July 1914, Sir Edward Grey and World War I
"When, in the wake of the Sarajevo assissinations, it became clear in London that the government in Austria intended demanding 'some compensation in the sense of some humiliation for Serbia', Grey's first reaction was to worry how Russia might react...
"The Russian ambassador in Vienna made it clear as early as 8 July that 'Russia would be compelled to take up arms in defence of Serbia' if Austria 'rushed into war...'"(90)
The split-second British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey heard the June 28th news he should have risen from his desk in London like a cannonshot and bolted to Paris to set up a tentative meeting of the representatives of the Great Powers. If Grey was organized, he would have had the travel arrangements made long ago, ready the moment he needed them.
Regicide is a serious danger, and if what happened to Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo had happened to one of the other Great Powers, the reaction might also have been intense.
Thus, the British Foreign Secretary wasting zero time arriving in Paris after the June 28th news may well have impressed the representatives of the other Great Powers to be a bit less resistant to an informal meeting. At least he wasn't sitting around in London expecting them to all travel to Britain to arbitrate the crisis. London circa 1914 may have been the center of many things, but the center of European native languages wasn't one of them.
Grey would have to impress upon the representatives that he wasn't trying to interfere, it was only that the alliance/entente/treaty systems in Europe gave even local crises the ability to expand very fast by unwittingly dragging the Great Powers in if they weren't promptly resolved. Just because previous continental crises had taken up to a year to successfully resolve is no assurance that future crises would fit the same template.It would have be clear to the other Great Powers that this time the tennis champ was not going to waste time sitting around in London or fishing/birdwatching/chasing women (as he had done before), hoping on occasion to drop into the Foreign Office and make recommendations on Continental crises with a tiny telegraph wire from his bunker at Whitehall.
- London to Paris by bicycle, horseback:London to Dover is under 100 miles. Another 200 miles or so to Paris. The nature-loving power-walking tennis champ could have walked from London via the Dover ferry to Paris, possibly listening to some of his favorite birds along the way, in 8-10 days, arriving by July 9th or so in Paris. The tennis champ, although he probably didn't participate in the infamous Six-Day-Racing events, nevertheless to his credit reportedly could bicycle at least a very impressive 60 miles a day. The 1903 Tour de France was some 1,500 miles with an average speed of 16mph.(97) Since the tennis champ had to go only 1/5 that distance, assuming a speed of 10mph would be about 4-5 days to arrive in Paris. If he was motivated. And that's the the key point. In 1907 steam turbine ocean liners were arriving in New York in 5 days from Liverpool.(98) In 1200AD mail riders for the Mongol Empire could reportedly cover 100-175 miles/day. A Mongol rider would undress, be wrapped tight with mummy tape, dress, mount his horse and go. If at night he became tired he could sleep - as long as he kept riding. T'was the mummy tape kept him upright, a not well-known key to superior Mongol communications across all Asia. So in 1200AD that’s 2.5-3 days maximum for a Mongol mail rider wrapped in mummy tape to cover 300 miles. If Genghis Kahn had the the lives of thousands of his men at risk, definitely sooner than that.
In the late 1500's even Queen Elizabeth I traveled throuthout England on horseback, taking some 25 "Royal Progresses."
It's vital to remember that July 1914 would have the lives of almost 15,000,000 Europeans, Britishers, Australians, Americans, Irish, Scotsmen and many more at risk. Assuming that in 1914 Grey could ride, and it was a very popular sport in Britain - even British women rode horses - the tennis champ should have been able to ride to Paris by July 4th or 5th.
_____________________________________________________How about taking an automobile to Paris? WWI would prove that the lives of 800,000 British soldiers and the Empire would be at stake. What was the true value of the British Empire? Was Paris really that far away? Did Grey upon receipt of the June 28th news really need to motivate himself to stand up, get the hell out of London and get himself to Paris as promptly as possible? Couldn't the trip have been put off a couple more days (indefinitely)? Surely it was a lot cozier - and a 1000X more comfortable - fly-fishing from his hut at Itchen Abbas in Hampshire, chasing skirts, birdwatching, or tossing back a pint at Brooks while shooting billiards after work with like-minded cohorts from the Cabinet or the Foreign Office. Or even killing time at Wimbleton (he was a school tennis champ). Wouldn't the tiny telegraph wire work just as well to coordinate a meeting for the July Crisis as it did for all the previous ones? The Austria-Serbian Crisis wasn't really Britain's problem, Grey assumed. If Grey just dropped in to the Foreign Office and used the tiny telegraph wire why couldn't he keep fishing in the Hampshire countryside while waiting for a telegram from the unfriendly Great Powers? Hadn’t Great Britain survived 1,000 years w/o having to race across the channel at the beck and call of every little continental squabble? From a British point of view, it had a certain logic: "Fog in Channel - Continent cut Off." __________________________________________________What if Grey was motivated to act, however? A German Krupp "Paris"gun - range 75 miles - would have zero trouble passing through the heaviest channel fog. Britain had been defeated/invaded before. Julius Caesar had stepped onto the island more than once. The Roman Emperor Hadrian also. And what about the Battle of Hastings? The 1066AD Norman Invasion. The Vikings. And the Dutch, what about William of Orange?
