Kent Life During the Great War => Life => Topic started by: peterchall on July 03, 2014, 17:15:28

Title: War Arrives
Post by: peterchall on July 03, 2014, 17:15:28
A continuation of the topic ‘It Began Today’ under a more appropriate title, to provide background to other threads that will – hopefully – be started on this Board. There have been volumes written on the subject so the following is merely a brief summary that I hope is correct.

Of the many international agreements those most relevant were:
1.   A treaty dating back to 1839 whereby Britain, France and Germany guaranteed Belgium’s independence and neutrality.

2.   An ‘understanding’ that Russia would ‘protect’ Serbia.

3.   The ‘Triple Alliance’ between Germany, Austria-Hungary (A/H) and Italy, whereby each would give military aid to any of the others if attacked by any other great power.

4.   The ‘Triple Entente’ between Britain, France and Russia, whereby each would give ‘support’ to any of the others, but not necessarily military support.

A summary of the events is:
1.   The assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Black Hand on 28th June 1914, as related in the thread ‘It Started Today’.

2.   A/H considered Serbia to support the Black Hand and sought ‘revenge’. She asked Germany for support as necessary, to which Germany not only agreed but encouraged strong action.

3.   Assuming that, due to German ‘warnings’, Russia would do no more than protest, A/H sent a very demanding ultimatum to Serbia on 23rd July, with a dead-line of 6pm on 25th July for a reply. Except for the demand that the A/H army and police should effectively occupy Serbia, she agreed to all A/H’s demands. Not satisfied, A/H declared war on Serbia on 28th July.

4.   Russia and France mobilised.

5.   The British government was split over whether to become involved and on 30th July informed France and Russia that she would probably remain neutral.

6.   Germany regarded the Russian and French mobilisation as an ‘act of war’ and declared war on them on 1st August.

7.   Britain mobilised as a ‘precaution’. Having by far the smallest army of any of the major European nations, and being the only one without conscription, this operation was rapid and efficient. The Royal Navy had been assembled for a Royal Revue at Spithead on 20th July and First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, gave orders that delayed the fleet’s dispersal, so the navy was effectively already mobilised.

8.   The German plan was for a ‘right-hook’ through Belgium to attack the French army from the rear as it formed up along the French/German border, and to that end, at 7am on 2nd August, Germany asked Belgium to allow free passage of German troops. Belgium rejected this request at 7am on 3rd August and German troops entered Belgium at 8:02am on 4th August.

9.   Still with a few dissenting voices the British Government decided that it was bound by the 1839 guarantee to Belgium and, after giving Germany an ultimatum to withdraw her troops, declared war on Germany at 11pm on 4th August.

10.   Having started the others fighting, A/H did not declare war on Russia until 6th August, and not on Britain and France until 12th August. Her troops did not enter Serbia until 12th August!

11.   Italy, a member of the Triple Alliance, did not join in, on the grounds that Germany and A/H were not being attacked, but were themselves the attackers.

I imagine that the general public, informed only by newspapers, took little interest in events in places that many of them had never heard of. Even as late as my own early school days Geography was all about the British Empire – we knew where India, Canada, Australia, and so on were, but as for Italy, Hungary, Sweden, etc, we would have been taught little, if anything.

This is an article in a recent Kent Messenger supplement titled ‘Kent and the Great War’:
The summer of 1914 was picnic perfect. In July temperatures reached 90 degrees and holidaymakers flocked to the fashionable Kent coastal resorts to take in the sea air and enjoy clear views across the channel. Beaches were packed with families while manicured pleasure gardens offered a place to listen to the music drifting from the bandstands. The leisurely classes strolled along the proms, took afternoon tea and danced the night away. And the bright mood was echoed across the county with fetes and fairs giving everyone the chance to put on their Sunday best.

At the society wedding of Walter Monckton and Polly Colyer-Fergusson, at Ightham Mote on 23rd July, guests basked in the sunshine.

Overnight the clouds of war changed everything. Despite rumours of unrest on the Continent the nation had been confident the troubles would not be theirs. But Britain had an obligation to Belgium and, on 4th August, having received what the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith called ‘an unsatisfactory communication from Berlin’, war was declared.

Kent’s glorious summer faded and its once genteel resorts were transformed into garrison towns. Life was never to be the same again

That seems to me to be the big difference with the run-up to WW2. That had been foreseen for some time, with the formation of Air Raid Precautions and the Auxiliary Fire Service, the issue of gas masks and so on. With the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, 6 months before, war became a probability rather than a possibility, and a certainty on 24th August 1939, with the signing of the Russo-German treaty, 10 days before. But in 1914, in the public’s perception at least, it all happened over just 2 or 3 days.

