“We have made a request to the German Government that we shall have a satisfactory assurance as to the Belgium neutrality before midnight tonight. The German reply to our request was unsatisfactory.”
So Asquith announced to a packed House of Commons. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill a few minutes before had transmitted the following message to the ships of the Royal Navy: “Commence hostilities against Germany”.
The festering conflict in the Balkans, centered around Serbia and the Dual Monarchy, had been flashing into flames since 1912. As Wilhelmine Germany and Imperial Russia became increasingly embroiled in the strife, so too would France (eagerly) and England (reluctantly) be pulled toward the precipice. As each major power positioned itself for military advantage, mobilizations and war declarations followed in rapid succession. Austria-Hungary against Serbia on 28 July, Germany against Russia, and the converse, on 1 August 1914, Germany and France on 3 August 1914, and the German invasion of Belgium without a declaration on that same day.
And, at midnight Berlin time, 23oo London time, 4 August 1914, Great Britain’s expired ultimatum to Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg ensured that the coming conflagration would be the first global war of the modern industrial age. British Foreign Secretary Grey, whose Germanophobic policies and diplomatic bungling helped bring on the larger crisis, made the famous remark that; “The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Ninety-nine years hence, nothing has had such effect on the psyche of Western civilization as has the Great War.