Apart from his complacent co-horts at Whitehall, what if Grey was concerned about the June 28th news and the risk of a serious Austria-Serbia political/military crisis, with Russia backing Serbia and Germany backing Austria-Hungary, with von Hotzendorf leading the charge? Regicide was a terrible act, after all, Britain was a monarchy and should have been able to appreciate Austria-Hungary's outrage. Unfortunately, Britain had an alliance with Russia. Russia might not take kindly to Austria flattening Serbia in revenge. It could become a serious and intractable crisis if it wasn't handled deftly and quickly.
The military strategists von Clausewitz and Sun Tsu imply that big events can unfold from tiny causes. And the June 28th regicide was not a tiny event. For sure Grey would know if he decided to act he could be met with harsh criticism from those in the British cabinet war party. And since Grey had been overseas only once, he wouldn't know anything about the actual situation on the ground in Austria-Hungary, Serbia, or Russia. He could also be facing other factions in the British government, each with their own reasons not to get involved in the Balkans.Also, well-spoken colonial Brits have been known to look down their noses at visitors to the country unable to converse in the Queen's Received English. The Brits had a drawerful of witticisms about it. The problem was what if the French did the same. It was certain they did, or certainly they could. The tennis champ might arrive to greet one of England's oldest enemies, only to find himself courted by bored French officials who, tired of the Caillaux trial sucking all the oxygen out of the Paris newspapers, decided to making a game out of seemingly flattering Grey while mocking his obviously sex-repressed British style in indecipherable French. The mono-linguistic Grey, already slightly paranoid about all the countries across the channel, might not be sure if he was being warmly welcomed or gently snickered off the continent. With a great big ear for birds - but stone deaf when it came to the French language - sitting at Whitehall and tapping out telegrams from behind the moat (the channel) was unquestionably less of a risk to British pride.
________________________________________________________________Many of Grey's colleagues were city boys or academics. It is difficult to imagine, for example, Churchill even playing a physical sport like tennis or soccer. The only sport Churchill could excel at was probably British Roulette, to see who can become the best role model for the alcohol and tobacco industry in ruining their health the fastest by drinking, smoking and gluttony. That stiff, upper lip had to come from somewhere. Seriously, the idea of Churchill being a champion in a major physical sport was about as likely as his possessing the willpower for quitting alcohol, tobacco and going on a severe diet. Edward Grey, on the other hand, WAS a tennis champion. And to his great credit, that's a very physical activity! Plus he was an impressive bicycle rider and also took innumerable walks in Nature. How many cigar smokers become tennis champions? Or heavy drinkers? That eliminates Winston and Asquith.
No, if upon receipt of the June 28th news Grey had wanted to motivate himself to take some prompt and independent physical action with a political intent, he might have to look beyond those Whitehall mandarins all faced in exactly the wrong direction: towards Ireland and the North Atlantic Sea. It would have been the scariest moment of Grey's career as a top British gov't official. As Grey himself would say in June 1916:
"The conference we proposed, or The Hague reference proposed by the Czar, would have settled the quarrel in a little time. I think a conference would have settled it in a week..."(99)
________________________________________Possibly. If he'd acted at once. Before anybody started making any irrevocable moves they couldn't back up from. It's a bit like the difference between chess and checkers. In checkers it's one square per move. That would be the British Foreign Office in July 1914. However in chess the entire table can be crossed in one move. The #1 physical action hero Ernest Shackleton was only just coming up to the starting line. But next would far and away have to be one of the gutsiest and most powerful physical action men on the Continent, Prince Borghese in the Peking-to-Paris automobile race 7 years earlier, in 1907:
- 1907 Peking-to-Paris automobile race:"In a article in the French newspaper Le Martin in January of 1907, the editors raised a challenge to the world..We ask this question of car manufacturers in France and abroad: Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Paris to Peking by automobile? Whoever he is, this tough andPrince Borghese and his driver took an automobile from Peking all the way to Paris in 61 days, 40% around the circumference of the Earth under conditions so harsh as to deter most of even the toughest men on earth.
