From the Monitor archives: Britain declares war on Germany in WWI

Britain's declaration of war on Germany, 100 years ago today, finished drawing the battle lines for the initial days of the war. The Christian Science Monitor reported as it happened.

Virginia Mayo/AP
Red poppies bloom on the walls of World War I trenches in Diksmuide, Belgium, in June. One hundred years on, World War I still resonates across Flanders Fields, where countless monuments and cemeteries as well as the relics of bunkers and trenches dot the modern landscape.
The Christian Science Monitor, ProQuest
Page 1 of the Aug. 5, 1914, edition of the Monitor. The story about Britain's declaration of war on Germany appears on the far right.

This article originally ran in The Christian Science Monitor on Aug. 5, 1914. The British declaration was the last in Europe's initial, rapid escalation into World War I. Germany had already declared war on Russia and France, both British allies, and had sent its troops into neutral Belgium in an effort to flank French forces. Austria, Germany's ally, was mobilizing against Russia in the east. The United States had declared itself neutral in the conflict on Aug. 3.


Berlin Fails to Give Assurance of Respect for Belgian Neutrality and England Acts at Once


Special Cable to the Monitor from its European Bureau

LONDON (9 a.m., Wednesday) – Shortly after midnight the government issued a statement to the effect that Germany, having refused the necessary assurance with respect to the neutrality of Bel­gium, war between her and the United Kingdom had been declared at 11 p.m.

Lord Morley and John Burns, not being able to support the government's view of the case, have retired from the cabinet. The government announced that they had taken over from the builders the two ironclads which were build­ing for the Turkish navy, one already completed and the other just approaching completion. The control of the rail­ways in the United Kingdom has also been taken over.

The command of the fleet has been given to one of the most distinguished admirals, Sir John Jellicoe. The com­mand of an expeditionary force which will probably be sent to the continent after completion of mobilization, will be given to Sir John French.

The King has issued a message to the fleet expressing his confidence in its power to protect the country and an­other to the overseas dominions, expressing to them the gratitude of the country for their spontaneous assurances of fullest support.

All reports as to naval and military engagements of any description may be dismissed as purely imaginary. Beyond the fact already cabled that the Germans have entered Poland on the east and Luxembourg on the west nothing is known.

Ultimatum to Germany

Tuesday, 10 p.m. – This afternoon [British Prime Minister Herbert Henry] Asquith informed the House of Commons that his majesty’s govern­ment had been informed by the King of Belgium that Germany had demanded the free passage for troops through that country; also that it had undertaken in consideration of this to guarantee its independence at the close of warlike operations. Premier Asquith added, amidst loud cheers, that he was informed that the Belgium government had refused this demand and had applied to the law of nations. In consequence of this and in support of the statement made yes­terday by [British Foreign Secretary] Sir Edward Grey the govern­ment had addressed an ultimatum to Berlin demanding that the neutrality of Belgium should he guaranteed by midnight.

The prime minister added that the Belgian general staff announced that Germany had already crossed the fron­tier in the direction of Verviers. Furthermore Mr. Asquith said that the Ger­man ambassador had been directed to inform the British government that in no case, even in the event of armed con­flict with Belgium, would Germany an­nex Belgian territory under any pretext whatever, but that in view of informa­tion received that the French govern­ment contemplated launching an attack through Belgium on the German flank it was absolutely necessary that she should protect herself by entering Belgium.

Reply Not Satisfactory

The British government, Mr. Asquith declared, had informed Germany that it was impossible to accept such a reply as satisfactory and that the government must demand an acknowledgment that Belgian neutrality would be respected in as definite a form as that already re­ceived from France.

The absolute unanimity of the House of Commons in support of the govern­ment was shown by the passage without question of votes in supply of £104,000,000 for government purposes. That the whole country is solid in support of the government is shown by the speech of so advanced a labor member as [Labour Party politician] Will Crooks who announced today to a meeting of Woolwich workmen that the government having exhausted every ef­fort to maintain peace it would be the duty of workingmen to support them loyally in the prosecution of war. Simultaneously comes the news from Ireland of support for the government in the present crises.

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