Telegram sent by Count Leopold von Berchtold (Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister) at 11.10 am to M. N. Pashitch (Serbian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister), who received it at 12.30 pm.
28 July 1914
The Royal Serbian Government not having answered in a satisfactory manner the note of July 23, 1914, presented by the Austro-Hungarian Minister at Belgrade, the Imperial and Royal Government are themselves compelled to see to the safeguarding of their rights and interests, and, with this object, to have recourse to force of arms.
Austria-Hungary consequently considers herself henceforward in state of war with Serbia.
Presented by the German Ambassador to St. Petersburg
The Imperial German Government have used every effort since the beginning of the crisis to bring about a peaceful settlement. In compliance with a wish expressed to him by His Majesty the Emperor of Russia, the German Emperor had undertaken, in concert with Great Britain, the part of mediator between the Cabinets of Vienna and St. Petersburg; but Russia, without waiting for any result, proceeded to a general mobilisation of her forces both on land and sea.
In consequence of this threatening step, which was not justified by any military proceedings on the part of Germany, the German Empire was faced by a grave and imminent danger. If the German Government had failed to guard against this peril, they would have compromised the safety and the very existence of Germany.
The German Government were, therefore, obliged to make representations to the Government of His Majesty the Emperor of All the Russias and to insist upon a cessation of the aforesaid military acts. Russia having refused to comply with this demand, and having shown by this refusal that her action was directed against Germany, I have the honour, on the instructions of my Government, to inform your Excellency as follows:
His Majesty the Emperor, my august Sovereign, in the name of the German Empire, accepts the challenge, and considers himself at war with Russia.
Presented by the German Ambassador to Paris
M. Le President,
The German administrative and military authorities have established a certain number of flagrantly hostile acts committed on German territory by French military aviators.
Several of these have openly violated the neutrality of Belgium by flying over the territory of that country; one has attempted to destroy buildings near Wesel; others have been seen in the district of the Eifel; one has thrown bombs on the railway near Carlsruhe and Nuremberg.
I am instructed, and I have the honour to inform your Excellency, that in the presence of these acts of aggression the German Empire considers itself in a state of war with France in consequence of the acts of this latter Power.
At the same time, I have the honour to bring to the knowledge of your Excellency that the German authorities will retain French mercantile vessels in German ports, but they will release them if, within forty-eight hours, they are assured of complete reciprocity.
My diplomatic mission having thus come to an end, it only remains for me to request your Excellency to be good enough to furnish me with my passports, and to take the steps you consider suitable to assure my return to Germany, with the staff of the Embassy, as well as, with the Staff of the Bavarian Legation and of the German Consulate General in Paris.
Be good enough, M. le President, to receive the assurances of my deepest respect.
Foreign Office Statement:
Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by His Majesty’s Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected, His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin has received his passport, and His Majesty’s Government has declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4th.”
It seems almost too easy: ‘a state of war exists…’. With hindsight, it is impossible to believe that so few words were required to bring about the deaths of millions of young men. Even the choice of words fails to add significance. The language is formal, but not technical. There are no complex legal phrasings, no subsections. The most carefully chosen words appear to be the laughably polite references to titles: ‘His Majesty the Emperor’, ‘your Excellency’, even remarks of respect.
Serious, significant, subjects do not always require the most serious of language. In fact, more often than not, you can reach more people, and convey more meaning, with equally well-chosen, but less self-important, words. Writers want people to read their work. They want people to enjoy, to appreciate, to learn from their work. In the case of historians, this is often accompanied by a wish to make a mark in their chosen field; for a particular argument or insight to be considered the argument or insight of that subject. Understandably, the depth of research required to achieve these goals lends itself to a certain style of academic writing. Professional historians, while they contribute untold amounts to the understanding of our world, are not known for their light writing styles, their humour, or their accessibility. This is a shame. The history of our world is something that fascinates many of us. Historical novels, historical dramas and documentaries, museums…all are immensely popular aspects of our society. Books that tie-in to television documentaries, such as Laurence Rees’ ‘Auschwitz’, suddenly pop up all over public transport during daily commutes. The general public want to learn about our past. And yet, their ability to do so is constantly thwarted by a lack of accessible material. History books are so often weighty tomes, their hundreds of pages covered in tiny print with frequent referrals to even tinier footnotes, and written in a very dry, academic style. If these books seem too threatening, other options are limited. There are school-level textbooks, but a thirty year old man might look a little strange reading that on his lunch break in the office (a similar problem arises when you try to enjoy Horrible Histories on the bus. It’s impossible; you just look odd). In a similar vein, there are various ‘Teach Yourself’ books; excellently researched and informative these may be, but they are not designed to carry the reader away to another world. Websites suffer this problem too; the writing is often accessible, but usually divided into hundreds of sections, with little narrative to speak of. The likes of Ian Mortimer have tried to bring history to the masses with time travel guides and humorous storytelling. These books are limited to certain periods of English history, but still, it is a start.
As you might have realised by this point, this is all a very long-winded way of setting out my intentions in starting this blog. 2014 is now here, and with it-as I assume you already know-the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War. Books, articles and websites on the subject have been popping up for months now, and while there is a lot of brilliant reading to be found, much of it is extremely serious, daunting stuff. Anything that tries to be otherwise, meanwhile, is badly written, and as a result, just as difficult to deal with. And so, in a possibly terribly misguided attempt to bridge the gap…here I am.
I am not a professional historian. I do have a First Class degree in History and Literature, having centred most of my degree work on twentieth century European History. I’m a stay-at-home mother now, but history remains a huge passion of mine, and I plan to continue my studies with an MA in European History when the time is right. I believe, and again, this could be terribly misguided of me, that I am very good at writing about history; that I have a talent for making history interesting and enjoyable. I have been researching the First World War for years, both at university and for my own enjoyment, and while I don’t claim to be an expert, my knowledge is fairly in-depth. Of course, there are caveats: most of my research and writing is socially and politically slanted, for example, so anyone looking for detailed military tactics won’t find them here. Also, despite my aims to try and keep this blog as a straightforward, interesting account of factual information, I won’t apologise for the fact that my own interpretations are always likely to shade the writing in one way or another (for the record, I am one of those unpatriotic left-wing cynics that UK education secretary Michael Gove has such an issue with).
So, here we go. The blog will be updated on the 28th of each month, in recognition of that day in the seventh month of 1914 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, and will essentially follow a narrative in which I write about the major events of each month. If you decide to stick with it, then thank you. It is no secret that the First World War was one of the most brutal periods in the history of mankind, and that, therefore, this won’t always be enjoyable reading, but I do hope that I can do this fascinating, interesting, horrendous time justice.
The primary sources at the start of this post were taken from the very excellent website http://www.firstworldwar.com. If this blog isn’t for you, then you could do a lot worse than whiling away some hours there instead.
For other reading on the subject, I will be updating the Recommended Reading page above in the very near future.