daring man, whose gallant car will have a dozen nations watching its progress, he will certainly deserve to have his name spoken as a byword in the four quarters of the earth..."The contestants consisted of eleven men driving five cars: Charles Godard and Jean du Taillis (a correspondent for the Le Matin) would drive a 15-horsepower (HP) Dutch Spyker. A pair of French auto dealers sponsored matching 10HP De Dion Boutons. Another Frenchman named Auguste Pons would try his luck with a tiny three-wheeled 6HP Contal. The final, and most powerful car, was a 40HP Itala driven by Prince Scipio Borghese... "In many cases there would be no real roads, but forest paths and caravan trails... "Before the race started, [Borghese] took a three-hundred mile ride on horseback to the mountain passes north of Peking carrying a bamboo pole cut to the width of his car to see if the Itala could squeeze through the tight trails. Where the way was too narrow, Borghese found an alternate route or hired troops of coolies to widen the path... "The start of the race was set for June 10th. The only problem was that the Chinese government, after first authorizing the race, refused to provide the racers with papers to travel through Mongolia... "Soon they approached the Western mountains that separated northern China from the Mongolian plains. The paths were narrow. In some places the trail was cut out of a cliff with a shear drop into a gorge only inches from the car's tires. Much of the road was too steep for the car's little engines, and mules or men pulling ropes hitched to the cars were needed to drag them through the mountain passes. "After the mountains the next obstacle for the racers was the forbidding Gobi Desert. Pons quickly ran out of gas and he and his co-driver found themselves stranded... Fortunately nomadic Mongolians found the pair before the heat killed them. Pons, having narrowly escaped with his life, decided to give up the race....His little three-wheeled car was left to rust in the desert. "The racers kept on track through the desert by following the telegraph line.The engines on their cars were not built with such intense heat in mind and quickly started boiling over. This meant the teams were forced to feed the radiators their own reserves of drinking water to keep them running... ["There were often no roads, no petrol stations and no one who had ever seen a motor car before. Camels and mules were sent ahead to establish petrol depots." (100)] "Barzini [Prince Borghese's reporter] used the telegraph to report back to his newspaper as often as he could. At the tiny village of Hong-Pong, Barzini strode into the telegraph office to send that day's report. He noticed that his telegram was marked as 'No. 1' At first Barzini thought that meant it was the first telegraph sent that day. He was amazed to find out it meant that his was the first telegraph to originate from Hong-Pong in the six years the station had been there... "The Wilderness of Siberia. Borghese hoped that he would make good time traveling through Siberia. The maps showed a military road stretching across the wilderness. What the maps did not show was that the road had been abandoned when the Trans-Siberian Railway had been completed four years before. The forest had reclaimed much of the road and many bridges had been washed away. Others were in bad shape. Borghese took to running at them at full throttle trying to get across before they collapsed completely... "The race nearly ended for the Itala when it tried to cross one bridge. Guizzardi was at the wheel and Borghese ordered him to drive slowing across the rickety structure. They'd gotten more than halfway when suddenly the planks under the Itala's rear wheels gave way. The back of the car plunged through the bridge as the vehicle did a backwards somersault. Barzini, the reporter, fell the farthest. He found himself under the bridge with a rain of broken planks and debris falling on him. "Borghese found himself hanging under the car covered with oil. Guizzardi, who was thrown from his seat in the fall, managed to extract the Prince and the reporter from the wreckage. It was a miracle that all three survived without major injury...It took three hours to pull the car from the wreckage of the bridge and get it back on to the road, but when Guizzardi cranked the handle, the machine started right up... "Occasionally the racers would use the railway tracks for a road. Two planks would be used to allow the car to mount the track with one set of wheels riding on the outside of the rails and one on the inside...Once the Itala got stuck on the tracks before an oncoming train. The crew worked furiously trying to get it loose with levers. They got it safely off just in time... "In order to cope with the mud, Prince Borghese had wrapped chains round the wheels to give them traction. This worked well but put stress on the wooden spokes making them crack. Temporary repairs were made but the problem continued to worsen. Finally the left-front wheel splintered into pieces leaving the Itala stuck, unable to move another foot. Fortunately the nearest village contained a cartwright of considerable skill. He managed to chop a new wheel for Borghese out of aged pinewood using only a hatchet... "On August 10th, 1907, the Itala entered Paris winning the race. It had taken sixty-one days to drive from Peking to Paris. Crowds cheered and lined the streets into the city...The racers' feat stands alone as one of the most sensational achievements, unequaled, in automobile history."(101)
One upshot of Prince Borghese' colossal victory in the Peking to Paris motor-race was that by comparison traveling from London-to-Paris was an absolute joke. A 7-year old British child accompanied by his mother could have done London-Paris in a week at the most. The anti-continental British Foreign Secretary Grey could have been carried from Whitehall to Paris by stretcher and still had time to get his work done resolving the Austria/Serbia /Russian crisis. As motivated diplomats worldwide prove time and time again, not every intense political crisis can be solved by resolute physical inaction.
