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4: Great Britain and the War

<< 3: Strength and Resources of the Warring Powers || 5: The World's Greatest War >>

The influence of the European War permeated everything from and through the nation to the individual, from trade and commerce and world-finance to the cost of food and the price of labor. The whole world, civilized and uncivilized, was drawn into this whirlpool of disaster - the majority of the population of the earth was actually at war. Was it possible that such a vast conflict - so far reaching in its racial and national elements, so bitter in its old and new animosities, so great in its territorial area, so tremendous in the numbers of men in arms - could come, as some commentators say, like a thief in the night or have fallen upon the world like a bolt from the blue! All available information of an exact character, all the preparation of the preceding few years, all the inner statecraft of the world as revealed in policy and action, prove the fallacy of this supposition.


As a matter of fact one nation had been for nearly half a century the pivot upon which European hopes and fears have turned in the matter of peace and war, of military and naval preparation, of diplomatic interchange. During this period Germany rose to a foremost place amongst the nations of Europe, to the first place in strength of military power and organized fighting force, to the second place in naval strength and commercial progress. The growth itself was a legitimate one in the main; and, given the character of its people and their cultivated convictions as to inherent greatness, was inevitable. For other nations the vital question asked in diplomacy and answered in their military or naval preparations was equally inevitable: How would Germany use this power, against whom was it aimed, for what specific purpose was it being organized with such capable precision, such splendid skill?


Great Britain, meanwhile, had devoted her main attention to the trade and diplomacy and little wars associated with the maintenance of a world-empire and, in self-defense, had cultivated friendships with Russia and France and the United States and Japan as this German power began to come closer and touch the most vital British interests. France naturally strengthened itself as its historic enemy grew in power; Russia improved her military position after the Japanese was as she was bound to do; Germany appeared to set the pace upon sea and land with an aggressive diplomacy in Morocco and in China, at Paris and at St. Petersburg, which was bound to cause trouble and to promote what is commonly called militarism. The vast ambitions and persistent policy of the German ruler and his people, the unsatisfied characteristics of German diplomacy, the militant ideals and military preparations and naval expansion of Germany between 1900 and 1914 became the dominant consideration in the chancelleries of Europe. Armies and navies, wars in the Balkans or struggles for colonial spheres of influence, financial reserves and naval construction and volunteer forces - all came to be measured against current developments in this center of European gravity.


Great Britain tried to hold aloof from this international rivalry, this preparation for a war which her people and leaders hoped against hope would be averted. Royal visits of a pacific character were exchanged, parties of Great Britain's business men visited Berlin, while leaders such as King Edward and Lord Haldane exercised all their ability in striving for some mutual ground of friendly action. Lovers of peace wrote many volumes and filled many newspapers with articles on the beneficence of that policy and the terrors of militarism - books and articles which were never seen in Germany except by those who regarded them as so many confessions of national weakness. Between 1904 and 1908 Grear Britain actually reduced her naval expenditures and limited her construction of battleships in the hope that Germany would follow the lead, pleaded at two Hague Conferences for international reduction of armaments, kept away from all increase in her own almost ridiculous military establishment, urged upon two occasions (in 1912-1913) a naval holiday in construction. The following figures from Brassey's authoritative NAVAL ANNUAL shows that her naval expenditure upon new ships in 1913 was actually less than in 1904, that Germany's was nearly three times greater, that France and Russia and Italy had doubled theirs:

Great Britain/Germany/France/Russia/Italy/Austro-Hungary
1904 (in British pounds)


Between 1909 and 1914 British leaders became convinced, as France and Russia and other countries had long been certain, that Germany meant war as soon as she was ready; that her policy was to take the two border enemies, or rivals, first with a great war-machine which would give them no chance for preparation or success, to dictate a peace which would give her control of the sea-coasts and channel touching Britain, to make that country the seat of war preparations, naval uncertainty, perhaps financial difficulty and commercial injury, to prepare at leisure for the war which would conquer England and acquire her colonies. In the first-named year British statesmen of both parties told an amazed Parliament and country that German naval construction of big ships was approaching the British standard, that the cherished policy of a British navy equal to those of any two other nations was absolutely gone, that England would be lucky if, in a few years, she held a 60 per cent superiority over that of Germany alone, that the latter country's naval construction was clearly aimed at Britain and could be for no other than a hostile purpose. British ships had already been recalled from the Seven Seas to hold the North Sea against the growing naval power of a nation which had 5,000,000 soldiers behind its ships as compared with England's 250,000 men scattered over the world. From that date in 1909 all who shared in the statecraft of the British Empire understood the issue to be a real one - with France and Russia as allies or without them.

