German economic power.

A book which appears to have impressed many of them was H. M. Felkin's Technical Education in a Saxon Town (1881).  Felkin was a native of Nottingham and a friend of H. H. Mundella, the Nottinghamshire hosiery manufacturer and local MP.  Felkin discussed his ideas and experiences with Mundella and the influence of these two was one of the factors in the setting up of University College, Nottingham in 1881.  In his book, which was published for the City and Guilds of London Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education, Felkin commented:

Chemnitz is a large manufacturing town, like Nottingham, resembling it too in the fact that hosiery is one of its staple manufactures, and, moreover, as the town of Chemnitz has already taken away the glove trade from Nottingham, and is, in the opinion of many, slowly undermining the trade in cotton hosiery too, it cannot but be important to the people of Nottingham to know something of the educational advantages which have enabled the Saxons to do this.  For, in the writer's opinion, neither in physique nor in energy and natural ability are these Saxons equal to Englishmen.  On the contrary, the human raw material in Saxony is inferior to that of the Midland counties, and yet the weaker race takes the bread out of the mouth of the stronger, and competes with it in the markets of the world.  What enables it to do this?  The answer to this question will partly be found in the educational advantages which the people of Chemnitz and of other German towns undoubtedly possess.’  One can only smile at Felkin's racist view of the Saxons.  Perhaps he believed it, perhaps he was merely putting his message in this form to make it easier for his fellow countrymen to adopt the practical reforms necessary for Britain's survival.  Influenced by the German example Mundella tried in 1870 to make schooling in this country compulsory, but under the act of 1870 this provision was not adopted.  When Mundella became Vice-President of the Board of Education ten years later in 1880, he was able to get the compulsory element through the House of Commons.  Prussia and many other parts of Germany had had compulsory education for a long time by then.  The first of these was the educational policy of several of the German states during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  The school regulations of Weimar in 1619 established the principle of compulsory attendance at elementary schools.  The Rescripts of 1716 and 1717 made school attendance compulsory in Prussia by royal order.  It is my belief that the early introduction of compulsory schooling in Germany was one of the key factors in Germany's economic advance and its re-emergence after the defeats of 1918 and 1945.  Britain's relatively poor performance over the same period is also partly explained by its lack of attention to education and training.

One of the British myths about Germany which was exposed by Felkin in his pamphlet was the idea that the Germans learned by rote.  'Everything is taught in such a manner, that it is mentally grasped by the pupil, and there is a minimum of learning by rote.’  (p. 20).  It was not just in the field of education and science that the British were influenced by Germany.

Books played a vital part in forming the British view of Germany in the decades before 1914. Since it had defeated France in 1871 it had received far more attention than before. At a time when more and more people were able to read and books were becoming cheaper, a number of novels appeared which took up the theme of the threat of Germany. The first of these was a book which appeared in 1871 and was called The Battle of Dorking. It dealt in documentary style with the German invasion of Britain. It first appeared in Blackwood's Magazine, and then was reprinted in the same year as a sixpenny pamphlet. Its success is seen by the fact that it was translated into French, Dutch, Swedish, German and Italian. Its author, John Chesney, was a general and his book was a plea for national service on the German model and more money for defence. Many other books of this type were published. The Battle of Worthing followed in 1887 and The New Battle of Dorking in 1900. In the latter book, the actual invaders were French, not German. One of the most successful spy and thriller writers of the time was William T. Le Queux, who was responsible for about 210 novels. Among his books with German themes were Spies of the Kaiser: Plotting the Downfall of England (1909), The Invasion of 1910 (1906), and A German Spy: A Present Day Story. In The Invasion of 1910 the German advance into the heart of London is detailed almost street by street and illustrated with maps. London surrenders after being pounded by heavy artillery. Perhaps the most important book of this genre was The Riddle of the Sands (1903) written by Erskine Childers. It is the story of two young Englishmen who take a trip to the Friesian Islands in a yacht and discover the Germans rehearsing plans for the invasion of Britain. My copy of the book was printed in 1979, which reveals how popular it has remained. This is, of course, partly because it has become a cult book among the yachting fraternity. Yet the main theme of the book is spying, not yachting, and it has influenced, and still is influencing, generations of English speakers in their attitude to Germany.

