War or Peace? 10 days in the Summer of 1914 – 29 July

Ireland again tops the Cabinet agenda. Harcourt reports that the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, arrived at Cabinet half an hour late following talks with the German ambassador. He describes the situation in Europe as ‘very bad’ with the Austrians refusing to continue negotiations in St Petersburg. News reached the Cabinet during its meeting that Russia has mobilised troops in ‘certain towns on her Southern frontier.’

The Cabinet discussed Britain’s liabilities for the guarantee of Belgian neutrality under the terms of the European treaty of 1839. Harcourt outlines the difficulty of the British position: ‘Russia says we can prevent Europ[ean] war by saying we shall support France – Germany says we can prevent it by saying we shall not do so.’ Harcourt writes that Foreign Secretary Grey ‘is afraid that at any moment France may ask us if we mean to stand by her.’ No Cabinet decision was made on this matter today.

Harcourt remains committed to leaving the goverment if there is a decision for war. He claims to be certain that ‘I can take at least 9 colleagues out with me on resigination.’ He also notices a change in the attitudes of David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill who are ‘less bellicose today.’ He suspects that their opinions fluctuate with popular opinion and that soon they will be ‘wobbling back to war.’

Churchill has moved his ships in the North Sea to ‘war stations.’ Grey is proposing to meet the French and German ambassadors in the afternoon and will inform the German ambassador that he ‘may not assume that we [Britain] shall not join France.’ The French ambassador is to be told ‘you must not assume that we shall join you.’ Harcourt believes this to be a ‘sound, strong & honest diplomatic position.’

After Cabinet, Harcourt went to the Colonial Office to send ‘Precautionary telegrams’ to the British colonies and dominions.

At the close of the day, Harcourt notes ‘European situation getting worse tonight.’

Harcourt’s political journal features in the Bodleian Libraries exhibition The Great War: From Downing Street to the Trenches.

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 1).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 1).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 2).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 2).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 3).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 3).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 4).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 4).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 5).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 5).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 6).

Entry for 29 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 6).

War or Peace? 10 Days in the Summer of 1914 – 27 July

Harcourt records a meeting of Asquith’s Cabinet held at the House of Commons at 5:30pm. The Cabinet first discussed the situation in Ireland before turning its attention to the ‘Austro-Servian crisis.’ Harcourt describes an ‘inconceivable’ German proposal put to Winston Churchill by the German businessman Albert Ballin seeking British neutrality in any prospective German action against France.

Harcourt remains firmly committed to British abstention from any war on a ‘Servian issue’ and is working to form a peace party ‘which if necessary shall break up the Cabinet.’ He contrasts the attitude of the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who is working hard for peace, with the ‘belligerent’ David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He has heard reports that the first shots were fired by Serbia on Austria earlier that afternoon.

Harcourt’s political journal features in the Bodleian Libraries exhibition The Great War: From Downing Street to the Trenches.

Entry for 27 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 1).

Entry for 27 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 1).

Entry for 27 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 2).

Entry for 27 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 2).

War or Peace? 10 Days in the Summer of 1914 – 26 July

Having missed the previous day’s cabinet, Lewis Harcourt, Colonial Secretary, motored over from Nuneham Courtenay to the nearby home of his friend the Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith. The chief topic of their private meeting was the break down of the Buckingham Palace conference called to discuss the Irish Home Rule crisis, the most pressing concern facing the government in the Summer of 1914.

Their discussions briefly turned to the ‘probable Austro-Servian war’. Harcourt was adamant that ‘under no circ[umstance]s’ would he be a party to British participation in a European war. Harcourt’s biggest concern was the attitude of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, whom he believed capable of precipitating naval action without reference to his Cabinet colleagues. Asquith ‘pooh poohed’ Harcourt’s concerns.

Harcourt’s political journal features in the Bodleian Libraries exhibition The Great War: From Downing Street to the Trenches.

Entry for 26 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 1).

Entry for 26 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 1).

Entry for 26 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 2).

Entry for 26 July 1914 from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt (page 2).

War or Peace? 10 days in the Summer of 1914

In July 1914 there was no certainty that Britain would become entangled in the ‘Austro-Servian War’ which emerged from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June. The Liberal government in London was deeply divided over Britain’s possible role in a European conflict. A major new source for the deliberations that took place in H.H. Asquith’s Cabinet in the Summer of 1914 is Lewis Harcourt’s political journal. Harcourt, who was Colonial Secretary, sat next to Asquith at the Cabinet table. He maintained a record of proceedings despite being warned more than once by his colleagues not to do so. No official Cabinet diary was kept until David Lloyd George began the practice in December 1916.

Monogram on Lewis Harcourt’s ministerial trunk in which his political journal was housed before it was acquired by the Bodleian Library.

Monogram on Lewis Harcourt’s ministerial trunk in which his political journal was housed before it was acquired by the Bodleian Library.

To mark the centenary of British intervention in the First World War on 4 August 1914, we shall be posting entries from Harcourt’s journal on this blog from 26 July to 4 August. The journal traces the slide into war, and captures the changing opinions of individuals and groupings of ministers both for and against intervention.

Harcourt’s journal features in the Bodleian Libraries exhibition The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches.

