By August 1914, the great powers of Europe were set against each other and marching to war. The Serbian state was implicated in the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and diplomatic relations between the two states quickly diminished. On the 28 July 1914, all hope of peaceful solution to the quarrel had been lost and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
The declaration of war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary set a chain of events in motion that pulled all the great European powers into the war. On 1 August 1914, Germany declared war on Russia which had begun to mobilise its troops in support of its ally Serbia. The Illustrated London News reported that Russia had become the ‘Great Protector of the Slavs’ in reference to Russia’s policy of unity and separatism for all Slavic people. Austria-Hungary at this time was Germany’s only solid ally, and consequently Germany declared war on Russia in support of them.
France, which had been deeply distrustful of Germany since the Franco-Prussian War, mobilised its army in support of Russia. Russia, France and Britain had signed a pact together, known as the “Triple Entente”, which compelled them to support either of the other two in a time of crisis. France intended to honour this agreement and wanted to stem the tide of German militarism. Germany similarly saw French mobilisation as a threat and responded by declaring war on her on 3 August 1914. Little was reported about the various declarations of war in The Illustrated London News and the Great Eight Publications, except in regard to Great Britain.
On 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. This came as quite a shock because it had been uncertain whether Britain would enter the war as part of the “Triple Entente” or remain neutral. It was an issue of honour, Belgium’s independence, that brought Britain into the war. Germany had hoped that Britain would not honour the treaty between Britain and Belgium that was signed 70 years before. However, The Illustrated London News reported that the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey had made his case in parliament that:
“We [Britain] have great and vital interests in the independence (of which integrity is the least part) of Belgium… If in a crisis like this, we ran away from those obligations of honour and interest as regards the Belgian Treaty, I doubt whether, whatever material force we might have at the end, it would be of very much value in face of the respect that we should have lost.”
Reactions to the declaration of war from the British populace are shown in the Great Eight publications to have been positive. The Illustrated London News noted that scores of people crowded outside Buckingham Palace on the eve of the declaration, to cheer the Royal Family and illustrate their patriotic fervour.
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