What was back of this situation? Germany was already dominant in Continental Europe. It had compelled Russia to submit when Austria in 1908 annexed the Slav states of Bosnia and Herzegovina and defied Servia to interfere or its proud patron at St. Petersburg to prevent the humiliation; it had brought France to her knees over the Morocco incident and the Delcasse resignation, and would have done so again in 1911 if Great Britain had not ranged herself behind the French republic; it held the issues of peace and war between the great Powers during the Balkan struggles of 1912 and 1913 and prevented Servia from winning its legitimate fruits of victory or Montenegro from holding what it had won; it had watched with delight the defeat of unorganized Russia at the hands of Japan and saw what its writers described as a decadent British Empire holding in feeble hands a quarter of the earth in fee, with revolt coming in Ireland, rebellion seething in India, dissatisfaction in South Africa, separation upon the horizon in Canada and Australia. Here lay the secret of German naval policy, of German hopes that Britain would remain out of the inevitable struggle with France and Russia, of German ambitions for a world-empire.


The German nation had not up to the passing of Bismarck been the enemy of the British people and until its belated entrance upon the field of world politics and expansion the people had not even been rivals. In the long series of European wars between 1688 and 1815, the German states were allies and friends of England. After that, Prussia, and then the German Empire, became gradually a great national force in the world and its spirit of unity, pride of power, energy in trade, skill and success in industry, vigor of development in tariffs, progress in military power and naval construction were, from the standpoint of its own people, altogether admirable. Following the Franco-Prussian War it had steadily attained a position of European supremacy. Then came the increase of population and trade, the desire for colonies, the restriction of emigration to foreign countries.

It was a natural though difficult ambition. The marriage of Queen Wilhelmina, and later the birth of a heir, averted any immediate probability of acquiring Holland and, with it, the Dutch colonial possessions, except by means of force. The assertion of the United States' Monroe Doctrine checked German efforts which had been directed to South America and concentrated in Brazil, where 100,000 Germans had settled and where trade relations had become very close. British diplomacy of a trade, as well as political character, in Persia, prevented certain railway schemes from being carried out, which would have given Germany a dominating influence in Asia Minor and on the Persian Gulf. Although the partition of Africa gave the German Empire nearly one million square miles and an obvious opening for colonization and power, the inexperience and ineptitude of German officials in Colonial government, the dislike, also, of Germans for emigration and the fact that the movement of settlers abroad steadily decreased in late years, tended to prevent, on the Continent, an expansion which would have been assured under British colonization and business effort.

At the same time the acquisition of these and other regions such as Samoa was significant. Prior to 1870 Germany was a geographical expression which meant a loose combination of States with sometimes clashing interests, and incoherent expression, and varied patriotism. German trade was then small, the industries too poor to compete with those of Britain, while its people possessed not an acre of soil beyond their European boundaries. Since then it had become a closely-united people with an army of over five million men - admittedly the best-trained troops in the world; with a trade totalling $4,400,000,000 and competing in Britain's home market, taking away her contracts in India and some of the colonies, beating her in many foreign fields; with an industrial production which included great steel works such as Krupps, ship-building yards said to be of greater productive power than those of Britain, factories of well-kept character operating at high pressure with workmen trained in the best technical system of the world today; with other productive conditions aided by high protective duties and with exports totalling (1910) $2,020,000,000 and imports of $2,380,000,000; with Savings Bank deposits in 1911 totalling $4,500,000.0000 as against a British total of $1,135,000,000.

Couple these conditions with Colonial ambitions dwarfed, or unsuccessful in comparison with British success; continental power as supreme, by virtue of military strength, as Napoleon's was one hundred years before by the force of genius, but hampered, as was his, by the power of Britain on the seas; a productive force of industry increasing out of all proportion to home requirements, competing with British commerce in every corner of the world and threatened by a possible but finally postponed combination of British countries in a system of inter-Empire tariffs; a population of 64,000,000, increasing at the rate of one million a year and having no suitable opening for emigration or settlement within its own territories; and we have conditions which explained and emphasized German naval construction. Both German ambition and German naval construction were therefore easily comprehensible.