Yet the mood must have changed quickly, because by most accounts we hear of men flocking to the recruiting stations and the desire to avenge ‘poor little Belgium’. There are obviously no first hand accounts of Kent life during that period, but has anyone got any ‘second hand’ or other accounts?
Title: Re: War Arrives
Post by: ann on July 04, 2014, 12:45:27
  This is an article in a recent Kent Messenger supplement titled ‘Kent and the Great War’:  “......At the society wedding of Walter Monckton and Polly Colyer-Fergusson, at Ightham Mote on 23rd July, guests basked in the sunshine.

I assume this would be the sister of Thomas Colyer-Fergusson, VC. of the Northampton Regiment who was killed on 31 July 1917.
Title: Re: War Arrives
Post by: peterchall on July 04, 2014, 15:48:30
It was.
He was Thomas Riversdale Colyer-Fergusson, the 3rd son of Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson who owned Ightam Mote and who was High Sheriff of Kent in 1906.

Walter Monckton was born at Plaxtol, Kent in 1891 and became a lawyer and an MP. He was made Viscount Monckton of Brenchley in 1957.
Title: Re: War Arrives
Post by: peterchall on July 08, 2014, 15:54:36
Yet the mood must have changed quickly, because by most accounts we hear of men flocking to the recruiting stations and the desire to avenge ‘poor little Belgium’.
Further reading suggests that the rush which swamped the recruiting offices did not occur until later.

As noted, most people would have known little of the events leading up to WW1, so the main incentive would have been the inherent patriotism that caused them to think “My country is at war with someone – never mind who – so I must help”. The lines of the song that went Goodbye Dolly, I must leave you…..Something tells me I am needed, at the front to fight the foe…..Hark, I hear the bugle calling, Goodbye Dolly Gray would have fitted the mood, but probably no more so than it did for the Boer War.

Then came some events to inspire and anger the public:
1.   While there had been patrol clashes from 21st August, when Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment became the first British soldier to be killed in WW1, the first major confrontation between the BEF and the Germans occurred on 23rd August, in what became known as the Battle of Mons. Heavily outnumbered, the BEF (including 1st Battalion Royal West Kents) held the Germans along the Mons-Conde Canal - it was that famous occasion when the rapid rifle fire of the British infantry caused the enemy to think they were opposed by machine-guns. But by mid-afternoon the Germans had crossed the canal on each side of the BEF so, with its flanks exposed, its position became untenable.

2.   Thus, on 24th August, began the 2-week long ‘Retreat from Mons’, an honourable fighting retreat due, not to defeat in face-to-face combat, but to prevent being outflanked by German forces advancing each side. What the Kaiser had called “Britain’s Contemptible Little Army” was proving to be the most professional of any of the combatants’ armies – even so, the retreat marked the end of the “Old Contemptibles” and put paid to the until then prevalent notion that it would “all be over by Christmas”. It would have been the first time that the action was close enough to home, and the IT modern enough, to get news of it into the papers almost the next day, so it caught the public imagination.

3.   Then on the scene came the ‘Angel of Mons’. Accounts vary, but the most common one seems to be of her appearing in the sky above the BEF on 23rd August, to advise the BEF’s C-in-C, General Sir John French, what to do. Thereafter she apparently became a protective influence for the BEF, thus proving that we were fighting on the right side. Superstitious folk-lore perhaps, but I think it had an effect on public feelings. On a personal note I can say that I heard of her at a very early age from my mother, who seemed to accept her as a matter of fact.

4.   Then there was the sacking of Louvain, which had been occupied by the Germans since 19th August. A foray by Belgian troops from Antwerp caused German troops to the north to fall back into the city and accounts then vary. The Germans claimed that the local civilian population had illegally taken up arms against them, but the Belgians stated that the troops occupying the city and those retreating into it fired on each other. Whatever the case the Germans retaliated with a brutality for which they had already built up a reputation since first invading Belgium. For 5 days, starting on 25th August, the city was subjected to an orgy of destruction – including its world renowned university and library - and mass executions regardless of age or gender.

It was a Godsend for British propaganda, and public feeling rose against the ‘filthy Hun’ who had literally raped ‘poor little Belgium’. A quick surf suggests that about 100,000 men enlisted in the army in August, but by the end of September the total had risen to about 750,000. It perhaps says something about the public mood that Britain managed to sustain its armed forces without conscription until January 1916.

