June 28-July 1914, Sir Edward Grey and the Telegraph
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"The secret of war lies in the communications."

Home References
Page 2: Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: Balkans Crisis Arbitration 1903-1914
1914: A general willingness to believe "war was something that was not going to happen in Europe."
Page 3: "Caught Looking": Physical Working Models
of European/British Response to June 28-July 1914 Crisis

Historians on Causes of World War I
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey on the June 28-July 1914 Crisis
Winston Churchill on the June 28-July 1914 Crisis
June 28-July 1914: The Tactic of Timidity
Ambiguous Defensive/Offensive Military Preparations
June 29th-July 1914, Wagons-Lits to the French Riviera
Switzerland: Europe's Strongest Neutral Armed-Power and the June 28-July 1914 Balkans Crisis

July 16, 1945: Trinity
Effects of Atomic Detonations: Hiroshima, Nagasaki
Japan: Feasibility of Atomic Demonstration-Test in 1945
USAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

For Sir Edward Grey's alarming description of his first experience of an over-reliance on the electric telegraph nearly sparking a full-scale British-French war - presumably the kind of war the telegraph was designed to prevent - see.
  • Introduction: London Central Telegraph Office:

Porthcurno Cable station in Cornwall connected London via undersea telegraph cable to the rest of the world. In 1900 reportedly "Porthcurno was the largest cable station in the world." In the 19th century the British were forerunners in the laying of oceanic telegraph cable worldwide, responsible for perhaps some 50% of all undersea cable. This was a tremendous, brilliant accomplishment, and goes to show why Britain is still today such a big player in media communication.

London Central Telegraph Office, 1900-1914

Telegrams from St Petersburg, Vienna, Berlin and Paris reportedly went through undersea telegraph cables in the English channel, and then routed by London's Central Telegram Office (CTO). Across the Atlantic, advances in telegraph communications was blazingly fast.

  • In one year alone the Americans string 4,000 miles of telegraph wire, send 1 million telegrams:

"Abraham Lincoln was the first president who was able to communicate on the spot with his officers on the battlefield. The White House telegraph office enabled him to monitor battlefield reports, lead real-time strategy meetings and deliver orders to his men."

"In 1861, the Union Army established the U.S. Military Telegraph Corps, led by a young railroad man named Andrew Carnegie. The next year alone, the U.S.M.T.C. trained 1,200 operators, strung 4,000 miles of telegraph wire and sent more than a million messages to and from the battlefield."(1)

"William Tecumseh Sherman also recalled the 'perfect concert of action' between his forces in Georgia and Grant’s in Virginia in 1864. 'Hardly a day intervened when General Grant did not know the exact state of facts with me, more than fifteen hundred miles off, as the wires ran.'"

Assistant Secretary of War Charles Anderson Dana..was also able to send eleven telegrams [from Georgia] to Washington, apprising Stanton of the progress of the battle on almost an hourly basis."

"Similarly, during the ill-fated Battle of the Crater at Petersburg on July 30, 1864. [Major General George Gordon] Meade later recalled that he had sent or received over 100 telegrams during the five-hour battle, or one every three minutes."(2)

Considering the alarmingly fast pace of the United States' telegraph communications in the mid-1800's, it's reaonable to expect that 60 years later telegram communications through Europe/Britain might be well ahead. Yet even allowing for a brief delay for encryption decoding, or possibly language translation, all through the single most destructive political month in European/British history there are troubling reports of sent telegrams being repeatedly subjected to puzzling delays.

The Americans did not take kindly to unaccounted-for delays in telegraph communications:

"Although the reason for the delay was a broken cable crossing the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky, Halleck brusquely replied, 'Remedy the defect…. There must be an end to this inefficiency and delay.'"

"In 1864 Theodore Holt, an operator assigned to Brigadier General Eugene Asa Carr at Little Rock, Arkansas, could not raise a nearby office, so Carr forced Holt to operate under armed guard. On another occasion a major general threatened to shoot an assistant superintendent if he did not send a certain message to a distant office within the hour."[Ibid]

The speed signals can propagate in a vacuum is ≈ 300,000 kilometers per second. The speed signals travel through (or along) a telegraph wire depend on the wire/insulation.