Undoubtedly these books played a part in the passing of the Official Secrets Act in 1911 because of fears, largely unfounded, of German spies.  All that remains of our view of Germany before 1914 is contained virtually in the two books The Riddle of the Sands and The 39 Steps, John Buchan's book about espionage in Britain which was published in 1915.  Both have been made into films, the last version of Buchan's book being set, as in the book, in Britain before 1914.  They give a most unfair and inaccurate picture of Germany, as does the film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp shown again in 2014 on British TV.  But these are all that has survived; they form our image, our myth of the Kaiser's Germany as a uniquely aggressive, militarist state.

In truth, Germany’s achievements in the educational, social and political spheres were admired by many British writers and reformers.  The first really modern, mass, political party, the Social Democrats (SPD) had developed there.  British philosopher Bertrand Russell began his published work in 1896 with German Social Democracy, a study in politics, and in the same year, he taught German social democracy at the London School of Economics.  The SPD was the biggest single party in both Germany and Europe and in 1912 it gained 34.8% of the vote in the election which had a turnout of 84%.  The Kaiser had tried to ban it, without success.  Within it, there was a strong anti-militarist and anti-imperialist tendency.  This was also true of Germany’s second largest party, with 16.4%, the Catholic Centre Party.  There was also the FVP with 12.3%.  Together they had a majority, but the parliament, Reichstag, was weak and for the Kaiser and his clique, war was preferable to a Germany taken over by Social Democracy.

August Bebel, for many years SPD leader, died 13 August 1913.  He had sought cooperation with like-minded French and British socialists.  In 1900, he had opposed the sending of German troops to join the international force, to put down the Boxer rising in China.  He denounced the brutality used by the Kaiser’s troops to crush the rebellion of the Herero and Nama in German South West Africa.  He opposed any thought of war with France and advocated an alliance with Britain.  He condemned other German policies including the building up of the German fleet.  Bebel’s ‘brother in arms’ French socialist leader from 1902, Jean Jaurès, took a similar anti-war position.  During the war fever that swept through Europe in the summer of 1914, Jaurès continued to argue for peaceful negotiations between the European governments.  On 31st July, 1914, Jaurès was assassinated by a young French nationalist who supported war with Germany.  Had the two socialists lived, perhaps there would have been a different outcome in the summer of 1914.

In the days before the outbreak of war, 26 to 31 July 1914, mass anti-war demonstrations took place in Germany.  Over 500,000 people took part in various towns and cities.  However, by a vote of 64 to 14 the SPD parliamentary group decided to vote for the military appropriations on the basis that they were needed to provide strong armed forces to defend Germany against Czarist Russia.  They pointed out that any war would be the result of the arms race and imperialism which they opposed, but the thought of Cossacks galloping along Berlin’s Under den Linden convinced them that defence was necessary, they were not voting for war but for providing the necessary equipment for defence,   Wir lassen in der Stunde der Gefahr das Vaterland nicht im Stich!  (We will not leave the Fatherland in the lurch in its hour of danger!)

Already on 2 December 1914 a leading SPD member of the Reichstag voted, as the first one, against further war credits.  In December 1915 20 voted against, in March 1916 again 20 Social Democrats voted against and were expelled from their party for so doing, and in April 1917 at Gotha they formed their own anti-war party.  By then the French socialists had also split.


Unlikely Allies?

The line -up in 1914 would not have been expected a few years earlier.  Britain had been with Prussia and other German states against Napoleonic France in 1815, and, indeed, before that.  Czarist Russia was seen as a reactionary state with ambitions against British interests on the frontier of India, in Afghanistan and Iran.  The USA, given the record of the previous 150 years, was another, eventual, unlikely ally.  Italy had come late to the scramble for empire.  Italy wanted colonies for prestige reasons and to settle its surplus population in North Africa.  As part of this plan Italy invaded Libya, part of the Turkish Empire, in 1911.  Although it had signed the Triple Alliance in 1882 with Germany and Austria-Hungary, it remained neutral at the beginning of the Great War but later joined Britain and France in the expectation of furthering its imperialist agenda.  Japan had been helped to build up its fleet by Britain and, to a lesser extent, by France and the USA.  In the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5, all Japanese battleships were British-made as were many of its smaller vessels.  Japan, therefore, was seen as a distant, rather strange, little country with whom we could do business.