Nor was the ambition for sea-power concealed. The first large naval program was passed by the Reichstag in 1898 and fixed the naval estimate up to 1903, when the total expenditure was to be $45,000,000 - in 1906 the naval expenditure was over $60,000,000. The second Naval Bill was passed in 1900 during the Boer War, and the preamble to this Act stated that its object was to give Germany "a fleet of such strength that even for the mightiest Naval Power, a war with her would involve such risks as to endanger its own supremacy." Other Acts were passed in 1906 and 1908, and for the years 1908 to 1917 arrangements were made for a total expenditure of $1,035,000,000 - this including a portion of the "accelerated program" and the Special Dreadnought construction which caused the memorable debate in the British Commons in 1909.

The Law of 1912 - passing the Reichstag on May 21st of that year - provided for an addition to the program of three battleships, three large cruisers and three small ones. During the years 1898 -1904 Grear Britain launched 26 battleships to Germany's 14, with 27 armored cruisers, 17 protected cruisers and 55 destroyers to Germany's 5, 16 and 35 respectively, or a total of 125 to 70. In 1905-11 Great Britain launched 20 battleships to Germany's 15, with 13 armored cruisers, 10 protected cruisers and 80 destroyers to Germany's 6, 16 and 70 respectively, or a total of 123 to 107. Excluding destroyers Great Britain launched 70 sea-going warships in the first period to Germany's 25 and in the second period 43 to 37.


Meanwhile German preparations for war went on apace in every direction. Following up the war teachings of Nietzsche and Treitschke and others, General Von Bernhardi issued book after book defining in clear language the alleged national beneficence, biological desirability and inevitability of war, which, when it came, would be "fought to conquer for Germany the rank of a world-power;" the universities and schools and press teemed with militarist ideals and practices; the army charges rose to $250,000,000 and the trained soldiers available at the beginning of 1910 were alleged to have 6,000 field-guns; Colonel Gaedke, the German naval expert, stated on February 24th of that year that the German government was building a fleet of 58 battleships and that "the time is gradually approaching when the German fleet will be superior to all the fleets of the world, with the single exception of the English fleet," and that in the past twelve years Germany had spent on new ships alone 63,200,000 pounds, or $316,000,000, while between then and 1914 she would spend 57,500,000 pounds more, or $287,500,000.

The annual report of the German Navy League in 1910 showed a total of 1,031,339 members as against an estimated membership in Britain's League of 20,000. Professor T. Schieman of the University of Berlin, in the New York MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE for May of that year, clearly stated that Germany would not submit in future to British naval supremacy or to any limitation of armaments. During this period, also, Heligoland, the island handed over by Britain in 1890 in exchange for certain East African rights, became the key and center of the whole German coast defense system against England. Cuxhaven, Borkum, Emden, Wilhelmshaven - with twice as many Dreadnought docks as Portsmouth - Wangeroog, Bremerhaven, Geestemunde, etc., were magnificently fortified and guarded. Whether dictated by diplomatic considerations and affected latterly by the British-French alliance or influenced by Colonial and naval and commercial ambitions, there could be no doubt as to the danger of the situation at the beginning of 1914. In a book entitled "England and Germany," published during 1912, Mr. A. J. Balfour, the British conservative leader, replied to various German contributors and gave the British view of the situation:

It must be remembered in the first place that we are a commercial nation, and war, whatever its issue, is ruinous to commerce and to the credit on which commerce depends. It must be remembered in the second place that we are a political nation, and unprovoked war (by us) would shatter in a day the most powerful Government and the most united party. It must be remembered in the third place that we are an insular nation, wholly dependent upon sea-borne supplies, possessing no considerable army, either for home defense or foreign service, and compelled therefore to play for very unequal stakes should Germany be our opponent in the hazardous game of war. It is this last consideration which I should earnestly ask enlightened Germans to weigh well if they would understand the British point of view. It can be made clear in a very few sentences. There are two ways in which a hostile country can be crushed. It can be conquered or it can be starved. If Germany were supreme in our home waters she could apply both methods to Britain. Were Britain ten times Mistress in the North Sea she could apply neither method to Germany. Without a superior fleet Britain would no longer count as a Power. Without any fleet at all Germany would remain the greatest power in Europe.

