A Potted History of the Great War


excerpt from 'Watershed of the Epoch' - for the full story see 'The Lord of the Harvest'
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012

King-Emperor Edward VIII
For the first four years of John Crawford's life he was an Edwardian - difficult to believe but true.
The First Word War started when John was eight years old and ended when he was twelve - so, he was a teenager in the Twenties - a teenager in the 'jaz-age' - the long weekend.

The supposed cause of the First World War was the assassination of the Arch-Duke Franz-Ferdinand and his morganatic wife, the Duchess Sophie, of Hohenburg, in Sarajevo on the 8th June 1914, but in reality this was, of course, merely part of an on-going quarrel between Austria-Hungary & Serbia.
The circumstances of the assassination were very strange, to say the least.
The Arch-Duke and his wife were visiting Sarajevo, in Bosnia, in order to inspect troops (see left).
Bosnia, which had a large Serbian population, had recently been annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, much to the annoyance of Serbia and Russia.
A secret Serbian society, which some have suggested had occult connections, decided to take the opportunity and assassinate the heir to the Hapsburg throne as a revenge for the annexation of Bosnia and the persecution of the Slavs by the German speaking Austro-Hungarians.
This, of course, was no new crusade - Slavs and Germans had been opposed to one another since the Dark Ages.
Gavrilo Princip
A total of six assassins were waiting for Franz-Ferdinand, when he arrived at Sarajevo. Amazingly, either as a result of cowardice, incompetence or just sheer bad luck, all six failed in their attempts.
If everything had gone according to the official plans, the Arch-Duke would have been safe, and perhaps there may have been no war, and ten million lives would have been saved.
The chauffeur, however, took a wrong turning, and realising his mistake, stopped the Imperial car.
As 'fate' would have it, he stopped the car right in front of an amazed and terrified nineteen year old Serbian called Gavrilo Princip (see right).
Screwing up his courage, which had previously failed him, for he was one of the six, he jumped on the running board and, with only two shots, killed both Franz-Ferdinand and his wife.
There was an immediate response from Austria-Hungary.
Once it had been established that the assassin was Serbian, it was a simple matter for the Koniglich und Kaiserlich Security Services to implicate the Serbian Government.
Imperial Arms of Franz-Josef
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
Whether or not the Serbians Government (see State Arms left) was involved is still an open question.
The Imperial response was an ultimatum to Serbia, which, if the Serbians had acceded to it, would have completely negated their sovereignty and independence.
As Austria-Hungary knew, Serbia could not accede to her ultimatum. Austria-Hungary had purposefully put herself in the position where her only possible response could be a declaration of war against Serbia.
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
The presumed scenario was that Serbia, realizing that she could not hope to survive an Austrian attack, would capitulate, thus enabling Austria-Hungary to swallow up yet another Balkan state.
The Russian Empire, the self styled protector of the Slavs, it was presumed would not intervene as she was still smarting from her recent defeat at the hands of the Japanese.
The presumed scenario failed to materialize, however.
The Austrians were forced to declare war on Serbia, and to Austria's horror Russia proceeded to mobilise, in support of Serbia.
There was, however, a rather awkward problem with regard to Russian mobilisation.
The Imperial Russian High Command had always presumed that, if mobilisation was ever necessary, it would be in response to a threat from Germany.

Wilhelm II,
Nikolas II
As a result all the Russian mobilisation plans involved sending troops towards Russia's borders with the German Empire.
The Kaiser, Wilhelm II, immediately sent an urgent note to his cousin 'Nicky', the Russian Tsar, warning him of the danger of the developing situation.
There was nothing 'Niky' could do, however.
In Germany Von Moltke (see right below), for the Army, Bethmann-Hollweg (see left below), the Chancellor and Houston Stewart Chamberlain urged the Kaiser to agree to a German mobilisation.
There was a problem, though.
It was way back in 1891, that General Von Schlieffen had created a plan for mobilisation of the German army.
Von Moltke
Its main aim was to avoid a war on two fronts, which Schlieffen rightly believed Germany would be unable to sustain.
The Schlieffen Plan called for a rapid attack upon France, Russia's ally, through Belgium, with intention of supplying a French defeat within one month.

The slowness of Russia's mobilisation would ensure that the victorious German forces could be despatched, by train, from France, across Germany, to be in position to defeat Russia.
Once Russian mobilisation had been ordered, however, there could be no delay, if the plan were to work in Germany's favou
Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (see left), born in 1856, he succeeded Prince Blow as Chancellor on 1909 and was dismissed in 1917.

The result of all this complex military planning was that Germany was forced to attack the French, who were in no way involved in the original quarrel, and at the same time trample upon Belgian neutrality.
This forced Britain to declare war on Germany, in order to fulfil her obligation to defend that neutrality, in accordance with the recently signed Treaty of London.
The reason for this involved explanation is to show that in one sense the Great War was neither planned for nor desired; particularly by Germany.
The argument between Austria and Serbia, begun by an almost senile Emperor, who had come to the throne in 1848, could have been solved through international negotiation; and even if Austria had annexed Serbia, it would have had little or no effect on the balance of power in Europe, and the other European powers could, therefore have permitted it.
That Germany did not want war is self-evident.
She was not party to the original quarrel, and by 1914 it was clear to German academics and businessmen that, barring war or revolution, Germany would be, in a few years, the dominant economic, and therefore the dominant political power in Europe.