- London-to-Paris by motorcar in 1914:"The Baroness Campbell von Laurentz for example, took up motoring in 1900 and soon began to travel widely, contributing articles to such publications as Car Illustrated, Autocar, Ladies’ Field, and Heart and Home... "The baroness, indefatigable in her love for the sport, was also an inventor, designing her own solution to the problem of transporting luggage in a car that provided accommodation to passengers alone that plagued all early motorists... "...Miss Mee of Chichester Cathedral, who, in 1905, became the first lady to pass ‘the examination in driving and general proficiency set by the Royal Automobile Club for the owners of cars.’”(102)Did Whitehall’s foreign policy tennis champ have a drivers license? The timing was perfect - by 1914 automobiles in London were all the rage:"...the motorcar increased the amount of time spent on leisure activities. No longer were weekend parties hasty, hectic affairs as the motorcar allowed parties to speed from London to the countryside for what hostesses fondly called 'Saturday-to-Mondays'. Affairs were carried about more easily, as a wife or husband was now able to drive to a quick rendezvous with a lover in an inn or tavern and back before their unsuspecting spouse could comment upon their absence."(103)The tennis champ could use a motorcar to also indulge in his favorite “non-London” playtime activities. When Grey was ready to return from Paris, he could telegraph the Foreign Office and simply tell them he was still working on the Austria-Serbian Crisis and it would take another week at least. But since the Foreign Office and the British Cabinet apparently kept such loose track of him, there’s no reason Grey could not have serreptiously returned to London that day, keeping the motorcar to go to the countryside to do what he really liked. At some point the Cabinet/Foreign Office might begin to miss him. Then he could drive to the Foreign Office, ready for business. Voila! Now how Edwardian would that be?"Countless books were published between the years 1896 and 1914, recounting motor tours in both remote and accessible places like the Hebrides and France, as well as in places uncharted by the motorcar, such as Tunisia, China or Siberia. This new form of holidaying was incorporated into the itineraries of trusted travel agents such as Thomas Cook & Son among others, who provided maps of possible touring routes as well as the locations of petrol stations."(104)Even Queen Alexandra had a motorcar. By 1910, there were almost 5,000 taxis in Britain(105). At Whitehall, Grey could have stepped in a Unic taxicab, made in (surprise, surprise) Paris, France, taken the ferry to Calais, stepped in another Unic and at 30mph arrived Paris in 12-15 hours or so. By 1908 the extraordinary Vauxhall Prince Henry, named after Prince Henry of Prussia, the Kaiser's younger brother (what a coincidence) was one of the best designed cars in Britain. By 1910 the car’s designer, Laurence Pomeroy “had persuaded a modified 20hp Vauxhall to reach 100mph at Brooklands.”(106) Brooklands was the key to finding the fastest, most reliable cars and drivers:“The famous high-banked concrete speedbowl of Brooklands was the first purpose-built motor sports venue in the world, but it was also a magnificent proving ground for the British motor industry - and a showplace for winners like Vauxhall.”(107)A Vauxhall Prince Henry might put the tennis champ in Paris in under 10 hours. If Grey had asked Pomeroy to modify it to do 100mph, then less, depending on road conditions. As for the Vuxhall’s reliability:“...proof of Vauxhall’s sporting credentials came in 1908 when Percy Kidner’s ‘12/16’ Vauxhall finished the RAC’s 15-day, 2000-mile International Touring Car Trial without any penalty, without a single breakdown or any kind of repair work, replacement or adjustment, without adding oil or water, without even a tyre stop - the first car ever to complete the Trial distance with no unplanned stop of any kind.”(108)London to Paris was a joke. The 1914 Vuxhall 30-98 was yet another big advance, a stunning motorcar for the Foreign Secretary: “one of the greatest sports cars of the twentieth century and the first in the UK to top 100mph in production form...commonly considered the UK’s first sports car.(109) Depending on road conditions, in as little as 6-8 hours the tennis champ might be in Paris. A very luxurious option for the tennis champ would be the 1914 Mercedes 28/95:"The 28/95 hp model produced from 1914 onwards laid the foundation of the DMG's tradition of particularly exclusive and powerful top automobiles...For the first time a Mercedes production car was fitted with an overhead camshaft and valves arranged in V-position. The model according to which this aggregate was constructed was the Daimler aircraft engine DF 80..."(110)The 1914 Mercedes 28/95 top speed was 130 kilometers/hr, which would put Grey into Paris in under 6 hours. Better still would have been taking a 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost:"In 1906, Rolls-Royce built the magnificent ‘Silver Ghost’ and by 1914 was producing cars that were recognized as 'The Best Cars in the World.' You could stand by the side of an idling Silver Ghost, for example, and not even be aware that the engine was running."(111) "A top speed of 80+ mph was possible in a Ghost like this one."(112)A resplendent 1914 Rolls Royce SG could have put Grey in Paris in as little as 8-10 hours. What classier way to show up in Paris? Even King Edward VII had owned one. These suggestions may seem a bit extravagant, or excessive. However distant scoffers might want to take a day trip to Verdun or especially the Somme.(113) Then if they still feel like taking a Rolls Royce SG (to try and set up a Great Powers Conference) would not have been worth stopping that, they can object.