For telegrams sent from Paris, Vienna, Belgrade, Berlin & St. Peterburg to London, the time elapsed between sending and receiving an electric telegram often had to be measured not in seconds, minutes or even in hours but in days. Or longer.

Possibly European/British telegraph operations were occasionally so badly administered that bored telegraphers might relieve the monotomy by routing telegrams EAST, across Russia and under the Pacific Ocean, across the United States, under the Atlantic Ocean, through Porthcurno Cable Station at Cornwall, then to the London CTO.

It is also not easy to explain why London's CTO apparently would accept all telegrams, no matter how long it took for them to show up. No questions asked.

It could be argued that in periods of relative peacetime the days-long delay for telegrams to arrive might not matter as much, but even that is debatable.

The difficulty with telegraph delays at any time is with heavily-armed European countries, within close proximity to each other, practically in each others' laps, all sharing alliances/ententes, ready to mobilize millions of soldiers@Maxim machine guns/artillery to the Front at the drop of a hat, one thing was certain: no one could say with any authority when peace had actually arrived.

According to a telegram sent from the British Chargé d'Affaires in Belgrade to British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, the Russian Minister to Serbia held a bridge party on the evening of the Archduke's murder. The Roumanian and Greek Ministers were invited.

The telegram appears to be sent July 13th, but according to British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898-1914: List of Documents: Vol. XI - Items 1 - 299, Grey did not receive it until the 20th.(3)

Now Belgrade to London by land/channel-crossing is ≈ 1,700 kilometers. Bear in mind that in 1200AD a week to deliver a message 1,700Km was something mail riders pre-wrapped in mummy tape (for sleeping while riding overnight) could do for the Mongol Empire.

Yet in 1914AD those are the same telegraph wires a Great Power Foreign Secretary had apparently staked an entire 1,000-year-Imperial Maritime Empire upon to resolve intense local political crises that might threaten to drag all the Great Powers into World War, radically destabilizing the politics of the world for the next hundred+ years.

The telegram was sent from Belgrade, Serbia, the epicenter of the crisis. For the love of God, how could this telegram have taken nearly 2% of a year to travel 1,700 Km?

World War I's massacre of 9,000,000 is evidence that July 1914 was the most destructive political crisis in the history of Europe/Britain. For it to take 1/4 month to receive a politcal telegram with military implications from the epicenter of the European Crisis to London should have been an impossible event.

Yet telegraph operations were even worse than that. Mr. Akers-Douglas, the British Minister at Bucharest, sent a telegram on June 22, 1914 to Sir Edward Grey. Defying all military logic, British/European "telegraph operations" saw to it that the telegram was received by the Foreign Secretary over a half a month later, on July 6th.

Logistically, these atrocious delays makes absolutely no sense. Foreign Secretary Grey, himself a school tennis champion and an avid bicycle rider, could have bicycled to President Poincaire's office in Paris, or been carried from Downing St. to Poincaire's office by stretcher in 2% of a year's time. It's just a 40-gram slip of paper, for God's sake. It's not the ISS (International Space Station).

At critical moments, European/British 1914 telegraph operations must have resembled the early Wateroo Railway Station:

"We got to Waterloo at eleven and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course, nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to… the porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The station-master on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local."
JK Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

Even assuming the worst possible case, that the telegram had to be hand-carried all the way from Belgrade by courier, the 1910 a Brooklands-modified Vauxhall Prince Henry easily went 100mph. The very sporty 1914 Vuxhall 30-98: 100mph. The 1909 German Mercedes "Lightning Benz": an alarmingly fast 142mph, literally faster than any train or airplane then on Earth.

London Central Telegraph Office, 1900-1914

To further scale the July 1914 late-telegram problem, starting in 1888, what became the most famous train of all time, the notorious Orient Express routinely did not just 1700Km but 2258Km in 82 hours flat, departing Paris on its luxury tour through "Strasbourg, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest to... Varna (a port on the Black Sea coast). From there, a steamer took the passengers on an 18-hour sea voyage to Constantinople."(4)

"In 1913, the rail and boat journey from London to Paris was 6 and a half hours."(At 8:10)

So the most expensive luxury train in all Europe routinely transports many of the world's most famous, wealthy holiday-makers @ all their luggage 2258Km from Constantinople to London in 90 hours flat, and a 40-gram slip of paper from Belgrade to London takes 168 hours to arrive.