A Night at the Cinema in 1914

Over the next few months we will experience something really quite extraordinary. This is because we can now start to premise select sentences about the First World War with ’100 years today…’ On the 28th June we commemorated the centenary anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and on the 28th of the following month we were able to do the same for the outbreak of the conflict itself. And there will be many more of these poignant reminders. On August 4th we remember probably one of the most pivotal moments in UK history: the British declaration of war. There are many ways you can commemorate this event in Oxford but one such illuminating choice is to watch ‘A Night at the Cinema in 1914’: a special compilation of archival footage from the British Film Institute (BFI) which seeks to recreate a typical night out in 1914. This excellent film is coming to the Phoenix Picture House in Oxford on the night of the 4th August and will showcase a memorable miscellany of comedies, dramas, travelogues and newsreels including:

  • a comic short about a face-pulling competition
  • a sensational episode of The Perils of Pauline
  • scenes of Allied troops celebrating Christmas at the Front and…
  • an early sighting of one of cinema’s greatest icons.

Take yourself back to a hundred years ago and see where the world of film all began. See the trailer here and keep an eye on the Phoenix Picture House website for the latest information.

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From the British Film Institute National Archive

First World War Display at the Oxford Central Public Library

As we reflect upon the 98th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, there could be no better time to explore the wealth of literature (both fiction and non-fiction) centred on the Great War of 1914-1918. If you would like to extend your knowledge on the conflict and/or explore a new and interesting perspective then take some time to visit the Oxford Central Public Library as it is currently running a display of its First World War books, DVDs and music CDs (level 1). There is also a range of excellent reference works available for study in the Reference Library (level 2). All the items on display are available for loan during opening hours and if you would like to find out more about the library, please see the Oxfordshire Libraries Website for further information: https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/public-site/libraries

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Solider reading in the trenches © National Library of Scotland

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New WW1 themed display at the Oxford Central Library

Oxford Central History Network

The Oxford Central History Network (OxCen) held its inaugural meeting on June 18th. Led by the History Department at Oxford Brookes University, the network aims to encourage and support the remembering of the First World War in Oxfordshire through a diverse range of community projects and educational or heritage activities.

“We believe that by creating a network that brings together people and organisations who may normally not meet, we can share ideas, enhance the work of all, spread interest in the subject and create a uniquely rich account of the myriad ways in which the War affected the county and its people.”

Some 30 people from a range of organisations gathered to discuss the format and activities of the network, and look at how the network can best support the historians of Oxfordshire in their work on the Centenary of the First World War. The kind of support the network may offer was outlined, and ideas for further work was discussed.

It was agreed that the network website http://www.oxcen.org.uk/ would be used to publish information about the network and about events and resources of potential interest to people within and outside the network. The site already features an events listing, links to resources and a timeline. Input is welcomed to extend these sections, add more material and ensure they offer a useful resource. A members-only area will be set up where members can post a profile and outline the kind of work they do, any input they may be looking for or the type of advice or support they may be able to offer.

The network is happy to welcome anyone interested in history or active in historical research in Oxfordshire, whether affiliated to an institution or organisation or doing independent or personal research. More information about the network can be found on the OxCen website http://www.oxcen.org.uk/.

OxCen webpage header

Discovering World War I in the Archives

18 June 2014 2:00pm — 4:00pm, in the Convocation House, Old Bodleian Library

The Bodleian Library’s exhibition, ‘The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches,’ opens 18 June. Letters and diaries of politicians, soldiers and civilians, all connected with Oxford University, convey contemporary experiences of the Great War from the outbreak of war in 1914 to the battle of the Somme in 1916.

The exhibition at the Bodleian is part of a series taking place this year in three archives that preserve memories of World War I. In Germany, ‘Literatur und Krieg’ at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach, and in France, ‘1914, La Mort des Poètes’ at the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg, also examine how war is understood through surviving documents.

Curators from all three archives will join a panel discussion in Oxford on 18 June examining the choices and discoveries made in selecting material to tell stories of World War I. The event will be held in the Convocation House, Bodleian Library.

Speakers: Christophe Didier – Julien Collonges – Ulrich Raulff – Christopher Fletcher – Mike Webb

Moderator: Stuart Lee

See the event listing to book free tickets: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whats-on/upcoming-events/2014/jun/discovering-world-war-i-in-the-archives

 

Strategic funding for Oxford’s First World War Centenary

We are pleased to announce that the Van Houten Bequest has awarded funds to support the University in its First World War Centenary commemorations and activities. A joint bid submitted by the Public Affairs Directorate and IT Services department (who have a strong history in delivering digital WW1 collections) had over 15 supporting letters from across the collegiate University. Funds will be used to provide:

(1) A centenary web site (currently in beta) with editorial highlighting relevant events, activities, research and resources from within the University.

(2) The Oxford at War 1914-1918 Community Collection. Crowdsourcing the history of Oxford in the First World War, this specially built web site will invite colleges, museums, archives and members of the public to upload stories and digitised material relating to town and gown.

In addition support is available in the following areas:

  • Use of central channels to share research, teaching resources, archival materials, projects and events over the centenary
  • Training in using digital technologies for impact, outreach and public engagement
  • Models to engage teachers, cultural heritage and the wider public
  • Help in writing funding applications (that include a technical / digital output or digital engagement)

To contact us email: ww1collections@it.ox.ac.uk

Alternatively, for all press inquiries and events listings please visit: http://www.ox.ac.uk/subsite/first_world_war_centenary/first_world_war_centenary/

From Downing Street to the Trenches: First-Hand Accounts from the Great War, 1914-1916

OXFORD LITERARY FESTIVAL EVENT

From Downing Street to the Trenches: First-Hand Accounts from the Great War, 1914-1916

2:00pm | Monday 24 March 2014 | Bodleian: Convocation House | Tickets £11 | details

Mike Webb will be talking about his book to be published alongside the Bodleian Libraries Exhibition, The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches, 1914-1916

step-into your place-poster