Today, August 4, 1914, the Great War began.
Austria-Hungary had declared war against Serbia on July 28, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungrian throne, and on August 1, Germany declared war on Russia, then on August 3, France.
British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith agonised over remaining neutral, but concluded that Britain was vulnerable if France and Russia fell to German hostility.
When Germany invaded Belgium just after 8am on August 4, Britain realised it had to act, with the Foreign Office sending an ultimatum to Berlin.
There was a false start to World War I that evening, with false reports that both sides had declared war on the other circulating. As a result, a junior Foreign Office official was sent to the German Embassy with a hastily typed up declaration of war. It wasn’t until 10.45pm that King George V sat down with the Privy Council to declare war, saying, “It is a terrible catastrophe, but it is not our fault”.
As a result, another official was despatched with the new declaration of war just after 11pm, with instructions to retrieve the earlier.
It’s just after midnight when the King writes in his diary “Please God it may soon be over…”
Four years passed and 9 million lives were lost before his prayer was answered.
Australia, as a member of the British Empire, was automatically embroiled, but didn’t officially enter WWI until 9am on August 5, with Prime Minister Joseph Cook saying “when the Empire is at war, so also is Australia”.
The following photos reveal a world seemingly unaware of the carnage to come.
The crowd cheers in Berlin following news that Germany and Britain are at war. A photograph of Kaiser Wilhelm II is visible in the background.
A crowd listens as the declaration of war is read out in Berlin
Crowds gather outside the House of Commons in London’s Westminster, waiting for news on the day that Britain declared war on Germany
A proclamation, declaring the start of World War 1, posted in Whitehall, London
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