Did Britain have to go to war in 1914?
George Allardice Riddell was a solicitor and newspaper proprietor. From 1903 he was the managing director of the News of the World and in summer 1914 kept close links with the government to discover whether Britain would enter the war. He believed that the government was split into the following four parties:
Those who thought it vital to support France including Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister) and Edward Grey (Foreign Secretary)
The Peace Party headed by Sir John Simon (Attorney General)
Those including David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer) who were in favour of ‘intervention in certain circumstances’
The party headed by Thomas Mckinnon Wood (Scottish Secretary) and Charles Masterman (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) who wanted a united government
On 2 August 1914 Riddell held a dinner party with guests including Lloyd George, Simon, Masterman and Ramsay MacDonald (Leader of the Labour party). They debated the rights and wrongs of the situation and most agreed that Britain should not enter the war unless Belgian neutrality was infringed. When the Germans did invade Belgium on 4 August it made the decision quite clear for many politicians.
The Serbian War.
Sunday July 26th 1914.
This evening I telephoned to L.G. informing him of the Dublin Riots and that several people had been killed by the military. He was much distressed and said that the incident would cause fresh and serious complications. He spoke of the poignant situation. He said that Austria had made demands which no self respecting nation could comply with and that such demands when addressed by a great nation to a small one were in the nature of bullying [ ] threats. He said the situation was serious, but that he thought there would be peace – in fact he thought so very strongly.
During the week the situation developed with alarming speed.
Friday July 31st 1914 see Rider – Page 5.
I have nothing to relate which has not appeared publicly until On Saturday
August 1st 1914 when Mr Wedgwood Benn one of the Junior Whips came to me and asked me to assist in connection with a fund which the Prince of Wales proposed to raise to alleviate distress. I had a long talk with Benn and arranged to see him on the following (Sunday) morning, when I went to No 12 Downing Street. I told him that I thought that the mayor in each town should be asked to bring together an emergency committee representative
of all sections of opinion with the object of allaying public anxiety, of raising funds and of alleviating distress. I also suggested that the Government would no doubt supplement voluntary effort. I suggested that the mayors should be seen personally by representatives of the Local Government Board and I drew up a précis of what should be said by the officials of the Board. It was also arranged that the members should be asked to co-operate in the voluntary effort to raise funds. I drew up the names of the Committee and subsequently interviewed the Local Government Board people with Benn.
The interview took place in the little waiting room attached to the Whip’s Office; the room in which the applicants for honours await their fate – a very small room in very bad repair and containing very poor furniture. It was amusing to hear the L.G.B. representative referring to precedents: to what had been done on previous occasions. He seemed to be oblivious of the magnitude of the crisis. However in the end we arranged for the formation of a Committee and for the circular to be issued. I sat in the Whip’s room most of the day. A curious tense feeling prevailed and the building was surrounded by silent anxious crowds.
The Cabinet rose at 1-30 and adjourned to 6-30.
I was told that there were serious dissensions and likely to be several resignations.
It seemed that there were four parties in the Cabinet (1) the party headed by Sir Edward Grey who thought it vital to
to support France (2) the “Peace Party” headed by Sir John Simon who would not have war at any price (3) a party which was in favour of intervention under certain circumstances – this headed by Lloyd George and (4) a party which was endeavouring to compare the differences between the other three parties with a view to avoiding any split in the Government at a time of great public danger – this party headed by Mackinson Mackinnon Wood and Masterman.
The Cabinet had another long sitting in the evening.
Lloyd George, Sir John Simon, Masterman and Ramsay Macdonald came to dinner at 20 Queen Anne’s Gate.
L.G. said he had been at work for 18 hours but he seemed wonderfully fresh.
I gathered that John Burns had practically resigned and that Sir John Simon, Beauchamp, Morley and Mackinnon Wood were considering the advisability of doing so.
While we were at dinner Simon took a paper out of his pocket and handing it to L.G. said “those are my views.” L.G. read it carefully and handed it back to him without any
comment. Masterman said “may I see the letter?” After some little hesitation Simon handed it to him. It was his draft letter of resignation.
We had a long discussion regarding the rights and wrongs of the situation. L.G. took out the official war map and putting it on the edge of the [dinner] table graphically described the position of the various forces. He said that as a compromise the Government had determined to tell Germany that England would remain neutral if Germany undertook not to attack the coast of France or to enter the English Channel with the object of attacking French shipping. L.G. said that if the Germans gave this undertaking in an unqualified manner and observed the neutrality of Belgium he would not agree to war but would rather resign. He however spoke very strongly regarding the observance of Belgian neutrality. Curiously Ramsay Macdonald also agreed that if Belgian neutrality was infringed this country was justified in declaring war upon Germany. He said that he and the Labour Party would resolutely oppose our intervention on any other grounds.