War in Europe long anticipated

UK Parliament often discussed war in Europe before 1914

Both Winston Churchill and his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, warned of the dangers of a war in Europe. This was clearly a common topic for discussion amongst politicians, the media and the general public in the decades before the First World War. Here is a statement made in a letter by Lord Randolph Churchill and another by Winston Churchill in the UK parliament.

Premonitions of war with Germany evident in the media and popular literature are discussed in Minds at War.

Randolph Churchill on avoiding war in Europe, (1866)

On the 22nd of December, 1886, the Chancellor of the Exchequer,Lord Randoph Churchill, wrote to Lord Salisbury, who had pointed out the desperate state of Europe and the possibilities of immediate war:

“A wise foreign policy will extricate England from Continental struggles and keep her outside of German, Russian, French, or Austrian disputes. I have for some time observed a tendency in the Government attitude to pursue a different line of action, which I have not been able to modify or check.

This tendency is certain to be accentuated if large Estimates [for Government spending] are presented to and voted by Parliament. The possession of a very sharp sword offers a temptation which becomes irresistible to demonstrate the efficiency of the weapon in a practical manner. I remember the vulnerable and scattered character of the Empire, the universality of our commerce, the peaceful tendencies of our democratic electorate, the hard times, the pressure of competition, and the high taxation now imposed: and with these facts vividly before me I decline to be a party to encouraging the military and militant circle of the War Office and Admiralty to join in the high and desperate stakes which other nations seem to be forced to risk.”

Winston Churchill, speaking in Parliament on a European War, 13 May 1901

The enormous and varied frontiers of the Empire, and our many points of contact with barbarous peoples, will surely in the future, as in the past, draw us into frequent little wars. Our military system must therefore be adapted for dealing with these minor emergencies smoothly and conveniently. But we must not expect to meet the great civilized Powers in this easy fashion. We must not regard war with a modern Power as a kind of game in which we may take a hand, and with good luck and good management may play adroitly for an evening and come safe home with our winnings. It is not that, and I rejoice that it cannot be that.  A European war cannot be anything but a cruel, heartrending struggle, which, if we are ever to enjoy the bitter fruits of victory, must demand, perhaps for several years, the whole manhood of the nation, the entire suspension of peaceful industries, and the concentrating to one end of every vital energy in the community.

I have frequently been astonished since I have been in this House to hear with what composure and how glibly Members, and even Ministers, talk of a European war. I will not expatiate on the horrors of war, but there has been a great change which the House should not omit to notice. In former days, when wars arose from individual causes, from the policy of a Minister or the passion of a King, when they were fought by small regular armies of professional soldiers, and when their course was retarded by the difficulties of communication and supply, and often suspended by the winter season, it was possible to limit the liabilities of the combatants. But now, when mighty populations are impelled on each other, each individual severally embittered and inflamed—when the resources of science and civilization sweep away everything that might mitigate their fury—a European war can only end in the ruin of the vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and exhaustion of the conquerors.


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  10. A Poem from the Front

    A hero I have never been
    At leading charges, never seen
    Courage, a soldier cannot borrow
    I’ll try to pluck up some tomorrow
    The day when I may kill someone
    My bayonet, he might fall upon
    Shell-holes, hell-holes, mustard gas
    I prefer that I can keep my arse
    While cowering in a muddy trench
    Suffering that awful stench
    Fearing death, decapitation
    While doing my utmost for the Nation
    A muddy mind, muddy boots
    Hope my Captain will not shoot
    Me as I scream, out of my head
    Sick of seeing countless dead
    His staring eyes, and whiskey fuelled
    The revolver from his holster pulled
    A trembling barrel against my head
    My scattered brains a mushy red
    Around the trench they join the gore
    I wake up screaming, dream no more!
    My father hugs me to his chest
    “His last letter disturbed your rest!
    You’ve eavesdropped on the parlour chat
    But son, you just remember that
    Your Uncle Charlie gave of his best
    Thank God that he is now at rest

    Albert Douglas Gillen

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