Austria-Hungary’s July 28th, 1914 written declaration of war, in retrospect, seems a flat and inadequate launching of the most destructive war to that date in history:
The Royal Serbian Government not having answered in a satisfactory manner the note of July 23, 1914, presented by the Austro-Hungarian Minister at Belgrade, the Imperial and Royal Government are themselves compelled to see to the safeguarding of their rights and interests, and, with this object, to have recourse to force of arms. Austria-Hungary consequently considers herself henceforward in state of war with Serbia.
Technically, of course, there was no world war yet. Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia. Russia would soon begin mobilizing. But no great power had yet declared war on any other great power, and Russia sought to assure Germany that its mobilization did not mean war with Germany, most dramatically in the “Willy-Nicky” telegrams between the Kaiser and the Tsar.
In a sense, this headline captures the moment eerily: the decision for war or peace was, for better or worse, in the hands of the Kaiser.
Would the Kaiser order Germany to mobilize? If so, would he hold back or strike first to gain the initiative?
The German plans in place dictated that a Russian mobilization be followed by a German mobilization followed by a German attack on France followed by a quick victory (as in 1870-1871). Then Germany would turn its attention to Russia and defeat it.
Would the Kaiser hold to those plans or proceed in good faith per the “Willy-Nicky” telegrams? The first of these was sent by the Tsar at one am on July 29th:
Tsar to Kaiser, July 29, 1:00 A.M.
Peter’s Court Palais, 29 July 1914
Sa Majesté l’Empereur
Am glad you are back. In this serious moment, I appeal to you to help me. An ignoble war has been declared to a weak country. The indignation in Russia shared fully by me is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war. To try and avoid such a calamity as a European war I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far.
In England, Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) gave his last reading at Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop:
Rupert Brooke was relishing his return to London. He dined at 10 Downing Street and at the Savoy … breakfasted with Siegfried Sassoon … lunched with D.H. Lawrence and with Henry James, and supped with W.B. Yeats, Bernard Shaw … and G.K. Chesterton: a not untypical week in the life of Rupert Brooke.
On 28 July he read for the second and, as it turned out, last time at the Poetry Bookshop … to an audience of sixty-five. He was nervous and confessed privately to one member of the audience how he dreaded the thought of having to perform.
Amy Lowell, who was in the audience, did not approve:
I toiled up the narrow stairs of a little outhouse behind the Poetry Bookshop, and in an atmosphere of overwhelming sentimentality, listened to Mr Rupert Brooke whispering his poems. To himself, it seemed, as nobody else could hear him. It was all artificial and precious.
From Matthew Hollis, Now All Roads Lead to France.