Britain, like Germany, Belgium, France, Japan, Russia and the USA had pursued imperialist policies before 1914.  Britain received condemnation from many quarters for its invasion of the Boer republics of South Africa in 1899 and for the policies it used to crush the Boers who carried on guerrilla warfare against vastly superior numbers of British Empire forces.  The British resorted to burning the Boer farmers’ crops and their homes, poisoning their wells and forcing their families into concentration camps.  One of several critics of British policies, Emily Hobhouse, with her brother, Leonard Hobhouse, was active member of the Adult Suffrage Society and other reform societies.  She reported in the Manchester Guardian (19 June 1901) about visiting a camp, Bloemfontein, where nearly 2,000 ‘Boer women and children face squalor and starvation’.  David Lloyd George, speaking on 4 March 1902 stated, ‘We contend that owing to mal-administration and owing to our having embarked upon a policy which is absolutely wrong, about 15,000 or 16,000 innocent people have died.  We charge that entirely to the bad administration of the present Government.’  After the war a report concluded that 27,927 Boers had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps.  In all, about one in four of the Boer inmates, mostly children, died.  Large numbers of Africans had died in other camps.  The Germans, the French, the Belgians, the Americans, the Spanish and the Japanese had all committed abominable crimes in the various areas they had occupied up to 1914.




What was the situation in Britain in 1914?


A month before the outbreak of war Henley Regatta opened in ‘brilliant fashion’, The Telegraph Daily reported, with record crowds and “perfect” weather.  It represents the image very many people have of Britain at that period.  However, as Nigel Jones reminded us in the Daily Telegraph (21 July 2014), ‘Of course, the reality was far different for the 99 per cent of people who did not own land, collect rents or vacation at Biarritz and Marienbad.  Most Edwardians worked in dark, noisy factories, cut hay in fields, toiled down dirty and dangerous mines; had bones bent by rickets and lungs racked by tuberculosis.  Life expectancy then was 49 years for a man and 53 years for a woman, compared with 79 and 82 years today.  They lived in back to back tenements or jerry-built terraces, wore cloth caps or bonnets (rather than boaters, bowlers and toppers) and they had never taken a holiday - beyond a day trip to Brighton or Blackpool - in their entire lives.’


The British Isles were far from peaceful in 1914, they were in turmoil.  There was a great deal of industrial unrest.  There was the fight for female suffrage.  There were near civil war conditions in Ireland.  The Ulster Unionists were prepared to use armed force to prevent the act of Parliament which introduced Irish home rule from becoming law.  ‘Civil war in Ireland – not war on the continent of Europe – is what London feared 100 years ago.  Would the British Army mutiny if ordered to force the Protestants of Ulster into Home Rule?  Was the British Empire about to crumble from within?  This was the question at the start of 1914,’ as the Belfast Telegraph (20 Jan 2014), reminded its readers.  On 20 March 1914 in the so-called Curragh incident, British Army officers at the Curragh Camp, resigned rather than risk being order to resist the armed Ulster Volunteers who opposed Irish home rule.  In April, 35,000 rifles and over 3 million rounds of ammunition from Germany are landed at Larne, Bangor and Donaghadee for the Ulster Volunteers and quickly distributed around Ulster by motor transport.  Negotiations between the home rulers and the unionists end in failure and the arming continues but, on 18 September, The Government of Ireland Act receives Royal Assent but is postponed (as projected on 30 July) for the duration of the World War.  The Easter Rising, by Irish republicans,  followed, in 1916, and the Irish war of independence, a guerrilla war, in 1919, ending when the Irish Free State was established in 1921 ‘within the British Commonwealth of Nations’, but Ulster remained part of Britain.



British Monarchy and the War


One other aspect of the outbreak of the war was that it was a family at war.  The heads of three of the four main states at war in 1914 were first cousins, that is, George V, Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas.  In the case of Britain George was, we were always told, merely a figure head rather than a political decision maker.  Yet according to Anita Singh in the Telegraph [26 July 2014]:

A note which has remained in private hands for a century details a previously undocumented meeting between George V and his Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, on the eve of the First World War.

The King, mindful of his position as a constitutional monarch, made no public declarations about the situation in Europe in the lead-up to the conflict.

But in the newly-disclosed meeting, the King informed Sir Edward it was "absolutely essential" Britain go to war in order to prevent Germany from achieving “complete domination of this country”.

When Sir Edward said the Cabinet had yet to find a justifiable reason to enter the conflict, the King replied: “You have got to find a reason, Grey”.

