We are at war. Two days ago the German armies crossed the Meuse into Belgium, and a British ultimatum demanding German withdrawal expired at 11 p.m. on the same day.
On arriving at Brightlingsea on Monday afternoon, I was told that petrol could not be got in the district; that it was fetching up to 10s. a tin at Clacton; and that Baggaley, the regular hirer of motor cars at B'sea had gone forth in an attempt to get petrol. At Clacton yesterday the price was 2s. 3d. or 2s. 4d. a gallon. I have 60 gallons in stock.
Yesterday we heard noise of explosions destroying inconvenient houses at Harwich. The sensations of Harwich people must be poignant. Nevertheless, the G.E.R. in yesterday evening's papers was advertising its Hook of Holland service (with restaurant cars etc.) exactly as usual, and I believe the boat left last night. We also heard thunder; and the children affirm that they distinctly heard the noise of firing - not explosions. (Report of action in North Sea in evening papers.) I saw one warship in the offing at Clacton; but an ordinary steamer coming to the pier, and a barge sailing northwards.
An officer came yesterday to complain of a fox-terrier (? ours) which flew at despatch-riders on motor-bicycles. He said it would be shot if found loose. These despatch-riders are the most picturesque feature of the war here. They rush through the villages at speeds estimated up to 50 miles an hour. I am willing to concede 40.
I agree that Russia is the real enemy, and not Germany; and that a rapprochement between England and Germany is a certainty. But I doubt whether it is wise, in the actual conduct of affairs, to try to see so far ahead. I think that the belligerency of England is a mistake - for England. Yet if I had to choose, I believe my instinct would have forced me to make war.
Sir Edward Grey's outstanding mistake, in his big speech, was the assertion that the making of war would not much increase our suffering. It will enormously increase it.
After reading the diplomatic papers leading up to the rupture between England and Germany, this morning, one has to admit that Sir E. Grey did everything he could, once he had stated his position. The war is a mistake on our part, but other things leading to it were a mistake, and, these things approved or condoned, the war must be admitted to be inevitable. Judged by any current standard, Sir E. Grey is a man of high common sense. He has not yet grasped the movement of social evolution; but then very few people have. And you cannot properly or fairly try to govern a country on a plane of common sense too high above its own general plane.
Apart from Germany two countries are pre-eminently suffering at the beginning of the war _ France and Belgium. Both are quite innocent; Belgium touchingly so. I can imagine the Germans among them if they get the upper hand. The Germans are evidently quite ruthless and brutal and savage in war. This is logical; but a large part of their conduct is due to arrogant military tradition, which will one day be smashed. If Germany is smashed in this war, the man most imperilled will be the German Emperor. If she is not smashed the man most imperilled may be the Tsar.
I am told, convincingly, that a firm at Clacton is making an extra £50 a week out of bread, through increased charges for which there is no justification. It appears that the farmers all round have raised the price of butter 3d. a pound.
Miss Osborne and a girl friend came round yesterday afternoon to ask for linen or subscriptions for the local branch of the Red Cross Society. Mrs. Byng is ready to lend Thorpe Hall for a hospital. These young ladies have no orders or permissions yet from the War Office; but they wish to be in readiness. This instinct to do something on the part of idle young women or half-idle is satisfactory to behold.
On the day after the war, our nephews who are staying with us wanted a tent. They had one, beyond the pond. It cost one day's labour of a carpenter. This tent is used by everybody except me nearly all the time. The whole household seems to live in it. Today the boys are making wooden swords. Yesterday a village boy gave me a military salute.
Edith Johnston recounts how her father is laying in ammunition against the time when the populace will raid the countryside demanding provisions; he, being a farmer, is to be called on early in the proceedings, and he is determined to give out his stores evenly and not to the strongest. Each morning he summons all his men and explains to them the course of the war, so that they shall not be misled by rumours. Edith thinks that a war is necessary and advisable, as the population is too thick.