- Charing Cross (London) to Paris by Wagonlits luxury railway train in 1914:Another very luxurious London-to-Paris option for Whitehall's tennis champ:"Around 1900, the European elite wintered on the French Riviera. Discovered in the 19th century by the English aristocracy, the sunny Côte d'Azur attracted fashionable tourists from all over Europe...The main target group were well-to-do Englishmen who arrived at Calais from the connecting channel ferries. In 28 hours they were transferred from London to Nice. "A network of luxury trains — exclusively composed of first-class teak Wagons-Lits sleeping and dining cars — took wealthy travelers directly to the Riviera during the winter season. Not only from London and Paris, but also from Amsterdam, Berlin and even St. Petersburg...Nice had a great appeal to European royalty. Queen Victoria, the Belgian King Leopold II and the Russian Tsars Nicholas II and Alexander II stayed there regularly."(114)28 hours from London to Nice, France meant that departing London-Liverpool Street Station, it might be as little as 9 or 10 hours for Grey's first-class carriage to arrive in Paris on June 29th. After all, Queen Victoria traveled on a train as far back as 1842. King Edward VII had his own Royal Carriage. The tennis champ knew the languages of the Alien Great Powers were byzantine hierglyphics to him. It’s almost easier to imagine Grey flapping his arms and going aloft like his bird-friends than condescending to learning Hungarian, or Russian. Nevertheless, he must have realized that eye-to-eye communication for arbitration with representatives of the Great Powers would be vastly safer than using a tiny telegraph wire that during crises was prone to over-loading, or worse, delayed information, or worse still, doctored information, a.k.a., fake news. Therefore, if Grey had been thinking ahead, he could have beseeched the Foreign Office to procure a Pullman express carriage attached to an express high-speed locomotive, ready to depart London Liverpool Street 24 hours a day 7 days/week. For high-speed locomotives the British National Railway Museum says: "...by 1900 speeds approaching 100mph were possible, but in general top speeds for many express services were not greater than 75mph or so."(115) Even at only 75mph it might be under 10 hours to Paris. To eliminate restaurant stops Grey could have asked for an LMS Dining Car to be put into service(116). On the other hand, Nice, France in the 1900's seems like it might have been the perfect location for an informal meeting of the Great Powers' representatives. London to Nice in 28 hours. Maybe the British Foreign Secretary should have invited everyone to meet/vacation in Nice. Relax a couple days, enjoy the georgeous Mediterranean views, the beach/swimming, the best French cuisine, spirits, music and female company, then informally get the representatives of the Great Powers meeting onto some detail work for the rapidly looming Austria-Serbia Crisis. King Edward VII, had he been alive, might well have readily approved.
- Hendon Aerodrome (London) to Paris by aircraft/zeppelin in 1914:
A very fast option for the Foreign Secretary: The Daily Telegraph(94) for July 13, 1914 has American pilot Walter Brock winning the London-to-Paris Roundtrip Air-Race by taking off from Hendon Aerodrome at 7:45am, flying to Paris and speeding back again across the channel to London in 7hrs 3 minutes (RT 500 miles), averaging 71mph.(117) The Austria-Serbia Crisis was blowing up at this exact moment. Grey could have chartered from Grahame-White a flight departing Hendon Aerodrome and in under 4-5 hours arrived in Paris just in time to possibly see French President Poincaire before he departs for St. Petersburg. If Grey was thinking ahead he could have had a plane prepared for the flight and waiting in a hanger at the Aerodrome, with a couple ace British pilots on 24-hour call. German pilots might have made the Foreign Secretary uneasy. Grey could have asked the Grahame-White Flying School to make in-advance arrangements for the airplane to refill at Hardelot (France), the same airport Walter Brock used to refill. Now how easy would that have been? Even a 1911 LZ 10 Schwaben Zeppelin (which carried the Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife), the first commercially successful passenger-carrying aircraft (218 flights) traveling at 47mph with a range of 900 miles(118) could have put Whitehall's tennis champ in just 8 hours or less into Paris - if it had not been destroyed by a gale in 1912. But many other Zeppelins might have been commercially available for the right price. Try and remember there were to be near one million British lives at stake, in addition to seven million European lives:“Between 1910 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, DELAG zeppelins carried over 34,000 passengers on over 1,500 flights, without a single injury. The majority of the passengers were given free flights to publicize the zeppelin industry (especially members of German royalty, military officers, aristocrats, government officials, and business leaders), but DELAG also carried 10,197 paying passengers before having to cease operations with the beginning of the war.”(119)
- World's fastest London to Paris transport in 1914:Last but for sure not least for the motivated British Foreign Secretary, yet another German-engineered invention, the alarmingly fast 1909 Mercedes "Lightning Benz":Grey might have wanted to hire a driver for that. Depending upon road conditions in 4-6 hours Grey could have arrived in Paris, ready to get down to business.
