How war came to Europe

Britain had been at war for just two days when on August 6th, 1914, the Luton News decided to remind its readers just how the whole situation had evolved since the assassination of the heir to the Austria-Hungary throne in Sarajevo less than six weeks earlier. Below is the newspaper's recap - as printed - of the build-up to catastrophe (NB: the historical Greek terms Servia and Servian are used instead of Serbia and Serbian in the report).


The origin of the whole trouble is almost completely forgotten in the stress of what it has led to. By last weekend no one thought much of what was happening to Servia. In fact Austria seemed to have stayed her hand a while to tackle the greater problem of Russia.

The war began through the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife being assassinated on June 28th. Austria said she had proof that the assassination plot was hatched in Belgrade by Servian military officers. In the southern part of Austria-Hungary the Servian race predominates and Servia is accused of stirring up the people against Austria with the idea of seizing the province of Bosnia at the earliest opportunity.

The assassinations provided Austria with an excuse to crush the agitation. Servia rejected two demands which Austria regarded as highly important. The result was - war, the declaration being made on Tuesday of last week. Austria advanced against Belgrade, the Servian capital, and bombarded it. The Servians blew up the bridge between Serhlin and Belgrade. Later the capital was stated to be in flames.

There were hopes that the squabble would be confined to Austria and Servia, but the whole situation was changed through the Tsar ordering Russian troops to mobilise. Austria's argument that the move against Servia was merely a punitive expedition was not accepted by Russia, who took the position that she, as protector and champion of the Slav races, could not stand by while a small Slav state like Servia was being annihilated.

That brought Germany on the scene with a demand for an explanation of the Russian mobilisation. Germany considered that Russia's action was provocative and it showed Russia's intention to take part in the war. After a certain time limit had expired, Germany contended that as Russia had not stopped the mobilisation of her troops on the Austrio-German frontier, Germany was forced to call all her soldiers together.

War was declared on Russia on Saturday evening. On Sunday, German troops entered Luxemberg, the neutrality of which was proclaimed by the Powers in 1867, and again after the Franco-German War. This of course showed that Germany was moving towards France in anticipation of that country fulfilling her obligations to Russia, whose ally she is.

Thus was the catastrophe spread. All along, Great Britain had been anxiously watching events. The effects of Continental conditions were already becoming felt in England. Than Bank rate rose to 10 per cent - the third rise in three days - the National Penny Bank as a precautionary measure closed its door, and there were failures on the Stock Exchange. There was a shortage of cash, and advantage was taken of the situation to raise the price of such food stuffs as sugar, flour, bacon and cheese. On Saturday, at Bedford, a further rise in the price of flour brought the total increase there to five shillings per sack.

All this happened while England was yet standing apart. The authorities were quietly making preparation for eventualities, for the entanglement of France made the circumstances acute. There had been midnight conferences with the King, who had made great personal efforts to bring about peace of the Continent. The Cabinet met twice on Sunday, and there was breathless waiting for (Foreign Secretary) Sir Edward Grey's declaration on Monday.

"We have consistently worked with a single mind to preserve peace," he said. "But the policy of peace has failed. There was no promise until yesterday (Sunday)....Yesterday we let France know that we should not allow her north and west coasts to be attacked".
The neutrality of Belgium, it was stated, had appealed to the British people. A question had been addressed to Germany. Last week France agreed to respect Belgian neutrality. The same question was put to Germany.

What answer by the Foreign Minister? He must consult the Emperor and the Chancellor. Question repeated: most important, indeed urgent.

What answer then? It would "disclose part of the plan of campaign against France". It was a case of the independence of Belgium - of Holland - of Denmark - of France herself, it might be, if France "were beaten to her knees".

Thus England was to be dragged in also, unless a miracle happened, for there were already reports of the invasion of Belgium. The British fleet had long been prepared. The Naval Reserve had been notified, the proclamation to mobilise the Army was signed on Tuesday, the Reserves were ordered to return to their colours, and the Territorials, who had been hastily sent back from their camps, were "embodied" - a new thing in the case of the Territorials which implies continuous service at home.

The necessity for these preparations was soon shown, for the situation developed with marvellous rapidity and Britain finds herself involved with the rest of Europe in an awful struggle.