Historians have no record of the meeting which took place at Buckingham Palace on August 2 1914, two days before Britain went to war.

It was revealed in a letter written by Sir Cecil Graves, Sir Edward’s nephew, who met with the King a month after his uncle’s death in 1933.

Had there been family rivalry which led George to hate Cousin Kaiser Wilhelm?  It is worth recalling that George V, like his father Edward VII, were members of the German ducal House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha by virtue of their descent from Albert, Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria.  Queen Mary was a princess of the House of Teck in the Kingdom of Württemberg but, she was born and raised in England.  Her father was Francis, Duke of Teck, who was of German extraction.  Her mother was Mary Adelaide who was born in Hanover, Germany, daughter of Prince Adolphus, the youngest surviving son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.  In 1917 George V decided it was high time that his family separated themselves from the German side of the family.  As the war continued anti-German sentiment amongst the people rose.  It reached a new high in March 1917, when the Gotha G.IV, a heavy aircraft, actually built in Gotha, ancestral home of Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, began bombing London directly and became a household name.  Drastic action was needed especially after Czar Nicholas II was overthrown in Russia.  George V issued a proclamation on 17 July 1917 announcing that his family members were to abandon all titles held under the German Crown and to change German titles and house names to anglicised versions.  Henceforth, they would be known as Windsor.



The end of the war

As the situation within Germany deteriorated, with massive strikes and demonstrations taking place, a majority of the German parliament, Reichstag, passed a ‘Peace‘ resolution on 19 July 1917.  These were the Majority Social Democrats, Catholic Centre Party and liberal Progressive People’s Party.  The left of the Social Democrats would have gone farther.  The German government and top military, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, were against it.  On 8 January 1918, US President Woodrow Wilson, announced his 14-point peace programme, ‘without victors or vanquished’.  This was also rejected.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in March 1918, between Bolshevik Russia and Germany, ended the war on the Eastern front at great cost to Russia.  German troops were transferred to the West for a last offensive, 21 March, against the British and French, hoping for a decisive victory before US military and industrial strength of the United States could be brought into play.  The Germans initially met with great success, advancing 64 kilometres past the region of the 1916 Somme battles, before the offensive lost momentum.

Between April and November the stalemate of the preceding years began to give way.  The Allies benefitted from units of the Australian Expeditionary Force (AEF), and later the Americans.  The first offensive action undertaken by AEF units serving with British forces was by 1,000 men serving with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918.  This battle took place under the overall command of Australian, Lt. General Sir John Monash.  American troops played a key role in helping stop the German thrust towards Paris, during the Second Battle of the Marne in June 1918.  The first major and distinctly American offensive was the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, beginning September 12, 1918, when General Pershing commanded the American First Army, with more than 500,000 men.  It was the largest offensive operation ever undertaken by United States armed forces to date.  This successful offensive was followed by the Meuse-Argonne offensive, lasting from September 26 to the 11 November, 1918, armistice, during which Pershing commanded more than one million American and French combatants.  Facing a naval mutiny and military defeat, on 11 November, the German leadership, finally agreed to sign an armistice agreement.  General Ludendorff deputy to Field Marshal von Hindenburg, chief of the general staff, 29 August 1916 – 3 July 1919, but in reality the dominant figure, fled to neutral Sweden.



How did the war leave Britain?


The war ended with the armistice of 11 November 1918 and there was great relief and rejoicing but the governments of Europe trembled.  Everywhere there was the threat of chaos, disorder and revolution.  Britain’s rulers could not help sweating as they witnessed the collapse of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German political systems.  There were widespread strikes in France.  Italy, and even, neutral Switzerland.  Both sides were hit by the influenza epidemic.  Close to home, there was a guerrilla war in Ireland.  There were strikes all over England including the remarkable police strikes of 1918 and 1919 over pay and conditions.  Meanwhile, in Glasgow, the war had turned it into a centre for organised protest against poor working conditions.  The Liberal government feared these mass rallies were the start of a working class revolution along the lines of the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The rally, 31 January 1919, was broken up by police, and troops and tanks were deployed on Clydeside.  In reality, most of the protesters were not revolutionary, they just demanded a 40-hour working week and a living wage.

