A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 59

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A Popular History of The Great War   ·   Volume 1: The First Phase: 1914   ·   Chapter 3: The Outbreak of War
The Outbreak of War

BY a strange irony of fate the outbreak of the Great War came at the moment when the thoughts of many British people were concentrated upon the pleasures associated with summer weather. They had heard of the assassination of the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand, and the duchess of Hohenberg at Serajevo with that degree of sympathy and horror which is evoked by such a crime in a distant land. They had read with a little uneasiness, but perhaps without fully realizing its significance, of Austria's ultimatum to Serbia. But the last public holiday of the year was approaching, a fortnight or a month at the seaside for the more fortunate, a day there or in the country for those whose means would run to no more, were the things that mattered. Storm clouds might be gathering over Europe, but they had gathered before and had been dispersed. At any rate, it seemed inconceivable that Britain should be involved in a dispute which, after all, was only one of those recrudescences of "trouble in the Balkans," which in the past had perhaps perturbed the Foreign Office, but had never concerned the man in the street.

Yet as the last week in July wore on it became evident that more than a local war was possible, even probable. In addition to Austria and Serbia, France, Germany and Russia might be involved. Still there appeared to be no reason why Great Britain should not maintain her neutrality without sacrificing her honour. It still seemed inconceivable that some way of avoiding a continental war would not be found. No one could believe that the resources of diplomacy had been exhausted. It would be foolish to cancel holiday plans because the chancelleries of Europe were for the moment at loggerheads. So Britain went on with her pleasure making. Trains from London and other great centres went off, north, south, east and west, carrying their usual crowds of passengers. The more optimistic started off gaily for the continent. The momentous news in the papers damped no one's spirits; it rather added to the general exuberance, for it gave everyone a topic of conversation.

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