The Balkan wars proved and strengthened the power of Germany in diplomacy and in the Eastern Question, while it showed that a deadly struggle between nations might spring to an issue in a few days and a million armed men leap into war at a word. The enormous German special taxation of $250,000,000 authorized in the first part of 1913 for an additional military establishment of 4,000 officers, 15,000 non-commissioned officers and 117,000 men indicated the basic strength of the people's military feeling, and ensured the still greater predominance of its army.


When war broke out on August 1, 1914, between the five greater Powers of Europe - Great Britain, Russia and France, on the one side and Germany and Austria on the other - the issue was at once brought home to about 450 millions of people in America, Asia and Africa who were connected with these nations by ties of allegiance or government, by racial association, or historic conquest. Of these peoples and lands by far the greater proportion were in the British Empire and included India, Burmah, South Africa, Australia, Canada and a multitude of smaller states and countries. Not the least remarkable of the events which ensued in the succeeding early weeks of the great War was the extraordinary way in which this vast and complex Empire found itself as a unit in fighting force, a unit in sentiment, a unit in co-operative action. Irish sedition, whether "loyal or disloyal," Protestant or Catholic, largely vanished like the shadow of an evil dream; Indian talk of civil war and trouble disappeared; South African threats of rebellion took form in a feeble effort which melted away under the pressure of a Boer statesman and leader - General Botha; the idea that Colonial Dominions were seeking separation and would now find it proved as evanescent as a light mist before the sun. The following table indicates the nature of the resources of opposing nations and the character of their Colonial sources of support:

Wealth/Population/Total Army/Navy/Population of Colonies
Great Britain

It was a curious characteristic of the press comments and magazine articles and book studies of the War during these months that while varied fighting was going on in the various Colonies of these Powers and in the case of Great Britain, notably, countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India were pouring out men and gifts to aid the Empire, statistical calculations usually rated Great Britain as not an Empire but simply a nation with the wealth and population of its two little islands in the North Sea.

Properly the $80,000,000,000 of estimated British wealth should have e included the thousands of millions of treasure in India and Egypt, the gold mines and diamond resources of South Africa, the wheat fields and mines of Canada, the sheep farms and gold of Australia and many other sources; the estimate of population should have included the countless millions from which Britain could draw and did draw in the day of emergency. In this vast Empire British capital had been invested to an enormous amount - the estimated total in 1914 being $2,570,0000,000 for Canada and Newfoundland, $1,893,000,000 in India and Ceylon,$1,850,000,000 in South Africa, $1,660,000,000 in Australia, or a total in all British countries of $8,900,000,000. When the War broke out these Dominions endeavored to help the Mother Country in every possible way and the following table shows what was done in Canada alone during the first few months of the conflict:


Expeditionary force of over 32,000 men, fully equipped; 50,000 others under training for the front.
Over 200 field and machine guns.
Two submarines, for general service ($1,050,000); H.M.C.S. Niobe and Rainbow for general service.
1,000,000 bags of flour.
$100,000 for "Hospice Canadien" in France.
$50,000 for the relief of Belgian sufferers.


ALBERTA: 500,000 bushels of oats; 5,000 bags of flour for Belgians. Civil service, 5 per cent of salaries up to $1500 per annum, and 10 per cent in excess of that amount to Canadian Patriotic Fund.

BRITISH COLUMBIA: 25,000 cases of canned salmon; $5,000 to Belgian Relief Fund.

MANITOBA: 10,000 men; 50,000 bags of flour; $5,000 to Belgian Relief Fund.

NEW BRUNSWICK: 1,000 men; 100,000 bushels of potatoes, 15,000 barrels of potatoes for Belgium.

NOVA SCOTIA: $100,000 to the Prince of Wales Fund; apples for the troops; food and clothing for Belgium.

ONTARIO: $500,000; 250,000 bags of flour; 100,000 lbs of evaporated apples for the Navy; $15,000 to the Belgian Relief Fund.

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND: 100,000 bushels of oats; cheese and hay.

QUEBEC: 4,000,000 lbs of cheese; $25,000 to Belgian Relief Fund.

