A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 65


THE BANKS REOPEN


ready, every ship at her station, warned and watchful. Only a final message, when Britain's ultimatum to Germany expired at eleven o'clock that night, was required to open, the thunder of their guns. The sun sank. The night came; a night that throbbed and pulsed with deep emotion. In the hearts of the waiting multitudes in the London streets there was no divided feeling, no shrinking from the tragic price to be paid by the blood of the nation's manhood. Eleven o'clock struck. Instantly to every ship and establishment under the white ensign all over the world, there was swept through the ether the message that meant "Commence hostilities against Germany." . . . Great Britain had taken the plunge into the World War.

The banks reopened on Friday, August 7, in order that wages might be paid. There was no fresh run upon them. Here and there super-nervous individuals tried to withdraw large sums, but the banks had now the power to refuse payment in such cases and they used it resolutely.

The threatened panic was stayed, but the financial and industrial situation in Britain during the first week in August was anything but promising. When the average merchant or manufacturer returned to his desk after the holiday he found himself face to face with very gloomy prospects. His investments were not now immediately available. He could not sell them even at a ruinous sacrifice, for the stock exchanges closed. He could not borrow on them, for the banks were chary in making loans. Foreign payments had ceased to arrive, and debts on the continent of Europe could not be collected. Business men who had been able a month before to command scores of thousands of pounds now found themselves hard pressed to raise enough money to pay their weekly wages. Debts owing by them could not, it is true, be enforced under the moratorium proclamation, but the British business man did not want to damage his own credit by pleading the moratorium.

Business was immediately curtailed. A large part of British trade had been with foreign countries. Most of this ceased immediately, especially so far as the continent of Europe was concerned. Home buying dropped. The wholesaler would not lay in further supplies which he might not be able to sell; the retailer would not accept extra stocks. Thus day by day during that first week in August the manufacturers found their mail composed of little more than letters cancelling orders.

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