Monday, 14 July 2014

The actors on 1 August 1914

August 1914 is the beginning of the Great War and no one foresaw how this conflict would change the world and not necessarily for the better and would usher a XXth Century known mostly for its horrible conflicts costing the lives to millions of people.

Currently I am working at the Canadian War Museum on the Canadian War Memorial Painting collection of Max Aitken Lord Beaverbrook. So I have a chance every week to look at those paintings of war on the Western Front where Canadian Soldiers fought and died. I have read quite a bit about the reasons of this conflict and frankly came to the conclusion that European Governments and rulers were asleep at the switch and completely unable to understand what was happening in their own societies and Empires. This one war will transform the world in just 4 years like no other conflict has and I include here the Second World War whose outcome did not so much change the world as it created instead new conflicts and new instability.

In 1919, four great Empires will disappear forever, the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian, the Ottoman Turk. The British Empire will come out weakened and it will be the start of a long spiral downward. Canada will emerge independent and confident and the class system we knew before the war will be badly shaken, so much so that the Conservative Government of Sir Robert Borden and then Arthur Meighen will fall, they too unable to understand that the Great War created a new man and a new society.

There had been several high profile assassinations in Europe prior to the 28 June killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. None had created a path to war, but this time around through misconceptions and poor judgement on the part of the Austrian Government what was suppose to be a punitive action against Serbia turned out into a war because the Tsar of Russia Nicholas II decided to act and declare war to Austria. He had the support of France who also supported Serbia.

Germany was tied to Austria by Treaty so it attacked France making the mistake of invading France by going through neutral Belgium who had a defence treaty with England. Automatically the British Empire was brought into the war and this meant Canada was immediately involved.

Much of this tragic scenario could have been avoided had cooler heads prevailed. But this would not be the case.

Here are the actors of this tragedy, note that many of the rulers are close family and first cousin;
Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany is the grandson of Queen Victoria, his mother was the daughter of Queen  Victoria.
Tsar Nicholas is cousin with George V of England, they also look alike, almost twins.
King George V is also first cousin with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. Though they do not like each other much. King George is Prince of Hanover and his family name is clearly German, Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha, he will only change to Windsor a made up name it in 1917 at the urging of the British Government who is alarmed that the common folks in England have started to notice that their King is German. It had been suggested he use the name Wettin for the Royal Family of Saxony but in English Wettin sounds funny.

Other family ties Denmark Royal Family through Tsarina Alexandra who is Danish.
Greek Royal House with Russia, England and Germany. Romania Royals have family ties with England.

As for Franz-Joseph of Austria he has family ties with other Royal Families in Bavaria, Saxony and Spain, Bourbon of France and the Bonaparte Family.

The common man will fight this war for those Princes but this will be the last time.

In Canada, Sir Robert Borden is aloof and distant from ordinary people, he is very wealthy and sees other Canadians as being there to elect him and be governed. He will make several disastrous decisions, first promising Farmers in Western Canada that they will not have to serve in the Army. He encourages them to buy more farm equipment and plant more food crops, as much as they can. Only a few months later telling them that he changed his mind and they will now have to join the fight.
This provokes riots and a march on Ottawa by 3000 Western Farmers, Borden meets with them only to dismiss them. This will not be forgotten and will be the beginning of the demands by Western Provinces for more inclusion in decision making and in 1919 several Farmer Union Governments will be elected in Manitoba and Alberta. Stephen Leacock will attack in articles the Canadian Farmers calling them profiteers and greedy.

Then Borden will introduce Income Tax as a temporary measures and conscription in December 1917 further antagonizing Farmers and creating a conflict with City dwellers who have little understanding of rural economics.
The Canadian army does not exist as such in 1914, there are 3000 militia men and 16,000 horses, poorly equipped. Borden promises to the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith that Canada will raise an army of half a million men in other words 10% of our total population at the time. The Militia Minister is Sir Sam Hughes a man with severe emotional problems to put it kindly. He also has delusions, he is so incompetent that the Governor General HRH Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught will ask Borden to sack Hughes from Cabinet.

It was Hughes who will equip the army with the Ross rifle which jams more than it fires, will send troops to Europe without helmets, training is 2 weeks which is clearly insufficient for farm boys with no knowledge of military skills. Our casualty rate will be high, 61000 will die in various battles.
At the end of the conflict in 1918 many Canadians will ask, What For?

 The actors:

 Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria, King of Hungary and Bohemia

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King of Prussia

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (left) and King George V, of Britain, Emperor of India

Raymond Poincarré, President of France

Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada

Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister of Britain

Canadian soldiers marching past General Sir Arthur Currie, Commander of the Canadian Forces in Europe and Prime Minister Borden on 1 July 1918, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Confederation.


  1. I recently took a course on WW1 - the first part was a long 'set up' to set the theatre for what led up to July/August 1914. What an imbroglio.

    1. You are being polite, for me it was stupid mess with dreadful consequences.

    2. David says Prudence is my middle name

    3. I shall remember that Prudence Spo.

  2. The ruthlessness and carnage of World War I set the tone for the whole 20th century.

    1. Indeed it did and historically it was the denouement of a long tread that started with the French Revolution in 1789 and then continued with 1848 in Europe and Canada and on it went shaking off the feudal system and entering into the Industrial age.