The Moment Diary

The Moment Diary

Looking back at this month 100 years ago…

War – What War?

January 1, 1914

In January 1914 the idea that war might be around the corner would have been rejected as absurd. The colonial mindset was still evident when British governor Sir Frederick Lugard successfully completed amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria to form one country. The newly united colony and protectorate were to be ruled by a newly appointed Governor General of Nigeria. Some suggest that the name Nigeria was adopted from a letter by…

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The speed of events in August

August 1, 1914

From the safety of 100 years later we tend to look only at the battles and mourn the horrendous loss of life. Were you in the UK in May, June, July, 1914 your perception would be that the war will not happen. As June progressed the feeling around was this was a continental spat and not really our concern. In July the realisation dawned that war on a continental scale is not just possible but…

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Your Country Needs You

September 1, 1914

Now and again as we trace the war years month by month I may go out of time to suggest an event that had impact not only on the war but reverberates to this day. For example we all know that Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in June 1914. Only 15 days earlier another event, the annexation by Greece of two large islands of the Turkish coast, is the root of the conflict that still divides…

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Gloucester Preparations

October 1, 1914

Incredible as it may seem in 1915 Gloucester had two ice rinks. Why do I mention them? Because one moved from India Road to Brunswick Square (along by St Michael’s church). In October 1910 it was a drill hall training volunteers for the war. It stayed in commission in that role until 1919. The building has since been demolished. Continuing the Gloucester theme the County Regiment were the main force at the battle of the…

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The Rise of Facism and Taxes

November 1, 1914

Events of a future war were foreshadowed when on 15 November Benito Mussolini founded his fascist newspaper “Il Populo d’Italia”. We tend to forget that Mussolini was way ahead of Hitler in founding the movement. Fascist comes from the term Fasci used in Sicily to describe groups banding together for political purposes. The Latin origin is fasces, literally “bundles”, which was the symbol used by the Fascist Party in Italy. Benito resigned from the Italian…

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No Time for Peace

December 1, 1914

Christmas 1914 was remarkable for one event in particular. German troops put candles on the edge of their trenches and sang carols and songs of home. British and allied troops responded in kind. They approached each other cautiously across no mans land and a number of impromptu football games ensued. Given the terrible circumstances and the state of war this was indeed remarkable. What a pity that this display of humanity at its best was…

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Who Knew What and When

January 1, 1915

Looking back at how the war was conducted the most common view is the politicians and the generals did not understand its nature. However it is clear from cabinet papers that Lloyd George, at least, was well aware of what the future might bring. As early as January 1915 he warned that the British citizen army** faced slaughter on an industrial scale. He added “after 3 months of the fiercest fighting, involving very heavy losses,…

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It is a World War

February 1, 1915

Given the food shortages of the later war years, the Admiralty, in what might be seen as a self defeating move, banned neutral fishing vessels from using British ports. In an interesting counterpoint the German High Command prepared for a blockade of these islands. On 02 February the war spilled onto the Suez Canal, an obvious strategic target, as the Turks reached the Sinai. At the same time they invaded the Aden Protectorate. By 04…

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Days – Dark Deeds

April 1, 1915

I cheat, just a little with the date. These words were written on 03 May 1915 by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician with the Canadian forces. The poem “In Flanders Fields” surely stands alongside “Dulce et Decorum est” and “The Soldier” as the greatest war poems in the way they impact on our senses. In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky…

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Casualty upon Casualty

May 1, 1915

At the start of WW1 there were some 53,000 German nationals resident in the UK. For over a year attitudes appeared surprisingly relaxed. Many being helped to repatriate via neutral Holland. However, that mood hardened in early 1915 culminating in serious anti German (and Jewish) riots in Liverpool, Manchester and London. On May 7th the RMS Lusitania was sunk of the coast of Ireland with a loss of nearly 1,200 lives. The public horror at…

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Bits from around the world

July 2, 1915

The great war ground on, men still dying in their thousands but they were gripped to the front. With no great changes to report I’ve taken June and July together and looked at events from around the world. The Mexican revolution was in full swing and on 03 June Obregon’s troops defeated those of Pancho Villa at Leon in the province of Guanajuato. The revolution continued sporadically until 1920 even though a new government was…

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Conscription is in the air

August 1, 1915

On 15 July the order that all citizens (men and women) aged 18 to 40 had to be registered came into force. Looking back we can see, even though conscription did not come in until a year later, that the government knew that the war would drag on and casualties more difficult to replace through volunteers alone. In another move, prompted by the political scandal of lack of munitions at the front, the Munitions of…

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The aftermath is not all bad – plus unintended consequences

October 1, 1915

How often as we look back on those dark days do we see echoes that reverberate down to the present day. Two events in that October immediately come to mind. Bulgaria entered the war and its reason for doing so was the perceived threat from Serbia. In similar vein Masaryk used the conflict to claim independence for Czechoslovakia. Thus the seeds of the Balkan conflict were sown and anger over the Sudetenland became a step…

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The Angel of Mons. Myths, Morale & Misinformation

November 1, 1915

This story is not directly founded in November 1915 but its ripples did. On 29th September 1914 Arthur Machen published a ghost story, titled “The Bowman”. The story is based on the retreat from Mons. It tells how a British soldier suddenly remembers dinner plates used in a London restaurant that were decorated with the figure of St George**. The soldier then sees a “long line of shapes… that resemble archers”. The bowmen then “let…

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No More Football

December 1, 1915

Unlike Christmas day 1914 there were no impromtu football matches. Can you imagine the worry in high command. Fraternising could so easily lead from minor rule breaking to outright rebellion. No, the whole propaganda machine at home and at the front was geared to making the “Hun” a monster. No room for sentiment no peace until they were utterly defeated. December heralded a major shift in Government perception. They realised that they were running out…

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Momentous Events with Lasting Consquences

February 1, 1916

The significance of WW1 tends to blind us to what else was going on at that time. This month we are staying away from the war – almost – and looking at a wider horizon. I also have to confess to being creative with the month. This is because last month I concentrated on the Lloyd George story so missed some important events. In January 1916 the army Medical Corps carried out the first blood…

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“Lebensraum” and Total War

April 2, 1916

“Lebensraum” (literally room to live) was a driving force for Germany in World War II. In the first world war this manifested itself as a pursuit for empire. Britain France, the Netherlands and to a lesser extent Portugal all had large colonial territories. The Germans had none apart from a small presence in East Africa. This area of conflict is often overlooked. Significant battles were fought and, of course, huge resources expended. One of the…

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The Irish Question – Again

April 2, 1916

The advent of war brought a halt to the moves towards home rule for Ireland. Indeed there was considerable unease that the rise of the republicans would slow or even stop volunteers from that country. Feelings ran high and a number of events mark this as the most significant month in the drive for independence. On 09 April Captain Karl Spindler set sail for Ireland with 20,000 rifles aboard the SS Aud (renamed from SS…

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Rum Coke Business and Disastrous Diplomacy

May 1, 1916

We may be divorced from the war years by 100 years but like it or not our lives are still affected by those distant events. On 15 May 1916 Jesse Washington, a black labourer from Robinson, Texas, was lynched by a mob from the town. His alleged crime, the murder of his employers wife. Even then there his guilt was disputed but the mob went ahead anyway. We know from news broadcasts today that black…

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Written by John O’Keefe
2014-18

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