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100 years ago: The die has been cast

August 7th, 1914

PA ARCHIVE

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On the march: a crowd watches as Grenadier Guards leave Wellington Barracks, in London, for active service in France, at the start of the Great War 

Credit: PA ARCHIVE

On the march: a crowd watches as Grenadier Guards leave Wellington Barracks, in London, for active service in France, at the start of the Great War 

TO SOME among us there has been present for years past a haunting fear of a great war that would engage all the nations of Europe and perhaps bring down upon the Western World hordes of Orientals. It is useless, now that the clash of arms has begun to be heard, to lament the lack of foresight in those who persistently ridiculed any such idea. We are involved in a conflict of unexampled greatness, a conflict that is none of our causing, and in which, strange to say, our sympathies are divided. The murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a crime that richly deserved punishment, and in her demand for expiation Austria-Hungary was amply justified. But she should not expect to enforce her demand to the extent of wiping off the map the name of Servia as an independent State without arousing Russian intervention. She made her demand in full, and from that moment it appeared that the Archduke's murder was the mere pretext for a war of conquest and annexation. In consequence English feeling turned to Russia, and, with her, to her ally, France, though to neither country were we bound by treaty, nor by any stronger tie than an entente cordiale. But the friendly understanding none the less created obligations. If the French navy relieved us in the Mediterranean, it became our business to pro-tect France's northern shores. A further complication, however, involves us in treaty obligations. The protection of Belgium as a neutral country is a matter to which we are pledged, and, as we write, we hear that the German troops, in violation of her neutrality, are marching on France through Belgian territory. England's honour is engaged. Is it thinkable that we should stand aside, and leave France without help? If there are those who think it desirable, what will they have to say when, if France is defeated, it becomes our turn to defend ourselves, and to fight for our national existence?

As we write, the die has been cast, and we are at war. It is horrible, abominable, but it is inevitable. We are engaged not in a scheme of aggrandisement at the expense of other nations, but in a supreme effort to check the designs of a Power that would bring us into subjection. A free people struggling to remain free has a right to defend itself; the quarrel is a just one on the side of the attacked. The spectacle of great armies devastating whole countries and wasting human lives belongs to the category of barbarism, to which it seems that men, even Christian men, revert at times. Upon those who have been the first to take the sword rests the blame for putting us and our allies to the dire necessity of resorting to arms. This page of international history that is being written in letters of blood is written not by our hand but by the hand of an enemy, a man of our own race and the kinsman of King George. Hating war and all its accompaniments as we do, we unhesitatingly support the Government in the measures it has thought fit to adopt, and it will be our endeavour to help those we can influence to meet with a good heart the adversities that are sure to come. God save the King, the nation and the Empire, and defend the right!

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