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20 October 2014
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The Road To War: The Triple Entente
Why did Britain become involved in the conflict?

On 3rd August, Sir Edward Grey made a speech to Parliament in which he said that 'it is clear that the peace of Europe cannot be preserved'. He went on to discuss Britain's role in the war, as he saw it:

'My own feeling is that if a foreign fleet, engaged in a war which France had not sought, and in which she had not been the aggressor, came down the English Channel and bombarded and battered the undefended coasts of France, we could not stand aside and see this going on practically within sight of our eyes, with our arms folded, looking on dispassionately, doing nothing. I believe that would be the feeling of this country.'

He did not see a reason for Britain to declare war on Germany as a member of the Triple Entente, but only to defend France's northern coast. The next day, Britain had declared war. What happened to change their minds?

The Schlieffen Plan, Germany's plan of defeating France in six weeks and avoiding a war on two fronts, required that German forces approach through neutral Belgium. Britain's agreement to protect Belgium's right to remain neutral was directly challenged when German troops crossed the Belgian border on the morning of 4th August. King George V immediately issued his own ultimatum to Germany, warning that Britain would declare war if Germany did not agree to leave Belgium by midnight.

The British ambassador in Berlin met with the German chancellor and reported this back to London:

'[The chancellor] said that the steps taken by His Majesty's Government was terrible to a degree; just for a word - "neutrality," a word which in war time had so often been disregarded - just for a scrap of paper Great Britain was going to make war on a kindred nation who desired nothing better than to be friends with her.'

It was clear that German forces would not leave Belgium, and Britain had to either abandon her agreement to defend Belgium or become involved in a growing conflict. The King declared war at midnight on 4th August.

Do you think Britain knew what it was getting into?

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A - No, it was provoked into a hasty decision by a foolish statement by the Chancellor.

B - It was prepared for a quick naval battle, but not for extended land warfare in France and Belgium.

C - Yes, the country's military forces were up to whatever the Germans could throw at them.

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