Kaiser Wilhelm II
Tsar Nicholas II
The Kaiser (see left), it is true, was bellicose, but apart from the fact that his 'bark was worse than his bite', it should be noted that he was a constitutional monarch, heavily restrained by a bourgeois Reichstag who were not seeking foolish adventures.
Russia was, by this time out of control.
Nicholas (see right), the weak indecisive Tsar, unable to rely on the advice of Rasputin, (see right) who was recovering from an attempt upon his life, allowed that strangely stubborn petulant streak, which on occasions would emerge from his indecision, to override his better judgement, in the case of Serbia.

Viscount Grey
France had no choice but to defend herself; and even Britain was not wholeheartedly for the war, as Viscount Grey (see left), the British Foreign Secretary made clear in his famous remark referring to the lamps of Europe going out.

Who then wished for war ?
Strangely enough, the ordinary people of Europe; the man in the street, seemed to crave war. In all the capitals of Europe people became ecstatic at the proclamations of mobilisation were made.

One very famous picture exists of the crowds rejoicing as the announcement of hostilities was made in Munich.
Adolf Hitler - 1914
There is one young man in the crowd with a somewhat familiar face.
Recently film of this event has been discovered,
There, again is the young man, with piercing eyes, cheering with the crowd.
The man is Adolf Hitler; one of many 'moving with the assurance of a sleep walker', to the abyss.
He joined the millions who laughed and sang their way to the front. Europe, and maybe even the world, was at a watershed in its history.
Art, music, literature, philosophy and the spirits themselves had foretold this terrible day.
Affluent Europe had developed a terrible malaise.
Progress and bourgeois morality had become stultifying, to the point of suffocation.
A glittering adventure; great and noble deeds were just beyond the horizon.
At last the boredom of a mass-produced world could be swept aside.
As Hitler said - 'At least we are awake. Let the others sleep !'

'Now in thy splendour go before us,
Spirit of England, ardent eyed,
En-kindle this dear earth that bore us,
In the hour of peril, purified.

The cares we hugged drop out of vision,
Our hearts with deeper thoughts dilate.
We step from days of sour division
Into grandeur of our fate.

For us the glorious dead have striven,
They battled that we might be free.
We to their living cause are given;
We arm for men that are to be.

Among the nations noblest chartered,
England recalls her heritage,
In her is that which is not bartered,
Which force can neither quell nor cage.

For her immortal star are burning;
With her, the hope that's never done,
The seed that's in the Spring's returning,
The very flower that seeks the sun.'
 Laurence Binyon  1869-1943

That Britain had signed the Treaty of London in the full knowledge that any German military intervention in Europe would involve the infringement of Belgian neutrality indicates that Britain had a hidden agenda for dealing with the rising economic power of Germany.

When the Great War began there was a general consensus that it would be over by Christmas.
Infantry conscripts marched happily to war, and the cavalry rode forth, the Chasseurs in their glittering Curiasses, and the Ulans with their lances.
The Schlieffen plan failed, much to Germany's surprise, and the German armies got bogged down in the mud of France and Flanders, and the dreaded war on two fronts became a reality.
At Christmas the troops fraternized and played football together, and in the New Year the 'War to end all wars' began in earnest.
The War, once it had begun, seemed to unleash the most appalling and demonic forces.

To the people of the Allied countries, particularly Britain and America, the Germans were not simply the enemy; they were the 'Hun'.
Atrocity stories abounded, particularly with regard to Belgium, where, if the British papers were to be believed, most of the female population had been raped or killed, or both.
Demands were made for 'unconditional surrender' on the part of the Central Powers, and even the most respectable elements in society were baying for the German Emperor to be hung.
One Christian congregation, on the instigation of its minister, even demanded that the Kaiser be boiled in oil.
German shops in England were wrecked and looted, and on one occasion a dachshund was Killed by an English mob 'because it was a German dog'.
This was the first 'mass-produced war'.
The technological progress, achieved over the previous decades, which had been able to produce everyday objects in the hundreds of thousands, around the clock, was now producing guns, shells, bullets and bombs in those same quantities.
As technology advanced, with the violent impetus of war, new horrors appeared, as if the killing was not yet efficient enough for the politicians and generals
Fighter and bomber aircraft, tanks and the obscenity of poison gas made their appearance. 

The 'Cornucopia of Progress' had transformed itself into the 'Cornucopia of Death'.
That vast harvest of death left few untouched.
Most families lost someone in the carnage; some lost many.

'For the Fallen'
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
'Rememberance Day'
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
But none of this touched John or Jane Crawford directly.
They grew up, however, in a land scarred emotionally and socially by the loss of huge numbers of young men.
It is almost impossible for us now to understand the sense of revulsion and horror that came upon people as they surveyed the devastation that had been caused by the First World War.
This was the first truly 'industrialised' war.
All the resources of the warring nations had been focussed on the mass-production of the most hideous weapons of war.
Such weapons included machine guns, aerial bombing, poisonous gas, colossal mines, flame-throwers - some of which were of massive proportions, and the first armoured tanks.
And all of this took place in the appalling environment of the mud-drenched, corpses-littered trenches.
During the First World War England had seen a massive devastation and loss of life.
However, more people lost their lives in Eastern Europe than in the west, but the outcome was different.
In the west, and in response to the victory, most of the cities in the countries involved in the conflict, including England, erected memorials, with the memorials in smaller villages and towns often listing the names of each local soldier who had been killed.
Almost everyone at the time believed that what they called the 'Great War' had been the 'war to end all wars'.
And how wrong they were.....

'Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.'

Laurence Binyon 1869-1943

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