In the 1800's HM Queen Victoria's favorite vacation transport Wagons-Lits'- the Queen had her own rail car - had teak first-class luxury service round-the-clock from Nice, France and the French Riviera 1400Km straight to Cockspur Street, Charing Cross in 28 hours flat. That's an average speed of ≈ 50Km/hr. Considering stops and the tedious channel crossing, Wagons-Lits average actual track-speed was probably closer to ≈ 70-80Km/hr.

The Belgian King Leopold II and the Russian Tsars Nicholas II and Alexander II all boarded Wagons-Lits regularly for vacations in Nice. It defies all known logistics that a courier traveling by car or train from Belgrade to London would take nearly 2% of a year to deliver a 40-gram slip of paper.

For Wagons-Lits to take 1/4 month from Belgrade to London (1700Km) gives it a top speed of ≈ 10Km/hour, 6mph. That's the same as a moderately athletic girl riding a bicycle. No European/Britisher in 1914 would tolerate "express trains" going 6mph, that's like driving with the emergency brakes jammed on. And yet London was willing to tolerate a delay of a week for a telegram moving ≈ 6mph from the epicenter of the Austrian-Serbian Crisis.

To scale the the June 28-July 1914 late-telegram problem again, from Poincaire's gov't in Paris to the seat of government in London (Whitehall) was ≈ 456Km (283 miles).

From Paris, the NASA Crawler-Transporter [right], weight: 6.3 million pounds, size: Major League Baseball stadium infield (8 treads, each tread with 57 "shoes", each shoe: 2,000lbs), fuel consumption: 1 gallon every 32 feet, could transport a 40gram telegram the distance to London/Downing St. in less than 6 days.

In addition to a 40-gram slip of paper, NASA's Crawler-Transporter could also transport 18 million pounds that distance, a weight equal to 20 fully-loaded Boeing 777 jetliners, or maybe the entire British Embassy building in Paris, all it's furniture and all the British Embassy staff, their families and all their luggage; but transporting 18,000,000 extra pounds would lower the NASA Crawler's maximum crusing transport speed from 2mph to 1mph.

To scale this again, 5 Rocketdyne F-1 engines generating 160 million horsepower burnt over 15 metric tons of oxygen/kerosene fuel mix per second to lift the 363-foot-tall Saturn-V rocket off the launch-pad at Cape Canaveral to speed Apollo 11 384,400Km to the Moon, where jubilant astronauts got out, spent a couple hours cavorting on the Moon's lunar surface, and sped 384,400Km back to Earth, the entire near-one million-mile voyage taking 1 day longer than it took for London to receive an electric telegram from the epicenter of the Austrian-Serbian Crisis.

In 1914, it was as if the British gov't did not understand and could not relate to the concept of time. It was as if Whitehall did not understand the words "Right now."

On July 11, 1914 American pilot Walter Brock took off from Hendon Aerodrome at 7:45am, flew to Paris & sped back again across the channel to London in 7hrs 3 minutes, winning the London-to-Paris Great Air Race. This was 2 days before the Belgrade telegram was sent to London.

"Great Air Race to Paris and Back.... No element of luck entered into Walter Brock's magnificent victory on Saturday... When Brock reached Hendon on Saturday afternoon and regained the Aerodrome, which he had left only that morning, he had earned for himself the proud distinction of being the first pilot to fly from London to Paris and back in a single day...His third successive victory, scored within the space of two months, in the three great aeroplane races of the year, stamps Walter Brock as one of the greatest cross-country pilots of the day."

So on July 11, 1914 the American pilot Walter Brock took about 7 hours to travel almost 1,000km to win a wildly popular "London to Paris Air Race Festival" and a political telegram with military implications from Bucharest on June 22, 1914 took over 2 weeks - over 336 hours - to travel about 1,700km to London. Walter Brock and the wildly successful 1914 London-to-Paris Air Race is yet further proof of the occasional total disorganization of telegraph operations during the single most important political month in all European/British history:

"By 1914, with the adults von Bismarck and HM Queen Victoria out of the room, a number of French, German, British, Russian & Austro-Hungarian officials seemed less focused on mastery of gov't than on mastery of a timeless leisure, whose role was playing at gov't."

Meanwhile, coming as anything but a surprise, from June 28, 1914 onwards, the patently unstable political systems of France, Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia found themselves in a desperate struggle to stay afloat.

If the above is accurate, there can be little doubt about who was in charge of European/British June-July 1914 political/military telegraph operations.

  • Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey and the Telegraph:

British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey seemed to have no desire whatsoever to visit Europe. Not at any time. Moreover, Secretary Grey not only physically disliked Europe and its capitols, he freely admits a rather intense dislike of London:

"...and you pass through the streets feeling like an unknown alien, who has no part in the bustle and life of London, and cannot in the place of his exile share what seem to others to be pleasures."

"... the brutal hardness of the pavement, the smell of the streets festering in the sun...it is impossible to live in London without great sacrifice...bedroom windows seem to open into ovens"(5)

Mr. Grey didn't learn any European language in school, instead becoming a tennis champion. In other words, if the British gov't at Whitehall had a post for an anti-foreign secretary, all European govt's could suggest, by a unanimous decision, a truly unbeatable candidate.

[Right, London's Central Telegraph Office, 1900-1914]

Because Mr Grey refused to visit Paris (he was somewhat forced to go once, to attend a funeral), Vienna, Berlin or St. Petersburg, he was confined to conversations with foreign ministers stationed in London and the telegraph for communications with the Great Powers of Europe.

In periods of peacetime that might work, but in intense European political crises, it's easy to see how the British Isles' Foreign Secretary might find himself sort of out of the loop only by dint of the fact he repeatedly refused to show up on the Continent during crises. Since he had zero feeling of the situation on-the-ground, the isolated Foreign Secretary arguably became dangerously over-dependent upon the opinion of recently-appointed German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Foreign Ministers stationed in London.

After the regicide in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and St. Peterburg may have intuited that the intense Austria-Serbian Crisis may have to be resolved without the British Foreign Secretary. From June 28th, the day of the regicide in Sarajevo, through to nearly the end of July, Mr. Grey never seemed to show any willingness to physically rise from his desk and go to Europe and help the politically unstable governments in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and St. Peterburg come to the table and try to settle their diference.

  • It is unimaginable that 1914 European/British govt's did not realize how unstable Europe was:

In 1908 Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany gave a slightly alarming interview in the British Daily Telegraph. And what was 10,000x worse, the Kaiser had previously fired von Bismarck, the European architect of the all-important balance-of-power between the two land-powers of Germany and Russia.

One might suppose an event such as the firing of Bismarck should have gone off like a 135dB air-raid siren in Whitehall. In the interests of preserving the peace of Europe, in intense-but-local political European crises, British diplomats might have considered making an offer of a prompt appearance, displaying a willingness to bring everyone to the table.

Sir Edward Grey had led a successful arbitration conference on the Balkans in London in late 1912 until May 1913. Even though there were still unresolved conflicts, the relative success of the very long conference may well have given Mr. Grey false-confidence that the extremely leisurely approach was reliable enough to settle future local conflicts in Europe.

It would be of considerable interest to learn exactly where or how the Foreign Secretary got it into his head that Europe would never have an intense local conflict requiring prompt arbitration. That was the fatal mistake not just Britain but all the Great Powers made throughout June 28th/July 1914.

Nevertheless, after the regicide on June 28th, the non-verbal message the British Foreign Secretary was sending to Europe was more or less the following: you are on your own. You have to solve this local-but-intense Austrian-Serbian Crisis without any help from Britain. The most stable imperial government on earth will not help you arbitrate it. At least, not any time soon.

And for the next 4 straight weeks, a politically very unstable Europe flailed away, thrashing in political waters up to its neck, struggling to stay afloat, unable to even agree to meet, much less begin to settle the crisis.

Meanwhile, leisure-oriented Whitehall seemed content to sit it out behind the Channel in "Splendid Isolation," hoping no matter how unstable the European Crisis became, it couldn't spill over and drag Britain into it. That was the wrong assumption, and in 5 short weeks it had dragged Britain into WWI.

The Foreign Secretary Grey risked the future of the British Empire on his telegraph skills to see to it that no matter what else happens, that Britain will come out of it intact. Apparently every official in Whitehall went along with the Foreign Secretary on it.

By July 1914, Whitehall's faith in Foreign Secretary Grey, and by extension, the overseas telegraph operations the Foreign Secretary absolutely relied upon, was ≈unlimited.

  • 1792 French Semaphore Telescopic Telegraph Line, Precursor to the Telegraph:

During June-July 1914, London-based British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey seemed willing to accept all telegrams, no matter how long it took for them to show up, no questions asked. It took an entire week for the Belgrade British Chargé d'Affaires telegram to arrive from 1700Km away. But in 1839, messages routinely traveled 1200Km (between St. Petersburg and Warsaw) in 15 minutes flat via the longest semaphore telegraph line ever built.

The Foreign Secretary's telegram moving 1,700Km in a week was ≈ 10 Kilometers an hour. The 1839 Semaphore Line moved telegrams 80 kilometers a minute. At 80Km/minute an 1839 telegram sent via a Semaphore Line from Belgrade would have taken not 168 hours to arrive in London but ≈ 22 minutes.

That's sending/receiving telegrams ≈ 458x faster. It's almost as if an 1839 Napoleon (the French are credited with inventing Semaphore lines) was using a T-1 Business Line while a staggering 3/4 of a century later London was struggling with 14.4 kbit/s dial-up.

Yet the Foreign Secretary was apparently willing to wait - no matter how long it took - for telegrams to arrive from British diplomats stationed at the exact center of the Crisis. From a miltary point-of-view, this cannot be even remotely considered responsible communications. Former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, General Thomas S. Power made it crystal-clear: "Without communications, all I can command is my desk."

The Foreign Secretary clearly did not realize quickly the Austria-Serbia crisis was expanding. The delayed-telegram problem, could only make his isolation worse. The Foreign Secretary seemed almost completely unaware he was caught in a situation that would go from zero to World War in 5 weeks. And that neatly explains why, when telegrams sent by British diplomats stationed in European capitols arrived hours, days or even weeks later, it didn't matter to him.

The Foreign Secretary was still living in the world of 1905-1912, when local crises in Europe could take up to a year to settle. Who cares if telegrams from the battlefront arrive a day, several days, or a week late? British gov't officials have more to do than scurry across the English channel at the beck and call of every skirmish on the continent.

Also, it was easy for the Foreign Secretary to be nonchalant about Europe. If Britain was unwittingly dragged into a World War, providing it wasn't invaded, he could always retreat to his country estate in Hampshire for the remainder of the War, staying as uninvolved as possible.

Mr. Grey could engage in his all-time favorite hobby, fly-fishing, as well as bicycling in the British countryside, reading books, playing tennis (he was a school champion), chasing skirts, and occasionally dropping into Brooks for a pint and a game of billards. Above all, he could virtually eliminate London as a place to spend any unnecessary time.

On the other hand, Napoleon Bonaparte was so concerned to stay in contant communications he reportedly carried a portable Semaphore Line. The British BBC, possibly not the biggest fans of the famous French Emperor, nevertheless hailed his determination to have immediate communications: "How Napoleon's semaphore telegraph changed the world."

The predecessor to British Foreign Secretary Grey's telegraph wire, the French Semaphore Telegraph Line (aka Napoleonic telegraph), was invented by French engineer Claude Chappe in the late 1700's:

" The Chappe brothers in the summer of 1790 set about devising a system of communication that would allow the central government to receive intelligence and to transmit orders in the shortest possible time."(6) [italics added]

[Right, Route of the Admiralty Semaphore Line]

In 1790 the gov't of France wanted in place "...a system of communication that would allow the central government to receive intelligence...in the shortest possible time." 120 years later the British Foreign Office insisted over and over that there wa no strategic value whatsoever to prompt reception of British intelligence telegrams arriving from the battlefront of an intense European Crisis.

"Semaphore towers were usually about 20 miles (32 km) apart. On a clear day, a short message could travel from Paris to the German border (about 210 miles or 350 km) in about ten minutes."(7)

"There was a desperate need for swift and reliable communications in France during the period of 1790–1795. It was the height of the French revolution, and France was surrounded by the enemy forces of Britain, the Netherlands, Prussia, Austria, and Spain."(8) [italics added]

"He [Chappe] equipped towers with mechanical arms whose positions indicated numbers that stood for words. The signals could be seen by telescope and relayed from tower to tower."(9) [italics added]

To this end, Chappe was successful in covering certain parts of France with a network that was 556 stations strong and stretched for a distance totaling some 4800 kilometers. This system of optical telegraphs was used until 1850 for both national as well as military communications."(10)

"The two arms each rotate into seven separate positions, creating 49 combinations, while the central beam can be vertical or horizontal - making 98 in all. Six of these positions represented service messages - 'ready to transmit', 'taking a break and so on.

"...The remaining 92 corresponded to 92 pages in a code-book or vocabulaire, each of which contained 92 different words. That made a total vocabulary of nearly 8,500 words. The word army, for example, might be the 24th word on page 19. So the operator would send the signal for 19 to indicate the page, then 24 for the word on that page."(11)

"Even the famous dictator himself, Napoleon Bonaparte, clued into the benefit of sending communications between locations, and he carried a portable semaphore line with him."(12)

"Data-compression was used in the form of omitting the vowels in common words. The preparatory signal could be sent from London to Deal or Portsmouth, and be acknowledged in two minutes; an early version of the 'ping'.(13)


  • The Americans Attempt to Introduce the telephone in Europe/Britain:

Quizzically, when American promoters of Bostonian Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison's newly-invented telephone sought to convince Britain of it's practicability, the country was initially against it, British scientists were quite derisive and strongly asserted it was a toy or a novelty.

"The telephone is scarcely used at all in London,
and is unknown in the other English cities."
Herbert Spencer, 1882

London's vast bureaucratic Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was certainly against the American telephone, seeing it as a threat to it's monopoly on British communications.

The situation was perhaps similar to Britain's "Red Flag Laws" which prohibited motorcars without someone walking ahead with a red flag warning everyone of it's approach. Impossible to believe, but in a country where the Black Death buried 1/3 of a population too busy praying to try sanitation, not to mention The Flagellants, apparently such events were posssible.

Naturally the Red-Flag laws had all but destroyed the struggling British motorcar industry until French, American (Ford) and German (Mercedes) imports breached the channel, overthrowing the "Red Flag" law and flooding the Isles with much-desired motor transport.

The massive foreign auto invasion of Britain also helped hapless London take care of its atrocious horse manure then piling up in the British capitol, as 50,000 horses/day used for transport had created such a stinking mess it was called the Great London Manure Crisis. The London daily headlines screamed if it was not solved downtown London would be "nine feet" high in horse manure and urine.


  • HM British Queen Victoria, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and Italian Queen Margherita import the American Telephone:

By the grace of God, the supra-cosmopolitan and iconically sober-minded HM Queen Victoria pushed the Luddite-wing of the British upper-class into reversing their attitude about importing the American invention:

"And one wintry morning in 1878 Queen Victoria drove to the house of Sir Thomas Biddulph, in London, and for an hour talked and listened by telephone to Kate Field, who sat in a Downing Street office.

"Miss Field sang 'Kathleen Mavourneen,' and the Queen thanked her by telephone, saying she was 'immensely pleased.' She congratulated Bell himself, who was present, and asked if she might be permitted to buy the two telephones; whereupon Bell presented her with a pair done in ivory.

"A wire was at once strung to Windsor Castle."(14) [italics added]

According to one report, it was William Thompson who in 1876 finally broke the back of British scientific resistance to importing the telephone.

"Sir William Thompson (later Lord Kelvin) exhibited Bell's telephone to the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Glasgow in September. He described it as 'the greatest by far of all the marvels of the electric telegraph'."(15)

So up until July 1914, Foreign Secretary Grey had 38 years - 38 years - to pause flyfishing & chasing women long enough to teach himself that the newly-invented telephone might be a superior, in fact a vastly superior technology the British Foreign Office could deploy for organizing crisis arbitrations compared to European/British telegraph operations that without any warning whatsoever could slow to a speed hardly faster than the movement of the Greenland Ice Sheet on a hot day.

One year after W. Thompson had announced the marvels of the American invention to the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Glasgow, in Germany the reaction of the architect of the German State Otto von Bismarck was as fast as HM Queen Victoria:

"But the first friend of the telephone in Germany was Bismarck. The old Unifier saw instantly its value in holding a nation together, and ordered a line between his palace in Berlin and his farm at Varzin, which lay two hundred and thirty miles apart. This was as early as the Fall of 1877, and was thus the first long-distance line in Europe."(16)

Compared to the Rousseau-type fly-fisherman Edward Grey, the differential in the ability of HM Queen Victoria and von Bismarck to immediately seize the obvious could not be more extreme. In fact, 1914 British foreign policy was being run by a regressive gentleman Luddite.

In 1902, twelve years before the Foreign Secretary's 1914 showdown, the Queen of Italy, Queen Margherita, had begun oversight of the 6 years of laying a telephone wire, at her expense, to her favorite astronomer at an observatory in the remote Italian Alps, at an altitude of almost 15,000 feet, so some 400 miles away in Rome she could keep herself informed of any sudden discoveries:

" A TELEPHONE line has been installed to provide means of communication between the Queen Margherita Observatory on the Gniffet Peak, on Monte Rosa, and the observatory lower down the mountain. The carrying out of this line entailed many difficulties; the higher observatory is 14,960 feet above the sea..."(17)[emphasis in original]

Meanwhile the British Foreign Office, to preserve the life of the British Empire, could not figure out how even make the telegraph work in a timely fashion, much less any of the under-paid staff consider trying out an American telephone and immediately laying wires to the British Embassies in European capitols.

  • Foreign Secretary Edward Grey and Low-Bandwidth Telegram Diplomacy:

So the question presents itself, namely, if by 1877 Bismarck had a 230-mile telephone line put in, the next year HM Queen Victoria had a wire quickly strung to Windsor, and then Italian Queen Margherita spends 6 years laying a wire to the uppermost obervatory in the Italian Alps so from Rome so her astronomer could call anytime with a new discovery, what in the name of God did British Foreign Secretary Grey - almost half a century after Bismarck's 230-mile telephone line - think he was doing in the midst of the worst political crisis in recorded European/British history armed with just a telegraph key in his hand?

And one fairly obvious answer, although an answer with terrible consequences, is that Secretay Grey did not really want to be that involved, not in European politics. It may not have dawned on Whitehall that just because Edward Grey was chosen to be the Foreign Secretary, that should not have implied he therefore had to school himself to be one.

Indeed, the exact opposite argument could be made; that instead he schooled himself for decades to be - more than anything else - an ineffably polite but razor-sharp British country gentleman of unlimited leisure time. The alien city of London with its Foreign Office post might have been taken as a diversion, like showing up for a challenging tennis match:

"I feel that the civilization of the Victorian epoch ought to disappear. I think I always knew this subconsciously but I took things as I found them and for 30 years spoke of progress as an enlargement of the Victorian industrial age - as if anything could be good that led to telephones, and cinematographs and large cities and the Daily Mail."
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, 1918

Edward Grey's own writings are filled with this kind of pro-Nature, vehemently anti-industrial/anti city-life attitude; the probem is his strongest political supporters are too rattled to draw the correct consequences from it.

What HM Queen Victoria and von Bismarck had grasped almost half a century before was the staggering importance of the telephone. Just 2 years after July 1914's political meltdown, telephone cables were all over:

"The main means of communication is by telephone. Just from the Somme alone, they lay something like 50,000 miles of telephone cable. I mean, that's nearly twice round the world. Huge number."
The Battle of the Somme,at 35:09
Aong with Sir Edward Grey's disinterest in any new communication technology was a dislike of anything European: HM Queen Victoria corresponded with French and German heads of state in the French and German languages, on diplomatic visits constantly to both countries. von Bismarck's schooling in foreign affairs before later becoming the architect of the German state:

"In 1859 Bismarck was sent to Russia as Prussian ambassador, and not long thereafter (May 1862) he moved to Paris as ambassador to the court of Napoleon III. Thus he had 11 years of experience in foreign affairs before he became prime minister and foreign minster of Prussia in September 1862. He had come to know personally the architects of French, Russian, and Austrian foreign policy."(18)

HM Queen Victoria's grasp of French and German, her constant visits and Bismarck's 11 years experience on foreign soil as ambassador to Russia and then to France BEFORE becoming Prussia's Foreign Minister make it evident Mr. Grey's schooling for the post of Foreign Secretary never started.

Mr. Grey was linguistically virtually completely uneducated in contrast to other European officials. The supra-militaristic Austrian Army Chief of Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf (ignoring school sports) reportedly polished off native German, French, English, Russian, Italian, Polish, Czech, & Serbo-Croatian. The future Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph "...studied not only French, Latin and Greek, but also Hungarian, Czech, Italian, and Polish."(19)

It is quite true that Foreign Secretary Grey did successfully resolve previous crises on the continent. But at no time did those successes motivate him to school himself on the foreign languages of the continental Great Powers. Mr. Grey's over-riding passion and refuge June 28 through July 1914 was the British countryside and flyfishing. Grey might have considered mediating continental crises as a challenging sport, just like tennis (he was school tennis champion). The moment it was resolved he wanted nothing whatsoever to do with Europe.

Mr. Grey did not volunteer for the post. Mr. Grey freely admitted he had absolutely no special education or training for the post. So because of his almost-phobic dislike of Europe, one could argue he logically chose the most impractical, most distant, impersonal and lowest-bandwidth communication technology available short of American-Indian smoke signals - the telegraph.


  • Paris-to-London Live One-way Electrophone Opera Transmission, 1908:

"Paris Opera by Telephone.
Science has achieved another victory. On Friday night, upon the invitation of Lord George Loftus and the directors of the Electrophone Company, a large number of people assembled at Pelican House to hear for the first time in the history of mankind an opera which was being performed in Paris."

Right, Electrophone reception room, Pelican House, 36 Gerrard Street, London, 1908)
(from britishtelephones.com)

"By means of the electrophone every note of 'Helle,' which was being given at the Grand Opera House in Paris, was heard at Pelican House in London, the voice of each singer being distinguished with ease!

"This curious entertainment was rendered possible through the courtesy of the English and French governments."(20)

Departing the British Foreign Office (Downing Street) it's what, some 4 kilometers to Peckham Street's Pelican House? The Foreign Secretary could have stepped in a Unic taxicab, made in (surprise) Paris, France, and been at the Pelican House in 10 minutes to hear the Paris Opera live on the telephone.

"The Electrophone system was a distributed audio system which operated in the UK between 1895 and 1926. This system relayed live theatre and music hall shows and, on Sundays, live sermons from churches. Even 10 Downing Street had a service."(21) [italics added]

So 10 Downing used live-audio for entertainment, but for the love of God could not imagine how a 2-way Electrophone system - not to mention a goddamn telephone - might come in handy in an intense political/military crisis on the continent threatening to drag in all the Great Powers?

There was almost 20 years to let the penny drop down the slot before the Foreign Secretary ran straight into a Category-5 Hurricane-sized July 1914 political crisis armed with nothing but a fishing rod and a telegraph key.

Everybody at Whitehall circa 1908 could taxi 4-kilometers to the Pelican House and enjoy live audio entertainment broadcasts from the opera in Paris, but none of those over-worked, under-paid mandarins thought to install a 2-way Electrophone from the Foreign Office to, say, the British Ambassador's residence in Paris, or between British PM's office and the French President's Office in case of a crisis, to say nothing about following Bismarck and Queen Victoria and stringing telephone wires to the British Embassies in Berlin, Vienna, Belgrade and St. Petersburg, is that right?


(1) Civil War Technology
(2) David Hochfelder: The Telegraph
(3) (32784) No. 62. Mr. Crackanthorpe to Sir Edward Grey. (Received July 20.) (No. 129.) Very Confidential. Belgrade, July 13, 1914: British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898-1914: List of Documents: Vol. XI - Items 1 - 299
(4) Orient Express
(5) Edward Grey: Flyfishing 1899
(6) Semaphore Line
(7) The Chappe Semaphore
(8) Semaphore Line.
(9) The Chappe Semaphore
(10) European Semaphore Lines in 1792
(11) How Napoleon's semaphore telegraph changed the world: BBC News, Modane, France, 17 June 2013
(12) European Semaphore Lines in 1792.
(13) Optical Telegraphs: an early Internet.
(14) Casson: History of the Telephone: 1910, CH VII: The Telephone in Foreign Countries
(15) UK Telephone History (Taken from the British Telecom Archives web site - with some additions).
(16) Casson.
(17) Schaeberle and Geological Climates: Joseph Barrell: Science, September 18, 1908, at 371.
(18) Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) Prime minister of Prussia (1862-73, 1873-90) and founder and first chancellor (1871-90) of the German Empire.
(19) Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria
(20) Washington Post: June 21, 1896, at 24
(20) Electrophone System



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