I would love to read anecdotes of home life during those first few weeks of the ‘Great War’.

For a very readable account of life with the ‘Old Contemptibles’ I recommend The First Hundred Thousand by Ian Hay.
Title: Re: War Arrives
Post by: peterchall on July 09, 2014, 19:53:31
The First Hundred Thousand is about the first wave of volunteers who enlisted on the outbreak of war, not the ‘Old Contemptibles’ who fought at Mons. But much of it would have applied to them and it is still a good read. I read it years ago, and it can now be read here:

Has anyone else heard of the Angel of Mons?
Title: Re: War Arrives
Post by: peterchall on August 05, 2014, 16:20:53
There was nothing on the front page ot the 4am edition of the Daily Telegraph of 5th August 1914 to tell the country it was at war.

As usual the front page was comprised entirely of advertisements covering wines,  clothes, holiday hotels and all the usual things, including a 13-day cruise of the Norwegian Fjords. The Great Eastern Railway was advertising its Harwich to Antwerp ferry and claimed that its Harwich to Hook-of-Holland service was the shortest and most comfortable route to North Germany.

The inner pages contained news of rocketing food prices and an official statement that the country had ample food supplies. There was an announcement that the railways had been brought under state control, and Madame Tussaud’s had a special exhibition of the central characters in the ‘European crisis’. There was an advert stating "Your King and Country needs YOU……..Join the Army TODAY”. There was news from the holiday resorts that large numbers of European visitors were cutting short their holidays. And, of course, all the everyday news items and features that we are used to in any daily paper.

Then on page 6 came a tub-thumping editorial condemning the “…..overbearing soldier-caste directing the docile German people…..”

On page 8 there was a report that 10,000 people had gathered at Buckingham Palace the previous night, singing the National Anthem, and a report that the German Embassy had been mobbed and its windows broken.

Only on page 7 were the headlines ‘England’s (sic) Declaration of War against Germany’, with 28 separate news items on the subject.

Thus did the paper provide a snapshot of a country clinging to normality as the nightmare began to engulf it!

Source: Daily Telegraph
Title: Re: War Arrives
Post by: HERB COLLECTOR on August 19, 2015, 22:48:14

The defences of the Thames and Medway are quietly being put in a state of preparedness demanded by the tension in European affairs. The boom across the mouth of the Medway, as stated elsewhere, has been put in position, and orders have been issued for the regulation of the internal traffic of the port of Dover.
Late on Wednesday evening Marines went through Sheerness recalling all men on leave to duty afloat. The notice was read out from the stage of the Hippodrome, and search was made in the workmen's clubs for blue-jackets, whilst naval and marine officers were hunted up in their homes and lodgings ashore.
A night staff was also on duty in the Royal Dockyard. Since Thursday morning all tradesmen and officer's wives have been refused entry to the yard.
The Marine Town Railway Station at Sheerness was kept open all Wednesday night for the detraining of troops, and the railway station was kept under military guard.
At Dover all piers and docks are patrolled day and night. A special detachment of police arrived on Thursday from London to guard ordnance depots.
The 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, full equipped, left Gravesend on Wednesday night for various points along the River Thames. They departed in batches by the down trains during the evening, and just before 12 (midnight) a large number of the Dublins, joined by the Royal Marines, and about 100 of the Kent (Fortress) Royal Engineers, under command of Lieut.-Colonel Gadd, left in a special train for the Sheerness district. The Dublins took with them a large quantity of stores, ammunition and a machine gun. The Royal Marines' destination was Chatham, but the Dublins went to various parts of the Isle of Grain district, where there are not only forts, but Government stores and airship stations.

On Thursday a number of the Fusiliers were detailed for duty near the Rochester Bridge, on the S.E. and C. Railway.
The Essex Regiment, stationed at Chatham, was also taken to the Sheerness district, batches being dropped at intervals along the line.
Service men on leave, both soldiers and sailors, have been recalled, and even cricket matches have been interrupted and military concerts prematurely terminated in obedience to the military demands.
Under instructions from the owners British steamers bound to German ports were boarded on Sunday off Dover with orders to proceed instead to the Thames and Gravesend. The Calais and Ostend steamers arriving at Dover on Saturday night were crowded with passengers, the majority being English people who had shortened their Continental holidays. The steamers to the Continent are conveying hardly any English people, most of the passengers being Austrians, German and French. The Flushing steamer was very late in reaching Folkestone, and landed a large number of German and Dutch women and children, who have been sent to England for safety. On the arrival of the Belgian and French Steamers in the mail and passenger services from Ostend and Calais, orders were given that the wireless installations should be put out of action and taken down. This work was promptly carried out alongside the Admiralty Pier.
War Office officials were engaged in the neighbourhood of Maidstone on Saturday in choosing horses to be commandeered in case of emergency.