"In 1911, 'The Lightning Benz' was faster (225.65 km/h – 140.21 mph) than anything on land, sea or air."(120)
"In 1909 the Lightning Benz became the first European car to break the 125 mph barrier. Powered by a massive four-cylinder powerplant, the Lightning posted its most famous performances in Florida. In 1911 Bob Burman recorded 142 mph on the Daytona sand track, making the car the fastest vehicle on the planet – quicker even than any aircraft or train."(121)
Throughout July 1914 a British Prime Minister, HH Asquith, aka "Squiff" for his love of the bottle, was simultaneously distracted by both a huge crisis in Ulster sucking all the air out of British newspapers, the Suffragettes, and an equally huge crush on his 27-year-old Venetia Stanley, writing an astonishing 560 love letters to her, often 3 times a day, even during fierce cabinet disagreements and meetings:“Asquith, though, began to claim more of Venetia’s time. Often they took drives in his new Napier on Friday afternoons to the more rural parts of London – Richmond, Roehampton or Hampstead. They would meet from time to time at luncheon or dinner parties. Sometimes he would call on her in the early evening at her parents’ house in Mansfield Street and she would often visit the Asquiths in Downing Street.”(122)As A. Adonis puts it:"As late as 24 July, at the end of a letter mostly about the Ulster crisis, Asquith simply notes: “Happily there seems to be no reason why we should be anything more than spectators [in any European conflict].”(123)Spectators indeed. July 1914 was the last summer of the British Empire. More like the Last Supper.(124)
By July 29 Serbia had mobilized, von Hotzendorf had received orders for a partial Austrian mobilization, Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia. Bombardment of Belgrade began; the Russian Steamroller mobilised on the Austrian frontier.
On July 31st Austria-Hungary ordered general mobilisation and Germany moved to a ‘state of imminent threat of war.'
On August 1st, that next evening, Whitehall's Foreign Secretary, former tennis champ Edward Grey could be found playing billiards at Brooks.(125)
Adonis continues:August 1, 1914 The Daily Telegraph reports:
"It is evident that Asquith did not appreciate the magnitude of the European crisis until 1 August, three days before the German invasion of Belgium. Until the day before, he had been planning to attend a weekend house party with Stanley in Anglesey. Grey was also at his country house for weekends in July."(126)
"Mr. Asquith cancelled his week-end visit to Chester..."(127)August 2 France declares a state of siege.
Not to be distracted, Asquith writes his mistress Venetia Stanley.(128)
Not to be outdone, Grey "...went off to London zoo to look at the birds."(129)
"Herbert Henry Asquith’s weekend has been ruined. The 62 year old prime minister had planned to go away with Miss Venetia Stanley (26), but the crisis is keeping him in London."(130)
24 hours later Germany declares war on France and the British Army mobilizes for war.
As theorized at the outset of this website, it is monstrously apparent Whitehall was caught firmly in the sharp talons of a leisure-class mentality, the seat of government effectively AWOL by dint of a bunch of leisure-addicted playboys: "Even on August 5 1914, the day World War I was declared, Asquith found time to pen Venetia a tender missive."(130a)
The British christened their island kingdom Great Britain. Unfortunately, Aristotle said the cook is not the best judge of a meal. As far as greatness goes, July 1914 is when the British could have stepped up to the plate and started acting like it. It is not as if it takes an Ian Fleming to guess what Asquith, Grey and the House of Lords were doing absent their posts at Whitehall and Parliment during the singular most important political month in the history of the human race.
