Welcome to our blog!

It's better than a bat in the eye with a burnt stick!

This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

And make sure to visit The Arnold Bennett Society for expert information and comment on all aspects of the life and work of AB.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

On a war footing

Thursday, August 6th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

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.

The British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, had spent the five weeks since the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand trying to get the different countries to negotiate - Lloyd George described him as being like the weak chairman of tempestuous committee: 'calling out in an appealing but not compelling voice: "Order! Order".'

1 August: Grey proposed to Germany that Britain would stay neutral if Germany did not attack France. Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to agree, but when he tried to pause the invasion, his generals told him that he couldn't.
2 August: The Schlieffen Plan had a error. It planned for the German army, when it attacked France, to go through Belgium. The day after declaring war on Russia, therefore, the Germans asked permission for their army to pass through Belgium. The Belgians refused! So the next day, Germany invaded Belgium.
4 August: Britain was obliged (by the Treaty of Washington, 1839) to help Belgium in the event of an invasion. Therefore, Britain sent Germany an ultimatum demanding, by midnight, a German promise to withdraw from Belgium. The Germans were amazed: 'For a scrap of paper, Great Britain is going to make war?' asked Bethmann-Hollweg.

That night, crowds gathered in Parliament Square in London. As Big Ben struck 11 pm (midnight in Berlin) they sang God Save the King, and then ran home crying: 'War! War! War!' As Grey watched the crowds leave, he commented: 'The lights are going out all over Europe: we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime'.

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.

A great crowd of holiday-makers at Clacton in the showers yesterday. No difficulty about getting change for a £10 note in gold and silver. At the fish shop, slight increases of price in poultry and eggs. The man said there was no chance for him to make money (in response to a friendly jibe of Marguerite's). He said he expected to get no more fish after that day.

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.

It may be said, I suppose, that we might stand aside, husband our strength, and that, whatever happened in the course of this war, at the end of it intervene with effect to put things right, and to adjust them to our own point of view. If, in a crisis like this, we run away [Loud cheers.] from those obligations of honour and interest as regards the Belgian treaty, I doubt whether, whatever material force we might have at the end, it would be of very much value in face of the respect that we should have lost. And I do not believe, whether a great power stands outside this war or not, it is going to be in a position at the end of it to exert its superior strength. For us, with a powerful fleet, which we believe able to protect our commerce, to protect our shores, and to protect our interests, if we are engaged in war, we shall suffer but little more than we shall suffer even if we stand aside. We are going to suffer, I am afraid, terribly in this war, whether we are in it or whether we stand aside. Foreign trade is going to stop, not because the trade routes are closed, but because there is no trade at the other end. Continental nations engaged in war all their populations, all their energies, all their wealth, engaged in a desperate struggle they cannot carry on the trade with us that they are carrying on in times of peace, whether we are parties to the war or whether we are not. I do not believe for a moment that at the end of this war, even if we stood aside and remained aside, we should be in a position, a material position, to use our force decisively to undo what had happened in the course of the war, to prevent the whole of the west of Europe opposite to us -- if that had been the result of the war -- falling under the domination of a single power, and I am quite sure that our moral position would be such as -- [the rest of the sentence -- "to have lost us all respect." -- was lost in a loud outburst of cheering]. I can only say that I have put the question of Belgium somewhat hypothetically, because I am not yet sure of all the facts, but, if the facts turn out to be as they have reached us at present, it is quite clear that there is an obligation on this country to do its utmost to prevent the consequences to which those facts will lead if they are undisputed.... 
from Grey's speech to Parliament - August 3rd., 1914.

The hope for us is in the honesty and efficiency of our administration. The fear for France springs from the fact that the majority of French politicians are notoriously rascals, out for plunder. The corruption of Russian administration is probably even worse. The seriousness of the average French private will atone for a lot, but it will not - for instance - create boots for him. The hope for France is that the German army, arrogant in its traditions etc., may be lower than its reputation.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment