WWI: How did it all happen?

Douglas Newton The darkest days: the truth behind Britain’s rush to war, 1914 Verso, 2014, pp386, £20

Douglas Newton has written an important, compelling book - compelling in the depth of his analysis, and important in that he challenges head on the dominant consensus about August 1914, which we are now being fed systematically and deliberately, not only by establishment historians, but by our political masters.

The author states this view succinctly:

According to this consensus, the story is a simple one: Britain was wholly in the right, for she did all she could to avert war. Britain’s choice for war was made on Tuesday August 4, and was an irresistible response to the German aggression of that day - the invasion of Belgium. The choice for war was almost universally approved, and only a rump of ‘pacifists’ dissented (pxvii).

Against this, Newton advances the following:

Britain, like all the nations caught up in this tragedy, made errors. Her leaders made reckless decisions that only hastened the war, and left things undone that might have helped to avert it. Britain’s choice for war was in fact made on Sunday August 2, before Belgium was invaded, and was driven above all by a desire to show ‘solidarity’ with France and Russia. Some at the top looked upon the moment as favourable for war, for Britain could join with two other friendly great powers and ensure Germany’s defeat.

Turning to those activists who campaigned for Britain’s neutrality during the crisis, it is clear they had significant support, far beyond the ranks of mere “pacifists”. The apparent inability of Britain’s peace activists in 1914 to prevent the nation’s intervention testifies not to the futility of their cause, but to the rapidity of the crisis (ppxvii-xviii).

This is at least worth considering.

On the question of the overall causation of the war, Newton takes up a position similar to that put forward by Christopher Clark in The sleepwalkers: how Europe went to war in 1914.1 Newton states: “A focus upon wicked persons will probably produce such men in every capital city in 1914 - not just in Berlin” (pxxi).

He goes on to cite the zeal of Maurice Paleologue, French ambassador in St Petersburg, in blocking a compromise settlement, pressure by French generals to make Russia move from a partial mobilisation (against Austria) to a general one (threatening Germany as well), together with the effect upon the Russians of the mental vision of the golden prize apparently now within their grasp - control of Istanbul and the Turkish straits. German leaders - “so many incompetents and imperial fantasists” (pxxiii) - also come in for criticism, but “German blunders do not blot out the blunders of others” (pxxiv).

The book’s main focus, however, and its main virtue, is that it examines in detail the course of the immediate pre-war reaction in Britain. For Douglas Newton, “Britain was not especially to blame - but neither was she free of blame - when in 1914 the tragedy of war engulfed a rotten system” (pxxv).

Three days

Newton states that the decisive cabinet meetings that resulted in a British declaration of war on Germany covered a period of only three days from August 2 to August 4 1914. However, the response of Britain and her empire to the Balkan crisis was a topic of discussion in cabinet from as early as July 27. Prime minister Herbert Asquith, who was quite a forceful personality, and his foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, initially held its members together on the basis of inscrutable occupation of the proverbial fence - postmaster general Charles Hobhouse testified that “our influence depended on our apparent indecision” (p2).

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28 and this was followed by Russia’s general mobilisation on the 31st (Friday). It was August bank holiday weekend, but the cabinet continued to meet - once on Saturday August 1 and then twice on the Sunday. What started to cause a deep rift was the decision on Sunday afternoon that Britain should give a guarantee of naval support to France. This led to four cabinet resignations, although two were subsequently rescinded (pp2-5).

One can only remark that the protest went unnoticed because it was hushed up with the connivance of the principal protesters, who agreed to remain silent. The resignations, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. Newton makes it clear that there was a “radical faction” in the cabinet already in Moroccan crisis days (July 1911) and that disputes smouldered on into 1914. Essentially interventionists faced neutralists.

According to Newton, there were eight interventionists, including Asquith himself, foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey, Winston Churchill (first lord of the admiralty) and home secretary Reginald McKenna. The neutralists, headed by colonial secretary Lewis Harcourt, numbered between nine and 13. The only cabinet member not appearing on either list was that notorious schemer, David Lloyd George.

On the morning of July 28 Churchill, on his own initiative and without cabinet approval, ordered the First Fleet to proceed to battle stations in the North Sea - a move that could only be seen as directed at a German threat. The Second Fleet was told to assemble at Portland. Newton notes that orders were in fact issued at 5pm on July 28 - before news reached London (at 7.20pm) of Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. Churchill acted in a spirit of military preparedness, but without regard for the diplomatic consequences, which included, inter alia, a stiffening of Russian resolve. This fuelled a bellicose atmosphere, within which general Russian mobilisation was announced on Friday July 31. Meanwhile the German navy remained in port.

The question of possible British treaty obligations concerning Belgium had come up at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday July 29. The 1839 treaty did not require Britain to act belligerently against any power that might violate Belgian neutrality - that was a requirement of the 1870 treaties with France and Prussia, which had lapsed after a year following peace in the Franco-Prussian War. The “radicals” seized on this, but the cabinet decided that “the matter if it arises will be rather one of policy than of legal obligation” (p59).

However, at this meeting Grey threatened to resign if the cabinet opted in advance for declaring neutrality. Churchill insisted that if the Channel ports fell into German hands that would be a disaster - this preoccupation with the ports was indeed the reason why Britain supported the creation of a Belgian state in 1830.

The Conservative papers, especially The Times, called for intervention on the French side against Germany, but the Liberal press took the opposite line, calling for “active neutrality” (p75). The German government then made a crude bid for that neutrality by promising no annexations in Europe if Britain remained neutral. This played into the hands of the war party in Britain, and Grey and Asquith promptly rejected the offer by telegram, “without waiting for the cabinet”:

In this way Grey and Asquith slammed the door on the possibility of negotiating the neutrality of either Belgium or Britain - before any but a handful of Asquith’s and Grey’s cabinet colleagues even knew of the German approach (p85).

However, some discussion in parliament was agreed necessary, because there would have to be a vote on war credits. The liberal foreign affairs group of MPs urged that the government adhere to strict neutrality, but Sir Edward Grey was unmoved.

There followed news of Russian general mobilisation, received in London late in the afternoon of Friday July 31. Newton suggests that Grey’s show of an inability to restrain Russia was partly the result of a British desire to exploit oil resources in the neutral zone of Persia, which would be put at risk if relations with Russia deteriorated - maybe the Russian government was eyeing those resources itself from its position controlling the other third of Persia.

In this heavily charged atmosphere Andrew Bonar Law and the other leaders of the Tory Party learnt of a very interesting offer from Winston Churchill, relayed through his friend, FE Smith:

Smith relayed to Bonar Law a truly astounding approach from Churchill. He asked if the Conservative leader would care to offer the names of Conservatives available to replace any Liberal minsters who might resign. Clearly a coalition was welcome in Churchill’s eyes. Bonar Law was unwilling to nominate ministers. But he agreed that Smith should convey to Churchill an assurance in more general terms of Conservative support in war. Churchill soon had a letter, which he would flourish at the cabinet on Saturday [August 1]. He penned a thank-you note to Smith: “Very grateful for your letter with its generous and patriotic offer” (p132).

Grey meanwhile had sent telegrams to the French and German governments, asking whether they would respect Belgian neutrality: the French agreed, but the German government stated that no pledge could be given in advance, because Germany’s military safety was threatened. Grey reported this to cabinet, which met again on Saturday August 1, and he may also have told them that he had instructed the British ambassador in Brussels that he assumed “Belgium will to, the utmost of her power, maintain neutrality and that he wished other powers to observe and uphold it” (p135).

The cabinet finally agreed that the German government had to be told that its reply over Belgium was unsatisfactory. At this stage, though, it was decided not to send an expeditionary force to France in the event of war. As Newton explains, this gave the neutralists the illusion that British involvement in the war would be naval only.


Next there came a bizarre charade, which raised the possibility of confining hostilities to a war between Germany and Russia (if France agreed not to support the Russians), featuring Sir Edward Grey, Count Lichnowsky (the German ambassador in Britain), the kaiser and king George V. Grey telephoned Lichnowsky to ask if the latter would give a guarantee not to attack France if France remained neutral. Lichnowsky said he would accept responsibility for such a guarantee, and that Grey could tell the British cabinet as much. Kaiser Wilhelm II, on learning of this démarche, pleaded with his generals not to go ahead with war in the west and even countermanded military measures already taking place to secure key railways in Luxemburg. King George then intervened, having received a cable from the kaiser offering at that point not to attack France.

The king was not pleased, siding as he did with his dear cousin, Nicky (tsar Nicholas II) against his troublesome cousin, Willy. King George asked Grey to help him write to kaiser Wilhelm rejecting the German offer, and Grey readily complied, anxious (like our current PM, David Cameron) to keep his reputation at court intact. Hence King George’s reply began: “I think there must be some misunderstanding.”

There followed news of the German declaration of war against Russia, which reached London on the evening of August 1. Grey immediately determined on a promise of naval support for France and Churchill ordered complete naval mobilisation - which the neutralist group of ministers had up to then succeeded in blocking in cabinet.

The crucial cabinet meeting then began on Sunday August 2 at 11am. The Conservatives weighed in with a letter to Asquith, pushing for government support for France and Russia, and offering to support his government in that course. There was no mention of Belgium at all.

Sir Edward Grey had apparently made up his mind. He told the cabinet it was “vital” that he should assure the French ambassador that if the German fleet attacked the French coast - the French fleet was concentrated in the Mediterranean - Britain would use her naval power to intercept it, and that he must announce this in parliament on Monday August 3. He threatened to resign unless the German navy were confined to the Baltic by virtue of this policy. There was a distinct possibility that other Liberal hardliners, including Asquith, Haldane, Churchill and maybe McKenna, would have followed suit, and the Liberal administration, in that case, would have been in grave danger of collapse - to be succeeded by an interventionist Tory-Liberal coalition. Indeed Churchill said, if Germany violated Belgian neutrality and the British government failed to declare war, he would resign.

But again, it needs emphasising that Belgium was not the crucial factor: it only came in as part of the broader picture - as set out in the memorandum by Sir Eyre Crowe, which emphasised the danger to the British empire posed by a victorious German empire, leaving Britain isolated - combined with the opprobrium earned by a neutral Britain if she failed to aid the Franco-Russian combination and they were victorious. Asquith attempted to unify the cabinet around the following points:

1. We have no obligation of any kind either to France or Russia to give them military or naval help.

2. The despatch of the expeditionary force to help France at this moment is out of the question and would serve no object.

3. We mustn’t forget the ties created by our longstanding and intimate friendship with France.

4. It is against British interest that France should be wiped out as a great power.

5. We cannot allow Germany to use the Channel as a hostile base.

6. We have obligations to Belgium to prevent her being utilised and absorbed by Germany.2

The key points here are surely numbers 4 and 5, but Newton carefully notes that the Belgian question had moved from the area of “policy” to that of “obligation”.

The list swung the cabinet - but only just - behind Grey’s advocacy of a guarantee of naval support for the French: the foreign secretary was authorised to tell the French ambassador that if France faced a German naval attack then “the British fleet will give all the protection in its power” (p183). So, even before it became clear just what the German government would actually do as regards Belgium, if France and Germany went to war Britain would intervene. The pacific faction in the cabinet, argues Newton, went along with this, because they saw it as a “warning” to Germany, and because they wanted to prolong the life of the Liberal administration (p186). But the decision led straightaway to an announcement by John Burns, president of the board of trade, that he would be forced to resign at once, and, as we have seen, three other individuals did the same.

A second cabinet meeting for the Sunday was convened for 6.30pm, when it was decided that only a “substantial” German incursion into Belgian territory would serve as a formal casus belli (p187). It was probably at this meeting (or afterwards in private) that the gung-ho Winston Churchill observed, as reported in one source, that “if the Germans stay south of the Sambre and the Meuse, I don’t see that we have anything to worry about”. I have not been able to retrace this remark in the literature, but that he gave voice to some such opinion is corroborated by a passage in the biography of CFG Masterman, written by his wife, Lucy (née Lyttelton), where Churchill is recorded as saying, “I don’t see why we need come in if they only go a little way into Belgium”, while fixing “a stare almost like a wink” on Masterman.3 As Lucy Masterman observed in her very next sentence, “There is no ‘little way’ between Germany and France through Belgium.” Indeed, once in possession of Ličge (aka Lüttich), German troops would be able to cross the Meuse (aka Maas) - which is what they actually did - and threaten Brussels itself and, beyond the Belgian capital, the Channel ports.

Secrecy about the rift in the cabinet was absolutely vital in the eyes of the interventionist faction. Sir Edward Grey was going to speak in the House of Commons on the afternoon of Monday August 3, and the German government was not to learn of the cabinet’s decision to give France naval support straightaway - an odd way of issuing a warning, as Douglas Newton notes. Those resigning were strongly advised to keep quiet about the cabinet split and their resignations were not immediately accepted.

‘Gallant Belgium’

Here, a fairly long quotation from Newton is requisite:

Sometimes it is imagined that the radical ministers resigned in a general protest against Britain entering the war - while ignoring the plight of Belgium. This is to misunderstand the timing of the crisis. The four resignations from the cabinet came in the course of Sunday night and early Monday morning, August 2-3. Thus, the decisions were all made before the first reports of the German ultimatum to Belgium reached London - at 10.55am on Monday morning.

Therefore, quite clearly all four … were essentially protests against the foreign policy that was driving Britain toward war on the basis of solidarity with France and Russia … [The resignations] were protests against an act of partisanship, which they [the radical faction] believed had destroyed Britain’s chance to mediate during the crisis.

In addition, these resignations were protests against the ‘bouncing’ of the cabinet …. What decisions had “jockeyed” the cabinet? The radicals rankled over a string of incidents: the concentration of the fleets, the move to war stations, the two telegrams to Paris and Berlin seeking guarantees on Belgian neutrality, and the final step in naval mobilisation. In every case, cabinet had been faced with a fait accompli.

The decision to mobilise the British army would be made in a similar fashion. According to Haldane, late in the evening of Sunday, he responded to a telegram warning that “the German army was about to invade Belgium” - he gave no details. Haldane, Grey and Lord Crewe, secretary of state for India, pressed for immediate mobilisation of the British army. Again, they obtained Asquith’s agreement. The dutiful trio sent word to the French ambassador immediately. Once more, the cabinet heard the news after the event, on the Monday morning. Asquith explained consolingly that it had become necessary purely for home defence.

The pattern is unmistakable. Asquith and his satellites, a small knot of interventionist ministers, had exploited their cabinet positions to drive the cabinet ineluctably toward war. It was a triumph of the inner executive over both cabinet and parliament (pp199-201).

Monday morning’s newspapers said that Grey would make a statement outlining British policy in the House of Commons that afternoon, but did not contain any details of a cabinet decision. The Conservative and Liberal press continued their respective propaganda in favour of war and for neutrality as before. The French ambassador called at the foreign office and informed Sir Edward Grey that the French premier was planning to reveal Britain’s pledge of naval support in Paris. Grey thereupon extended the terms of the pledge, which ambassador Cambon then cabled to Paris:

In case the German fleet came into the Channel or entered the North Sea in order to go round the British Isles with the object of attacking the French coasts or the French navy and of harassing French merchant shipping, the British fleet would intervene in order to give to French shipping its complete protection, in such a way that from that moment Great Britain and Germany would be in a state of war” (Newton’s emphasis, quoted on p203).

This put an end to British neutrality, and committed the state to war before the Commons had any chance to debate the matter. The cabinet met again at 10 am. Faced with a total of four resignations, Asquith in turn threatened his own resignation, which would, of course, have brought the government down (Grey, Churchill and Haldane would have resigned too), with the only realistic prospect of majority support in the House of Commons to be picked up by a Conservative-Liberal coalition. It would have been led by Lloyd George (who did indeed take over as PM in 1916), but Lloyd George at this point only asked the would-be dissidents “not to resign now or at least not to announce it today”. They reluctantly agreed. Burns was not at the cabinet meeting, but agreed to follow suit.

Meanwhile a copy of a personal telegram from King Albert I of Belgium to King George V of Great Britain reached Downing Street asking the British government to intervene diplomatically to safeguard the integrity of Belgium. This offered the cabinet a lifeline, as the split could be covered up and all eyes focused on “gallant little Belgium” in the Commons debate.

The German declaration of war on France was yet to come - it was not announced in Berlin until 6.45pm that evening. Grey claimed he had a free hand to preserve peace “till yesterday” (p216). He went on to explain what had been decided between the British and French governments following the 1911 Moroccan crisis: the French fleet was now concentrated in the Mediterranean - from which the British navy had withdrawn - but French northern and western coasts were totally exposed to attack as a result. Therefore, if a foreign fleet were to attack through the Channel, Britain could not stand aside, given her diplomatic ties with (albeit not treaty obligations to) France. He claimed the country would feel that too, especially if the French fleet withdrew from the Mediterranean to defend their coasts, leaving an opening for Italy (which was still allied with Germany and Austria) to threaten vital British trade routes.

He brushed aside a possible German offer not to attack the French coast as worthless, because Belgian neutrality was now at risk. True, the German government had stated that if victorious it would guarantee the subsequent integrity of Belgium, but Grey said he would not bargain that away (he did not mention that the German government had also pledged to respect French territorial integrity likewise if Germany won). He then went on to paint a picture of German domination of the continent, with France, Belgium, the Dutch and Denmark all under the Prussian iron heel. If Britain stood aside, she would lose international respect. Finally Grey suggested there was no plan to send an expeditionary force, and British interests could be defended on the cheap.

Royal prerogative

In the light of subsequent military developments, it is now possible to see the reasoning behind John Maclean’s action around the time that hostilities were about to commence in painting on a road the words, “Sir Edward Grey is a liar”.4 The darkest days shows that Britain’s government was already poised to strike, before Germany actually invaded Belgium.

Grey’s speech won over the House, but not all sections of it. Three speeches followed: Bonar Law and the Irish National Party leader, John Redmond, in support; Ramsay MacDonald (for the Labour Party) against. As a consequence it was clear that the government could probably have won a majority vote, but by what margin we cannot say. There were 271 Conservative and Liberal Unionist members, as against 272 Liberals, and, while the Liberal ranks were in fact split and Labour opposed, Redmond brought his Irish Nationalist MPs in behind the interventionist banner.

But there was no division and no vote: a further truncated debate was held, beginning at 7pm - passionate, but indecisive. It should be remembered that in 1914 Britain’s parliament did not have the final power to decide between war and peace. That was reserved to the crown under the royal prerogative, the king following the prime minister’s advice, as noted by Newton (see p275). Even so the government had appeared to indicate that the House of Commons would play some sort of decision-making role, Grey observing twice in his speech that he and Asquith had promised that the House was “free to decide what the British attitude should be” (p247). In the event there was a certain letting-off of oppositional steam, but no more - leaving the government free to declare war on the following day.

Tuesday August 4 was the momentous occasion. Grey and Asquith met at Downing Street before the cabinet, due to convene at 11.30, had assembled, and drafted a telegram to be sent to the British ambassador in Berlin, Sir Edward Goschen, aimed at the German foreign ministry. The telegram noted king Albert’s appeal for British diplomatic intervention and the Belgian government’s refusal of the German ultimatum demanding its neutrality. The British government’s telegram entered a “protest against this violation of a treaty” and asked for an assurance that Germany would draw back from said demand. Goschen was to ask for an immediate reply, but there was no mention of a time limit. It was only after this telegram was sent that Downing Street was told that German troops had in fact already invaded Belgium around 8am that morning. The cabinet, in session, was asked to agree to despatch a second telegram demanding a reply by midnight. Despite Simon and Beauchamp now agreeing to abide by cabinet majority consensus, the cabinet still did not decide formally to go to war and did not agree the text of the second telegram - that was left to Asquith and Grey. Actually the interventionists much preferred to have Germany declare war first and the second telegram, duly sent by its two draftsmen at 2pm, did not announce that war was declared.

The House of Commons met again at 2.45pm. Asquith announced the second telegram, although he did not give its text, and then handed the speaker a message from King George V calling up the army reserve - the completion of mobilisation. Asquith never used the word ‘ultimatum’ and never indicated that war would be declared if there were no satisfactory German government reply by midnight. He did not argue the case for war at this point.

In fact the ultimate decision to declare war was taken by a small inner group of the cabinet - Asquith, Grey and Haldane, joined later by Lloyd George and Mckenna, meeting on Tuesday night. They chose to make the deadline 11pm GMT in the hope that Germany would commence hostilities directly against Britain first and that war could then be declared whilst such an immediate strike was in progress. They gave themselves legal cover by utilising the machinery of the privy council, a body of 300 members with no quorum, which was arranged to be in session. Shortly after 10.30pm, an order was approved indicating a state of war between Britain and Germany, with King George V in attendance. The formal declaration was read out just after midnight.

Douglas Newton has some pertinent observations on this timetable:

Goschen passed on the ultimatum to Jagow in Berlin at about 7pm Berlin time on the Tuesday. Thus, the British declaration of war came just five hours later - at midnight, Berlin time. Comparison with other ultimata and declarations of war are instructive. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia at about noon on Tuesday July 28, three days after the expiration of the Austro-Hungarians’ 48-hour ultimatum. Germany’s ambassador in St Petersburg passed over the declaration of war on Russia at 7pm on Saturday August 1, seven hours after the expiration of the German’s 12-hour ultimatum. In the case of France, the Germans waited much longer. Germany’s ambassador in Paris passed over the declaration of war on France at about 6.45pm on Monday August 3, more than two days after the expiration of the Germans’ 12-hour ultimatum. London waited least (p278).

Opposition to war

Let us turn to the second part of Douglas Newton’s analysis: that is to say, the question of the degree of support among the populace at large for the notion that Britain should stay neutral.

Here the story begins on the very afternoon of Sunday August 2 when the cabinet decided to give France naval support. The decision coincided with some 15,000-20,000 people meeting in Trafalgar Square under the slogan, “England, stand clear”. This rally was addressed by Keir Hardie and trade union and suffragist speakers, plus international representatives. The spark, according to Newton, was the news of Russian general mobilisation, which reached London late on the afternoon of Friday July 31. On Sunday the key cabinet decision was taken and at midnight on Tuesday the fatal announcement was issued. So opponents of intervention outside parliament had precious little time to make their voice heard.

Newton instances indications of widespread opposition to British participation in the slaughter. On Thursday July 30 radical Liberal MP Arthur Ponsonby, chair of the Liberal Foreign Affairs Group, which was critical of government foreign policy, warned Asquith that “nine tenths” of the Liberal Party supported the LFAG position on the war; the Manchester Guardian estimated the figure at four fifths, and Asquith himself privately declared it to be three quarters. We have already noted Newton’s coverage of the neutral position advocated by the Liberal press, and Labour’s Daily Citizen came out for British neutrality, as did the Independent Labour Party weekly, the Labour Leader. Radical backbench stirrings were mirrored outside Parliament by a number of “neutrality committees”: eg, Norman Angell’s Civil Union, with its journal War and Peace. Then there was the British branch of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) representing 26 nations and some 12 million women, meeting in London in July. The British link here was the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by such as Millicent Fawcett and the Scots lawyer Chrystal Macmillan. The IWSA delegates drew up a manifesto, and on Tuesday August 4 the NUWSS held a rally in London’s Kingsway Hall.

There were also demonstrations outside London: eg, in Huddersfield, Carlisle and Birmingham. Naturally, once the patriotic euphoria and the illusion-ridden atmosphere of autumn 1914 had evaporated and reality impinged in all its horror, these oppositional stirrings continued, in spite of severe repression of certain conscientious objectors.


The darkest days is a valuable contribution to the debate and current fixation with the 1914-18 war in these islands, in that it focuses on decision-making in Britain in a crucial eight-day period from Monday July 28 to Tuesday August 4 1914: ie, from Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia to Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. But let Douglas Newton himself have the last words here:

The descent into war revealed the ignominious collapse of essential elements of the old order. The New Imperialism, the great cheap labour scam run to enrich fragments of the economy at the expense of the rest, had landed everyone in a bloodbath. The ‘old diplomacy’ - under which men from a half-dozen public schools presumed to manage competitive imperialism against a combustible backdrop of vast armaments and rival alliances - had failed to safeguard peace. The scramble for Dreadnoughts had failed to deter war. None of this could be admitted, so German evil was depicted as a new immoral element that had upset the good old system (p306).

There is really only one story worth telling about the Great War: it was a common European tragedy - a filthy, disgusting and hideous episode of industrialised killing. Not the first, and not the last. It was unredeemed by victory. The uplifting element of the story lies in the struggle to avert it (p310)

Please read Douglas Newton’s book if you can.

Chris Gray


1. C Clark The sleepwalkers: how Europe went to war in 1914 London 2012. See my articles, ‘The shame of imperialism’ (Weekly Worker January 9 2014) and ‘Necessary and sufficient conditionWeekly Worker January 16 2014).

2. This is the list in Asquith’s communication to his mistress, Venetia Stanley, later that evening, summarising his position (pp181-82).

3. L Masterman CFG Masterman: a biography London 1939, p285.

4. Chapter and verse for this story I do not have to hand, but, if the report is true, which I see no reason to doubt, some elucidation is provided by a letter from Maclean in Justice, dated September 17 1914: “Every interested person knew that Germany’s easiest road of entry into France was by Belgium. Sir Edward Grey had only to wait till Belgium’s neutrality had been broken to seize the ‘moral’ excuse for Britain taking up arms. The real reason was, and is, that he and his class knew that war between Britain and German capitalism had to come sooner or later. Now was the day, and Britain struck. Plunderers versus plunderers …” See N Milton (ed) John Maclean in the rapids of revolution: essays, articles and letters 1902-02, London 1978, p76.