South Eastern Gazette. 4 August 1914.
Title: Re: War Arrives
Post by: peterchall on August 20, 2015, 12:43:56
Since the anniversary of VJ-Day the Daily Telegraph has stopped reproducing articles from the 1945 editions and is daily reproducing articles from 100 years ago.
Title: Re: War Arrives
Post by: HERB COLLECTOR on January 27, 2018, 23:01:36

The relations of Miss S. H. Monypenny have received letters here, dated Folkestone, where she is principal of a school, concerning warlike activity. A letter dated August 13, 1914, states:-

''Folkestone is full of activity - soldiers on active service, with kits of khaki, go up and down the street all day. Cruisers and torpedoers come in and out of the harbour at all times, as well as the extra boats from the Continent, because Dover is closed to all traffic, being an important naval centre. There are necessarily very few boats going at all to the Continent, and those go only to French or Dutch ports. Great precautions are being taken against German spies. The authorities allow batches of German families to leave London, and reach Folkestone. When they get here they find the military awaiting them, and the wives and children are allowed to proceed on their journey, while the men are marched off to confinement. Aunt H. and I watched a whole batch of these men, guarded by a cordon of soldiers, being marched along the road. They showed no resistance, but struggled on.

Two days ago I went with Miss S. to Dover. There we saw a sight to remember - twelve torpedoers and nine cruisers anchored in line, fully armed and manned. We talked to a couple of men, and got them to point out the different craft to us. A cruiser of one of the smaller kind of ships - these particular ones were fitted up with mine-laying facilities and at about 5.30 p.m. we watched the greater number of them steam out to patrol the Channel for the night, in conjunction with the French fleet. They looked so sinister and deadly, the huge things, as they glided in swift silence one after the other, out to sea. They are black, or a very dark grey, and lie low in the water. While we were talking to an affable sailor -  quarter-master, I think - an airship and an aeroplane sailed noisily overhead, and presently he pointed out a thin white line on the surface of the water, churning it into foam as it went along. That, he said, was a submarine.

Dover is a most interesting old sea town, full of quaint streets, and near the quays, of old houses. We saw a captured German ship - one of the smaller cargo boats - We have caught about 100 German ships, some small and some large. One, up in the North Sea, had about 100 carrier-pigeons onboard. The country seems to be swarming with German spies. The head waiter at the biggest hotel here (and it is very big) was arrested yesterday. It was found that this man, a German, has for five years listened to the conversations of any officers having tea, or staying at the hotel, and made notes, sending them on to headquarters in Germany, I suppose. He was not shot, but only given two or three years. They are shooting spies daily in Belgium and France.

Our German girls can't get back, of course, and they are really much safer here, but all foreigners and aliens in England have to get a permit. So Aunt H. took them to the town hall to be registered. Their heights were taken, their features minutely described and their photographs had to be left with the authorities - and even their thumb marks were taken. Whenever they want to go more than five miles from Folkestone, they have to trot down to the town hall and get another pass, and immediately on their return, or next morning, bring back their passes themselves. The police are very kind and polite - a marked contrast to the terrible reports from Germany of incredible stories of German hatred and brutality to English trying to get out of the country.

A moratorium has been declared until September 4. Sugar and bread have gone up - certain meats are very dear, too - but nothing extraordinary. All perishable goods, such as fruit and eggs, are madly cheap. All harvests are splendid this year. We see some very fine wheat fields about four miles out of this town. Russia's and Germany's harvests are good too.

It is a little trying for us, with our two Germans and one Austrian (from Vienna). No news for these poor girls can filter through, not even a telegram. Here we get news very quickly and see torpedoers and cruisers lying off, or steaming ahead every day.

I joined a Red Cross Society the other day. Went to my first practice yesterday. A Miss C. teaches free, anyone who wishes to learn. She had arrived from Derry (Ireland) an hour before I intervlewed her first - and does all this at her own expense. She said the effect of the war was marvellous over there. Two days ago every nurse was at her station, filling sand bags and even water-bottles in anticipation of serious trouble. She came back because there was nothing for her to do! Nationalists and Unionists have dropped their differences like an old cloak, and are absolutely together."

The Sydney Morning Herald. Wed 30 Sep 1914.