Harcourt writes that news reached him in the morning that a search of ships had been made at Gibraltar the previous night. This was contrary to orders sent by the Admiralty. Harcourt responded by sending telegrams to all British dominions and colonies to prevent such searches. He fears that searches of German vessels may provoke an ‘incident.’
He continues to be alarmed by the attitude of Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty. Harcourt has learnt that Churchill has hired the Acquitania from the Cunard shipping company and speculates whether Churchill intends to use the ship for the transport of troops to Belgium or as a guard ship in Mersey. Harcourt also reports that Churchill has ‘commandeered all coal in South Wales’ and is said to have spent over £1,000,000 on ‘Precautionary stage expenses.’ Harcourt thinks Churchill ‘has gone mad’ and fears that ‘he is carrying his preparations too far & getting prematurely in the war stage.’
During Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, informed Harcourt of a ‘shameful proposal’ received from Bethmann Hollweg ‘that we should declare our neutrality on promise from Germ[an] Govt. that they w[oul]d respect neutrality of Holland: ditto of Belgium after they had violated it to attack France: w[oul]d not, after crushing France, annex European territories (tho’ take her Colonies): subsequently offer us European neutrality & friendship in general affairs.’ The proposal was rejected.
The French ambassador, Paul Cambon, is to see Grey today to ‘put the question are we going to help France if war breaks out’. Grey is to respond that he cannot answer without a Cabinet, which is to be held tomorrow, but will ‘tell him that in pres[ent] circ[umstance]s public opinion here not support or enable H.M.G. to give an affirmative answer.’ Harcourt reasons that if Cambon is ‘wise’ he ‘will accept non-committal answer sooner than negative’
Harcourt has declined to send a telegram asking Australia to place her fleet under the command of the British Admiralty on the grounds that it was ‘premature, unnecessary & that I wanted initiative to be taken by Australia.’ He received an ‘unofficial’ offer to do so from Australia at 5 p.m. With regret, he telegraphed the Admiralty’s request for the Australian fleet to go to ‘War stations.’
He has been informed by Emmott and Vernon, of the Colonial Office, that the French delegates to the New Hebrides Commission ‘must return to France on Sat[urday] (convinced that war will be declared by Monday).’
John Morley has informed Harcourt that he will resign from the Cabinet upon his signal.
Harcourt ends his entry for the day in pessimistic mood: ‘War situation I fear much worse tonight. Pray God I can still smash our Cabinet before they can commit the crime.’
Harcourt’s political journal features in the Bodleian Libraries exhibition The Great War: From Downing Street to the Trenches.