War Declared

When Germany declared War on Russia on Aug 1st Churchill decided to act and ordered mobilization of the fleet. General mobilization of the Army was ordered on Aug 4th and Britain was formerly at War. Within a fortnight the Expeditionary Force had landed in France and troops were concentrated for Home Defence.   It is interesting to note that at first it was deemed not safe to send over the whole Expeditionary Force, two divisions being maintained for home defence. At first the British public took little interest in the War – especially as the nation was holiday making! Although the Territorials began digging some trenches on the coast immediately, much construction of coastal defences was delayed so as not to alarm the holidaymakers still on the beaches. Most people also considered the War would be a short one and took some convincing of the seriousness of the situation; as late as Aug 31st, Lord Roberts addressing the Royal Fusiliers said: “You have come forward to take your place in the ranks as private soldiers, not seeking, as the vast majority of men in you station are seeking, to be given commissions as officers. How very different is your action to that of the men who can still go on with their cricket and football, as if the very existence of the country were not at stake. This is not the time to play games, wholesome as they are in the days of piping peace. We are engaged in a life and death struggle”.


The Government started to take measures to reflect War conditions. To ensure that the enemy spy system was neutralised and information leaking to the enemy, or public morale weakening, the first Defence of the Realm Act (commonly known as Dora) was passed on Aug 9th. This act gave the power of arrest without warrant and on suspicion only and powers of court martial. Another act, the Aliens Restriction Act was also passed, designed to clear all possibly dangerous people from areas of military importance. Some 9,000 Germans and Austrians of military age were incarcerated as prisoners of war.  The railways came under government control on Aug 4th, under powers of Regulation of Forces Act 1871, to meet the requirements of the naval and military authorities.  


Spy mania broke out in the early days, probably due to an official communiqué that detailed some of actions taken to close down the German spy system. The communiqué revealed that a number of bakers, butchers, tobacconists etc of German origin had been transmitting information to Potsdam.  Neighbour began to suspect neighbour, rioting broke out and many a small shop owned by anyone with a foreign sounding name was wrecked. The owner of a tennis court on the east coast was interned, it being claimed the court was a potential gun emplacement to be used by the enemy in the advent of a landing!


As the gravity of the War became more apparent, with the German advance through Belgium to the sea coast and the occupation of Ostend, plans for Home Defence became operative. Trench digging began in earnest along the coast, which was patrolled by the Territorials and Special Constables. Strategic points such as railway stations, bridges, water and lighting works were placed under military guards. Even the Boy Scouts were used to guard some strategic points!


The pre-War assumptions on the risks of invasion were also questioned. It was now necessary to consider the possibility of invasion using self-propelled light-draught barges, employed on the inland water system of the Rhine and other rivers, carrying 500 to 1,200 men along with the deep water transport from the Helgoland Bight. It was thought unlikely Germany would commit her High Seas Fleet to protect any invasion flotilla as it was inferior to the Grand Fleet (which could steam down from north Scotland to cut if off)  and would also be at risk to minefields and submarines. However Germany did have a secondary force of older ships that could be used with torpedo craft to protect the transports if the Grand Fleet had been drawn away while the passage was being made. But Britain equally had a Reserve Fleet as well as “Patrol Flotillas” of torpedo-boats in stations on the East Coast and a squadron of destroyers and light cruisers at Harwich.  At the end of 1914 no revision in invasion planning was considered necessary.