Many historians have written about the refusal of Dockers to load the 'Jolly George' with an arms consignment for Poland in May 1920 to be used against revolutionary Russia.  But the government had faced far greater challenges to authority in the armed forces including a number of ‘mutinies’, in 1919, in the Royal Navy.  The war was over and the government had repeatedly pledged that only volunteers would be sent to fight against the Russians.  It is clear that this was not the practice employed by the Admiralty.  Those who did not intend to 'volunteer' had little choice but to mutiny and face the consequences.

Fear of revolution was an important factor in the passing of the Representation of the People Act [1918] which gave the vote to all men over 21 and to all women over the age of 30 years.  Remarkably, only in 1928 were women finally given the franchise on the same terms as men.  Although over 700,000 women worked in the highly dangerous munitions industry alone, and many others had worked on the land, as nurses, in the auxiliary services and other fields, progress was slow.  The Sex Discrimination Removal Act [1920] allowed women access to the legal profession and accountancy, but there remained bars on married women across the professions, including the police.  In 1935, the London County Council removed the marriage bar for teachers and medical staff.  The marriage bar was removed for all teachers and in the BBC in 1944, in the Civil Service and most local government in 1954.  By that date women still remained grossly underrepresented in Parliament and the professions.  During the war women workers were encouraged to play football to raise funds for charity.  The best-known team was Dick Kerr Ladies of Preston of which, my aunt, Florrie Haslam, was a prominent member.  Matches were played on behalf of the National Association of Discharged and Disabled Soldiers and Sailors.  On 26th December, 1920, Dick Kerr Ladies played the second best women's team in England, St Helens Ladies, at Goodison Park, the home ground of Everton.  The plan was to raise money for the Unemployed Ex- Servicemen’s’ Distress Fund in Liverpool.  Over 53,000 people watched the game.  It was the largest crowd that had ever watched a woman's game in England and raised £3,115 or £623,000 in today's money.  A crowd of 25,000 people turned up to the home ground of Preston North End to see the first unofficial international between England and France.  The team later played in Canada and the USA.  However, after raising money for lock-out miners, in 1921, they earned the anger of the Establishment.  On 5th December 1921, the Football Association announced a withdrawal of all facilities for women’s football.  It claimed there had been complained about women playing football and about alleged irregularities in team financing.  The women struggled on at a much more modest scale.

When the war came to an end on 11 November, 1918, the local press reported that in Bolton, an immense crowd formed on Victoria Square beneath blue skies and went quietly berserk, buying fireworks and flags, dancing and processing and singing till all hours.  The tram and bus drivers joined in so the revellers all had to walk home, but no one minded much.  The war to end wars was over by then, Thomas Haslam was one of 3,510 Boltonians known to have died in the Great War.


Economic situation


Foreign trade, a key part of the British economy, was badly damaged by the war.  There were problems in re-orientating industries from war production back to peacetime products.  In addition, countries cut off from the supply of British goods had been forced to build up their own industries so were no longer reliant on Britain, and were now directly competing with her.  Swingeing cuts in public spending were introduced in 1922 to ward off inflation.  The ambitious reform programme drawn up by the minister of Glossary - opens new windowreconstruction, Christopher Addison, in February 1918 - which included major public housing and health schemes - was sacrificed in favour of deflation and debt-servicing.  A 'land fit for heroes', was no longer on the agenda.  Worse was to come.  Wilson Churchill was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 and was persuaded, by the governor of the Bank of England, Montagu Norman and others, to re-establish the pre-war monetary system whereby sterling was fixed at a price reflecting the country's gold reserves.  The move resulted in massive deflation and overvaluing of the pound.  This made British manufacturing industries uncompetitive, which in turn exacerbated the massive economic problems Britain was to face in the 1930s, partly due to the Wall St crash of 1929.  Unemployment rose just below three million by 1932.  It was only with rearmament in the period immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 that the worst of the Depression was over.

World War I was a decisive moment in the decline of Britain as a world power with the United States taking its place as the leading global economic power.


