1914: Countdown to catastrophe

From 23 July to 4 August 1914, Britain was transformed from a nation willing to watch a European war from the sidelines to a determined combatant. Nigel Jones follows the fateful diplomatic wrangling that pitched the country into conflict...

A photograph of a crowd in Berlin celebrating Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany's proclamation of war against Great Britain, August 1914. (Photo by Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

As the high summer of 1914 reached its broiling climax, for the first time in the century since Napoleon’s downfall, Europe stood on the brink of a general war. The diplomatic fallout from the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife at Sarajevo on 28 June had taken a month to splutter from a spark into a fatal flame, but by the end of July, ultimatums had been issued, reservists called up and armies mobilised. In Berlin, Vienna, Paris and St Petersburg, long-prepared war plans were put into action.

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