On this day in history… 4th August 1914

4th August 1914 was the day on which Britain officially became a part of the First World War hostilities. Although the conflict that began this momentous war was begun weeks earlier, and between different nations, in the run up to 4th August it became clear that Britain would have no choice but to become involved.

The spark to the fire of the First World War began when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, along with his wife, during a state visit to Sarajevo. This set up a major conflict between Austria-Hungary, which wanted revenge for the assassination, and Serbia, where the assassin had come from (he had been part of ‘the Black Hand,’ a Serbian terrorist group). After the assassination, allies began to side with the two main parties to the conflict, with Russia mobilising troops to support Serbia and Germany getting behind Austria-Hungary.

One of the major tipping points came when Austria-Hungary issued Serbia with an ultimatum – when Serbia refused to agree to all the points on the ultimatum, a month after the assassination took place Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Attempts were made after this to try and prevent the conflict that looked likely to follow – particularly by Britain – however, on 1st August, Germany declared war on Russia, following an ultimatum issued by Germany to the Russians, insisting that Russia back down.

What Germany did next would prove to be the turning point for drawing Britain into the war. An ultimatum was issued by the Germans to Belgium, demanding safe passage through its neutral lands in order to reach France. It was made clear that if the Belgians did not permit this safe passage then they too would become an enemy of Germany. Britain had promised to guarantee Belgium’s neutrality and so if the Belgians rejected the German ultimatum Britain would be forced to enter the war to fulfill its guarantee. Belgium rejected the German ultimatum.

On 3rd August Germany declared war on France and by this point opposition to entering the war in Britain was declining. On 4th August Britain issued its own ultimatum to Germany – stop the invasion of Belgium or face the might of Britain too. When the 11pm deadline for Germany to reply passed without agreement, a declaration of war was issued by Britain against Germany and the final step was taken towards a conflict that would go on to take the lives of nine million combatants.

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