It is far from certain a World War ever could have ever started if upon receipt of the June 28th news Grey had got the hell to Paris, Asquith had instantly quit drinking gallons of alcohol, quit writing piles of love letters during cabinet meetings, quit leaving his post at Whitehall every weekend to chase Ms. Stanley around his country home, and above all, quit delegating his personal responsibility for the safety of all England and his personal responsibility for the lives of all Britishers and got the hell to work immediately.In 1918, after 4 years of fearsome slaughter on all sides, E. Grey paused his fishing, billiards and chasing women long enough to admit:"...if as a result of this war men of all nations will desire in future to stamp out the first sign of war as they would a forest fire or the plague, then the world may have a peace and security that it has never yet known."(131)That should have been the 1st lesson Grey was schooled in BEFORE officially taking up his post at the Foreign Office in 1905. Not after. The way he is writing, it is tempting to wonder whether Grey was pleading a defense that he wasn't taught that as Foreign Secretary. Unfortunately, Grey states he had no special training for his position as Foreign Secretary. It is the position of this website that it apparently took an actual World War and the killing of millions and millions for the British Foreign Secretary to wake up to what his primary responsibility at Whitehall even was. That WWI could have happened is evidence for the theory that Edward Grey was encouraged at the get-go to focus on foreign commercial opportunities - at the expense of European stability. It took some years to build up enough misunderstandings and the concomitant political pressure, but by July 1914 this seemingly clever maneuver would backfire.
By the war's end the number of the dead across Europe = at least 8 million, 800,000 of them British men, women and children. 8 million corpses placed end to end would stretch from Dover to Calais and back again some 200 times. That's not including World War I's 6 million dead civilians and about 9,000,000 wounded.
As for what the USA was doing, as mentioned, on June 27, 1914, Colonel Edward House, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's emissary, met with Foreign Secretary Edward Grey in London:
"The meeting, part of a diplomatic tour of Europe that House made during the early summer of 1914, took place several weeks after House’s arrival in London, the previous June 9, after visiting Berlin, Germany, and Paris, France.
"The purpose of House’s trip was to persuade Germany and Britain to join with the United States in a diplomatic alliance in order to preserve peace, not only in Europe but in the world. House had long believed that, due to the mass amount of military and naval might the great powers of Europe had accumulated, they, along with America, could work together to prevent major wars."(132)
House had even gone to Berlin to talk with the Kaiser. Apparently House could not persuade Berlin and London to agree to sit down for talks. The very next day the Archduke and his consort were killed in Sarajevo. It would be of interest to learn what exactly else the diplomat E.M. House could have done to persuade Berlin, Paris and London of the risk they were taking with their tremendous stockpiling of armaments.
One possibility is if right after the June 28th regicide, Colonel House - who WAS highly-motivated - had taken the Wagon-Lits overnight sleeper train departing Charing Cross to Vienna and sought an audience with Emperor Franz Joseph and hopefully Austrian Army Chief of Staff von Hotzendorf. After getting an earful, and then sensing the situation on the ground, Colonel House could travel back to London and convey some of the intense outrage in Vienna over the regicide.
Colonel House might have been able to ask British Foreign Secretary Grey to consider returning to Vienna with him to offer to set up a meeting with representatives of the Great Powers so as to make sure to keep the conflict localized. House could point out, although Grey knew it far better than House did, that Britain had an entente with Russia, and that Russia was Serbia's protector.
House might say the Americans were concerned that Europe's entangled alliance systems might have the consequence that if Austria moved against Serbia, Russia might intervene, and depending upon Germany's position, that might ultimately begin to drag France and eventually even Britain in.
This had to be done before Kaiser Wilhelm departed July 6 for a vacation on his yacht off Norway and before French President Poincare departed July 16 on his yacht tour to Russia. It turned out that leaving Berlin would create severe communication problems and misunderstandings between Wilhelm II and his generals. And the Germans reportedly blocked many crucial telegrams French President Poincare was sending/receiving on his yacht after July 16th.
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey himself admitted in 1916 that a conference could have settled the entire affair in a week. It is possible the only one on the Continent with enough spine to push Grey into setting up a meeting right away in either Vienna or Paris would have been the highly-motivated American Colonel House.
The war clouds over Europe loomed so large and so dark even the Americans - from all the way across the Atlantic Ocean - were alarmed. So if the Americans, from such a vast distance away, were alarmed, considering the destrutiveness of WWI, it should be assumed that every capitol in Europe/Britain was then grossly under-estimating the risk of a General War. And that was even before the June 28th outrage.
Had she lived longer, just the sheer presence of Sobriety Incarnate, HM Queen Victoria, might easily have been enough to discourage any German attempt to prod Austria-Hungary, or, for that matter, quell any of Whitehall's myopic anti-German sentiment, specifically because the German military was the single major power standing between Britain and Russian military excursions on the European continent. HM Queen Victoria:
"The Queen has long seen with deep regret the persevering efforts made by the Times, which leads the rest of our Press, in attacking, vilifying, and abusing everything German, and particularly everything Prussian.
