A British news report on the outbreak of war (1914)


This news report on the outbreak of war comes from the London Daily Mirror, August 4th 1914:


Great Britain Declares War on Germany!

Great Britain is in a state of war with Germany. It was officially stated at the Foreign Office last night that Great Britain declared war against Germany at 7.00pm. The British Ambassador in Berlin has been handed his passport. War was Germany’s reply to our request that she should respect the neutrality of Belgium, whose territories we were bound in honour and by treaty obligations to maintain inviolate.

Speaking in a crowded and hushed House the Premier yesterday afternoon made the following statement: “We have made a request to the German Government that we shall have a satisfactory assurance as to the Belgian neutrality before midnight tonight.” The German reply to our request, officially stated last night, was unsatisfactory.

The King has addressed the following message to Admiral Sir John Jellicoe: “At this grave moment in our national history I send to you and, through you, to the officers and men of the fleets, of which you have assumed command, the assurance of my confidence that under your direction they will revive and renew the old glories of the Royal Navy, and prove once again the sure shield of Britain and of her Empire in the hour of trial.”

The above message has been communicated to the senior naval officers on all stations outside of home waters. It was reported yesterday evening that Germany had taken the first hostile step by destroying a British mine-layer.

At the present time Germany is in a state of war with: Great Britain, Russia, France and Belgium. It would seem as if Germany, in her ambition to control the destiny of the whole of Europe, were ready to embark on any grandiose scheme of adventure, however precarious her chances. So far as Great Britain is concerned, her attitude has always been plain, straightforward and perfectly intelligible. She was prepared to stand aside from the conflict that has now involved practically the whole of Europe. But she insisted and had to insist on two things: these were that Belgium’s neutrality should be respected; and that the German fleet should not bombard defenceless French towns…

In a strained silence in every part of the House of Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister made his momentous statement. He explained how the King of the Belgians had appealed to England for diplomatic intervention on behalf of his country – Germany having demanded free passage for her troops through Belgium, promising to maintain the integrity and independence of the kingdom.

“Simultaneously,” continued Mr Asquith, “we received from the Belgian Legation in London the following telegram from the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs: ‘The General Staff announce that territory has been violated at Verviers, near Aix-la-Chapelle. Subsequent information tends to show that a German force has penetrated still further into Belgian territory.'”

“We also received this morning from the German Ambassador here a telegram sent to him from the German Foreign Secretary: ‘Please dispel any distrust that must exist on the part of the British Government with regard to our intentions by repeating, most positively, the formal assurance that, even in case of armed conflict with Belgium, Germany will not, under any pretence whatever, annex Belgian territory. Please impress upon Sir Edward Grey that the German Army could not be exposed to a French attack across Belgium, which was planned according to absolutely unimpeachable information.'”

“I have,” continued Mr Asquith, “to add this on behalf of the Government: we cannot regard this as in any sense a satisfactory communication. We have, in reply to it, repeated the request we made last week to the German Government that they should give us the same assurance with regard to Belgian neutrality as was given to us and to Belgium by France last week.”

The King and Queen, accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Princess Mary, were hailed with wild, enthusiastic cheers when they appeared at about eight o’clock last night on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, before which a record crowd had assembled.


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