On this day in history… 3rd August 1914

Despite the fact that the First World War was a very significant event in world history it took a surprisingly long time to begin. The series of events that ran just over a month and saw the start of this momentous conflict began with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand during a state visit to Serbia. Just over a month later, the final nail in the coffin for those who were hoping to avoid a serious conflict came when – on 3rd August 1914 – Germany declared war on France.

The declaration of war on France came just two days after Germany had declared war on Russia. Whilst this was ostensibly a response to the declaration of war by Austria-Hungary (Germany’s ally) on Serbia and the Russian response of mobilisation troops to support Serbia, it was widely acknowledged at the time that this was not the only reason Germany jumped at the chance for a conflict. In fact, Germany believed that France, Russia and Britain would use the opportunity of the conflict to surround it and then to destroy it and so began to take steps to try to defend itself and also to get in there first with a strike.

It was the former chief of staff of the German army, Alfred von Schlieffe, who conceived the plan for Germany to fight a war on two fronts, one against France and the other against Russia. On 3rd August the first wave of German troops began to assemble on the border with Belgium and it was von Schlieffe’s plan that these troops would cross Belgium – which was neutral – in order to reach France. It was this threat that eventually drew Britain into the conflict as on 3rd August British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey convinced the country that if Belgium’s neutrality was violated by the German troops marching through it then Britain should enter into the situation too. He famously said on this day, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

August 1914 was the month in which all the armies of Europe picked sides and began readying for the conflict with the events of 3rd August accelerating the pace of the start of hostilities. At the time everyone assumed the conflict would last only months – if that – but it turned out to be one of the worst wars history has ever seen.

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