The results of the war around the globe

It cannot be said that the ‘Great War’ caused all the problems which followed in various parts of the globe, but it certainly speeded up some developments.  There had been revolution in Russia in 1905 but the revolution of February 1917 eventually led to the seizure of power by Lenin’s Bolsheviks.  Without the war perhaps the changes in Russia would have been less horrific.  The same could be said about events in the German, Austria and Turkish empires.  As it was, the Treaty of Versailles, led to the creation of new nation states in Europe, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, and the Middle East especially Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, which remain unstable in 2014.  Britain imposed a Hashimite monarchy on Iraq and defined the territorial limits of Iraq without taking into account the politics of the different ethnic and religious groups in the country, in particular those of the Kurds and the Christian Assyrians to the north.  This was also the fate of what became Jordan under the British mandate.  Syria became a French mandate only to gain independence after 1945 as did Lebanon.  In May 1916 the governments of the United Kingdom, France and Russia signed the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement, which defined their proposed spheres of influence and control in Western Asia should they succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I.  The agreement effectively divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of future British and French control or influence.  Desperate for the support of organised Jewry in Russia, Germany and, above all, in the USA, the British government issued, 2 November 1917, the Balfour Declaration.  This was a letter from the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.  It stated, His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.  After much turmoil, under British rule, Palestine became Israel in 1948.

Mehmed V the Sultan of Turkey, who sided with Germany after the First World War broke out, was widely regarded as the leader of the Muslim world.  When Britain declared war on Turkey, the Muslims, including those in Singapore, were urged to oppose the British by a fatwa issued by the sultan.  On 27 January 1915, a mutiny of Muslim units occurred.  On 17 February, the French cruiser Montcalm, followed by the Russian auxiliary cruiser Orel, and Japanese warships Otowa and Tsushima arrived.  The marines from these vessels advanced on the mutineers killing many of them.  More than 200 Indian troops were later tried by court-martial, and 47 were executed, in public before, as the Straits Times [26 March 1915] reported, ‘An enormous crowd, reliably estimated at more than 15,000 people’.  As for Turkey itself, it faced military defeat, revolution and occupation.  British, French and Italian forces occupied Constantinople [Istanbul] from November 1918 to September 1923] under the terms of the Armistice of Mudros.  It was not their aim to overthrow the Turkish Sultan.  However, a Turkish republic was proclaimed on 29 October, 1923, in the new capital of Ankara.  Mustafa Kemal was elected as the first President.


Allied with Britain since 1904, Japan declared war on Germany in August 1914 and quickly occupied German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province and the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall islands in the Pacific.  With its Western allies heavily involved in the war in Europe, Japan sought further to consolidate its position in China by presenting the Twenty-One Demands to China in January 1915.  Besides taking German holdings, Japan also sought joint ownership of a major mining and metallurgical complex in central China, prohibitions on China's ceding or leasing any coastal areas to a third power, and miscellaneous other political, economic, and military controls, which, aimed to reduce China to a Japanese protectorate.  In the face of slow negotiations with the Chinese government, widespread anti-Japanese sentiments in China, and international condemnation, Japan withdrew the final group of demands, and treaties were signed in May 1915.


German President Joachim Gauck, 4 August 2014

German president Joachim Gauck delivered a forceful speech today on the actions of his own country in invading Belgium on August 4th, 1914.  Mr Gauck spoke at the official Belgian commemoration in Liège to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War where President Michael D Higgins and the assembled heads of state and dignitaries have gathered.

Mr Gauck condemned his country’s invasion of Belgium as “completely unjustifiable”.

The treaty guaranteeing Belgium neutrality was rendered “worthless” by Germany’s actions.

He also condemned the behaviour of German troops in Belgium, who shot innocent civilians and burned the world-famous Catholic library at Leuven to the ground.

“On the very first day it became apparent that standards of civilisation can be rendered null and void,” he said.

 The conduct of the German troops had spread “fear, shock and rage far and wide”.

He also excoriated the intellectuals and artists in his country for justifying the war shortly after it started.

“What had happened to the civilisation called Europe?” he asked.  [Irish Times, 4 August 2014]


David Lloyd George on the war, 1933         

 ‘One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans’.  Those were the words attributed to German statesman Otto von Bismarck in 1888.  In June 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo, on the Balkan Peninsula.  37 days after that, Europe was at war, and the world was engulfed in the most catastrophic conflict it had ever seen.  Writing in his memoirs, in 1933, the wartime Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, described the nations as slithering ‘over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war without any trace of apprehension or dismay… not one of them’ he added, wanted war, ‘certainly not on that scale.’  It almost sounds as though they had no choice.  That war was inevitable.  But is that really true?

After Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, was war really inevitable?  Or were there moments in those crucial 37 days when war could have been avoided?  Even so, given the growing nationalism and great power imperialism was a war inevitable sooner or later?