" ...it has assumed that tone of virulence, which could not fail to produce the deepest indignation amongst the people of Germany, and by degrees estrange the feelings of the people of this country from Germany.
"Lord Palmerston, probably not reading any German newspaper, nor having any personal intercourse with that country, can hardly be aware to what extent the mischief has already gone, though he will agree with the Queen that national hatred between these two peoples is a real political calamity for both."(133)
A far-sighted Queen:
"[In 2013]...the UK recently overtook France and the US to become Germany's single largest trading partner. David Marsh points out, in a note published today, that Germany's combined trade with the UK in the first nine months of 2012 came to 153bn euros (£128bn; $204bn).
"That's more than France or the US. Figures on the UK side suggest that the reverse is also true - that the UK's total trade with Germany is now slightly higher than with any other country, including the US."(134)
Again, HM Queen Victoria:
"...national hatred between these two peoples is a real political calamity for both."
However, maybe that's why she was the Queen and those clever playboys in Whitehall during July 1914 weren't. Maybe that's why Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years - and they didn't. By 1914 Whitehall had completely forgotten several of the monarchy's strongest warnings. In that sense perhaps the outbreak of World War I was less of a surprise than is commonly advertised.
Many of those in Whitehall who knew better but didn't want to be caught out at having done nothing throughout July 1914 played possum. Unable to see the forest for the leaf, London's struggle to prevent a German challenge for industry and commerce was soon to cost Britain it's empire, with gastly consequences for European and world stability.
HM Queen Victoria's son, the uneducated and hedonistic but intuitively talented King Edward VII, had insisted on a cosmopolitan presence in Europe, which may have turned out to be what Britain needed. In that sense he was a better King than his educated critics expected, although the gluttonous side of him was clearly a destructive role-model for the British upper-classes.
It is worth noting that after the self-indulgent Hanoverians that HM Queen Victoria was incredibly motivated to project the complete opposite image to all British people and indeed to all Europeans. Reportedly a very rebellious child, possibly Bertie's parents and tutors could not convey to him the danger of projecting a Hanoverian image for the Crown. HM Queen Victoria was distraught over the possibility of Bertie becoming King.
One of a handful of England's greatest monarchs, she had decades to wonder to herself whether she and her husband had possibly pushed the boy too hard in his studies. As great as monarchy can be, the irremoveable achilles heel of monarchy is succession.
And make no mistake, she knew it. It was almost as if at some unconscious level Queen Victoria's decades-long mourning period reflected her immense concern for what happens to the irreplaceable Great Britain after Bertie takes over as much as it was for her husband Prince Albert. It was almost as if in her mourning she was trying to tell Great Britain how deeply she felt she had let the country down. If she wasn't a great monarch, then England never had one.
After King Edward VII passed away in 1910, what floated to the surface in Britain was the causeless mirth of the easily distractable Marlborough Set, delighting in testosterone-driven/alcohol-fueled Edwardian House parties, the Henley Regatta, Royal Ascot, Newmarket, Cowes Week, the FA Cup, Wimbledon, Badminton Horse Trials, Goodwood, Hyde Park and Rotten Row, all at the apogee of the greatest crisis imaginable for Europe/Britain. A continuous display of fashion and sporting events became more important than the survival of the Empire itself:
"...she [HM Queen Victoria] despatched a letter to Mr. Delane, the editor of The Times, asking him if he would 'frequently WRITE articles pointing out the IMMENSE danger and evil of the wretched frivolity and levity of the views and lives of the Higher Classes.'"[italics in original](135)
Whitehall's catastrophic mistake was in making treaties and alliances and ententes with Eurasian countries and then sitting back behind the channel and assuming the political situation in Europe would always remain stable enough that prompt arbitration of disputes between the Great Powers would never be necessary.
Subtract also the formidable sobriety of one of England's greatest and most cosmopolitan Queens, visiting France and Germany many times, conversing in the French and German languages, becoming known as the grandmother of Europe. From that subtract also the courage and diplomatic flair of a very unusual English/French/German-speaking British King who at least crossed the channel, visiting Paris and Berlin to work at balancing it all, and what have you got left?
Top"The answer of Apollonius to Vespasian, is full of excellent instruction. Vespasian asked him, What was Nero's overthrow? He answered, Nero could touch and tune the harp well; but in government, sometimes he used to wind the pins too high, sometimes to let them down too low. And certain it is, that nothing destroyeth authority so much, as the unequal and untimely interchange of power pressed too far, and relaxed too much."
Of Empire, Francis Bacon
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