Pages from Hunter Region in the Great War


Grey privately warned his German counterpart that if Germany and France became involved it would

almost certainly bring a declaration of war by Britain. “If war breaks out it will be the greatest catastrophe

that the world has ever seen,” said Grey. And so it proved to be.

Germany put its long-incubated battle plans into action against Russia and France, marching across

neutral Belgium in a bid to land a quick knockout blow to the French. Britain used the German violation of

Belgian neutrality as the pretext to declare war on Germany on August 4 and the Great War began in earnest.

By September Germany had drawn up a “war aims program”, detailing for government insiders what

it hoped to achieve from the conflict. This included: “Security of the German Reich in West and East for

imaginable time. For this purpose France must be weakened to such an extent that she cannot rise again as a

Great Power. Russia must be driven, if possible, away from the German border, and her power over the non-

Russian tributary peoples must be broken”.

Germany hoped to demolish French fortifications, conquer France’s iron ore fields in Briey and take over

the coastal strip from Dunkirk to Boulogne. If it won, Germany proposed demanding war compensation

from France at so high a level that the French would be unable to “expend high amounts on armaments for

the next 18 to 20 years”. A victorious Germany would also force France to become “our export country” and

demand German businesses be given “financial and industrial freedom to move in France”.

The list of war aims went on, spelling out an ambition to economically dominate Europe and to expand

colonial interests overseas. None of this would have been tolerable to Britain, which had no desire to let

Germany threaten its dominance of global trade.

Germany’s presumption was to be punished and its ambition suppressed, but it would take four years and

cost 18 million lives for its opponents to achieve this goal.

As Britain scrambled to land the first of its troops – the British Expeditionary Force – in France, Sir

Edward Grey uttered his famous words: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit

again in our lifetime.”

The heir to the throne of the empire of Austria-Hungary, Franz-Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, at Sarajevo,

Bosnia, on June 28, 1914. The couple was murdered by a Bosnian Serb student, sparking World War I.


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