10 things you didn’t know about the start of the First World War
There’s been a lot in the media this year about the hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War. But besides the memorial services, the sombre analysis and the promises that we must not let such a conflict happen again, the story of how the assassination of an Austrian heir led to the world’s most destructive conflict has remained in the background.
Derek Robinson, a trained historian and author of numerous novels, including A Splendid Little War and the Booker Prize-shortlisted Goshawk Squadron, has written a brilliant new introduction to the events of those fateful months, Why 1914?. It’s packed with details you may never have heard before. Did you know, for instance . . .
1. Gavrilo Princip, Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassin, was only 19 years old, and suffered from tuberculosis.
2. Anglo-German hostility can be traced back to a telegram from Kaiser William II to President Kruger in South Africa, congratulating him on protecting Transvaal’s independence from Britain during the Boer War. Transvaal was a British protectorate at the time.
3. When Britain created a plan for if Europe went to war, the British Cabinet was never consulted as the government believed war to be strictly a military concern.
4. After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria had to delay their military response because half of their army was on harvest leave tending to crops.
5. In 1914, the monarchs of Russia, Germany and Britain were all cousins. It wasnt until the end of the year that George V struck the German princes off the Roll of the Garter.
6. Britain accidentally sent an invalidly-worded declaration of war to the German ambassador, and the Foreign Office had to send their youngest member of staff to retrieve it and replace it with the correct version before war could officially be commenced.
7. Expecting an easy path through Belgium, the German army was waylaid by hundreds of small gangs of Belgian guerrillas, who ultimately forced a quarter of the German force to be diverted from the front.
8. Early communication between the British and French was so poor that when the B.E.F. arrived in France they did not know the enemy’s whereabouts, destination or numbers.
9. Widely credited stories circulated amongst the B.E.F. of angels who had appeared to protect them while retreating from the German advance.
10. Belgian railwaymen sabotaged their own network to derail the Schlieffen Plan, blowing up bridges and blocking tunnels until 90 per cent of the network became unusable.
Want to know more? Purchase Derek Robinson’s Why 1914? now for only £5.49!
(Only available in ebook, or in print from the author’s website.)