SASKATCHEWAN: 1,500 horses ($250,000); $5,000 to Belgian Relief Fund

THE YUKON: $6,000 to the Canadian Patriotic fund


OTTAWA: $300,000 (for machine gun sections - 4 guns on armored motors and a detachment of 30 men); $50,000 to the Canadian Patriotic Fund.

QUEBEC: $20,000 Canadian Patriotic fund; insuring lives of Quebec volunteers.

MONTREAL: $150,000 (Canadian Patriotic Fund); battery of quick-firing guns; $10,000 to Belgian Relief fund.

TORONTO: $50,000 (Canadian Patriotic Fund); insuring lives of all Toronto volunteers; 100 horses for training purposes; carload for Belgians of canned provisions.

WINNIPEG: $5,000 monthly to Patriotic Fund

REGINA: $1,000 for comfort of the city's soldiers; $62,500 To Belgian Relief Fund.

CALGARY: 1,000 MEN (Legion of Frontiersmen).

HAMILTON: $20,000 Patriotic Fund; $5,000 for local relief.

BERLIN: $10,000 Patriotic Fund.

ST. JOHNS, N.B. $10,000 Patriotic Fund; $2,000 Belgian Fund

THE WOMEN OF CANADA: Building, equipping and maintenance of "Canadian Women's Hospital" of 100 beds to supplement Naval Hospital at Haslar ($182,857); $100,000 To War Office (40 motor ambulance cars purchased). Women of Nova Scotia $15,170 ($7,000 to Hospital, $5,000 Canadian Patriotic fund and rest to Red Cross).


BANK OF MONTREAL              $110,000
ROYAL BANK OF CANADA           50,000   
MERCHANTS BANK                 30,000
DOMINION BANK                  25,000
UNION BANK OF CANADA           25,000
BANK OF TORONTO                25,000
BANK OF OTTAWA                 25,000
BANK OF NOVA SCOTIA            25,000
BANK OF HAMILTON               25,000

Little Newfoundland sent a contingent of 510; placed a Naval Reserve force of 1,000 men in training and prepared a second contingent of 500 men, while contributing $120,000 to a local Patriotic Fund. Australia handed over its fleet of battleships and cruisers to the Admiralty and one of these, The Sydney, captured the Emden of German fame, while the New Zealand, a dreadnought from the Island Dominion of that name, held a place in the North Sea fighting line. Australia also sent 20,000 men who saw service before the end of the year in Egypt, provided reserves and prepared two more contingents, while sending donations of all kinds of food supplies for the poor in Britain or for the Belgian refugees. From India at once went a portion of the British Army which was replaced by native troops and then a large contingent of the latter, which took part in the protection of Egypt and in the fighting in France.

The great Princes of India - notably the Maharajahs of Nepaul, Gwalior, Patiala, Baratppur, Sikkim and Dholpur - placed the entire military resources of tens of millions of people at the disposal of the King-Emperor. The Maharajah of Rewa cabled this splendid message: "What orders from His Majesty for me and my troops?" The Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharajah of Bikanir offered not only their troops, but the entire resources of their great states and their own personal services at the front. Bengal gave a million bags of jute for the army and the Maharajah of Mysore proffered 3,500 men and 50 lakhs of rupees (about $350,000). Practically all the 700 native rulers of states in India offered personal services, men and money. For active personal service the Viceroy selected the Chiefs of Jodhpur, Bikanir, Kishangarh, Rutlam, Sachin, Patiala, Sir Pertab Singh, Regent of Jodhpur, and others. Contingents of cavalry and infantry, supplies and transports were forwarded besides a camel corps from Bikanir, horses from many states, machine guns, hospital-bed contributions, motor cars and large gifts to the Patriotic and Belgian Relief Funds. New Zealand sent a first contingent of 8,000 troops and relief forces, prepared to send more and promised, like Canada and Australia, to continue training and sending troops as long as they should be required. On the other hand Great Britain undertook to finance the actual military operations of these countries by lending the four Dominions $210,000,000 and undertaking to provide more when needed.

It was with this unity, and in this spirit, that the British Empire entered the great War for the redemption of its pledges to Belgium and adherence to its French obligations - Russia only coming indirectly into the first stage of the question and Japan, through the force of its Treaty, undertaking to guard British interests in the East.

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