The sudden slide from the tranquil Indian summer of the Edwardian age into a state of chaos previously inconceivable is quite the tale, but telling it has always been hard. It’s not only that it’s a complicated story, it’s that much of the work in piecing together what happened was done well after the events themselves, and even when you see these pieces, none of it seems to fit. There is naturally a bias at play – we know where these foolish actions and reactions would end – but even so, believing that supposedly rational human beings in charge of powerful countries could let all this happen, it all seems somehow wrong.
It’s a great credit to the makers of 37 Days that they managed to weave all of this together into a piece of work which pulls these characters into suddenly clear focus – from Ian McDiarmid’s Edward Grey, the sanest man in the room who puts too much faith in the forces of reason, to Rainer Sellien’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, pandered to by competing officials, all keen to make him feel that their plan is his plan.
There will be a lot of coverage here of the early part of the first world war, as there are so many fantastic resources available. The BBC in particular launched into the project of making something new about these years with such a degree of creative enthusiasm that it set vastly unrealistic expectations for the rest of the four years.
This series presented by Christopher Clark goes over the feverish 37 days which took an almost entirely peaceful continent into all-out war, and it’s absolutely one of my favourites – he really gets inside the heads of all the disperate parties experiencing this historical vertigo all at one. None of them can believe that this is really going to happen until it’s too late – and frankly, I find it hard to believe too – surely they can stop this madness before it’s too late? It’s testament to the quality of the programme that even knowing how it ends, there is a genuine sense of suspense.
January 1 – The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line in the United States starts services between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, becoming the first airline to provide scheduled passenger services
January 9 – The Phi Beta Sigma fraternity is founded by African American students at Howard University, in Washington, D.C
February 2 – Charlie Chaplin makes his film début, in the comedy short Making a Living
March 10 – Suffragette Mary Richardson damages Velázquez’ painting Rokeby Venus in London’s National Gallery, with a meat chopper
March 16 – Henriette Caillaux, wife of French minister Joseph Caillaux, murders Gaston Calmette, editor of Le Figaro, fearing publication of letters showing she and Caillaux were romantically involved
April 4 – The Komagata Maru sails from India to Canada. Due to Canadian regulations designed to exclude Asian immigrants, the boat is forced to return to Calcutta with all its passengers
April 9 – A misunderstanding involving US Navy sailors in Mexico and army troops loyal to Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta leads to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico
April 20 – The Colorado National Guard attacks a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners in Ludlow, Colorado, killing 24 people
April 21 – 2300 U.S. Navy sailors and Marines from the South Atlantic fleet land in the port city of Veracruz, Mexico, which they will occupy for over six months
June 12 – Ottoman Greeks in Phocaea are massacred by Turkish irregular troops
June 28 – Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Duchess Sophie, in Sarajevo.
June 29 – Anti-Serb riots in Sarajevo and Zagreb break out
July 23 – Austria-Hungary presents Serbia with an unconditional ultimatum.
July 28 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia by telegram. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia orders a partial mobilisation against Austria-Hungary.
July 28 – British and French naval forces fail to prevent the ships of the Imperial German Navy Mediterranean Division from reaching the Dardanelles.
August 1 – Germany declares war on Russia, following Russia’s military mobilization in support of Serbia. Germany also begins mobilisation.
August 2 – German troops occupy Luxembourg
August 4 – German troops invade Belgium at 8.02 am. In London the King declares war on Germany for this violation of Belgian neutrality and to defend France
August 5 – The German Army overruns and defeats the Belgians at Liège with the first operational use of Big Bertha (a howitzer).
August 7 – France launches its first attack of the war, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to recover the province of Alsace from Germany, beginning the Battle of the Frontiers.
August 17 – The Battle of Tannenberg begins between German and Russian forces.
August 23 – In its first major action at the Battle of Mons, the British Expeditionary Force holds the German forces, but then begins a month-long fighting Great Retreat to the Marne.
August 24 – Serbian troops defeat the Austro-Hungarian army at the Battle of Cer, marking the first Entente victory of the War.
August 27 – At the Battle of Le Cateau, British, French and Belgian forces make a successful tactical retreat from the German advance.
August 28 – At Heligoland Bight British cruisers under Admiral Beatty sink three German cruisers.
August 30 – At The Battle of Tannenberg, The Russian Second Army is surrounded and defeated.
September 5 – The First Battle of the Marne begins when French 6th Army attacks German forces near to Paris. Over 2 million fight, and a quarter are killed or wounded
September 22 – German submarine U-9 torpedoes three British Royal Navy armoured cruisers, HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue, with the death of more than 1,400 men, in the North Sea.
October 9 – Antwerp (Belgium) falls to German troops.
October 19 – The First Battle of Ypres begins.
October 31 – At The Battle of the Yser, the Belgian army halts the German advance, but with heavy losses
October 31 – The Battle of the Vistula River concludes in Russian victory over German and Austro-Hungarian forces around Warsaw.
November 5 – After the shelling of Russian Black Sea ports, Britain and France declare war on The Ottoman Empire
November 7 – The Japanese and British seize Jiaozhou Bay in China, the base of the German East Asia Squadron at Tsingtao.
December 2 – Austro-Hungarian forces occupy the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
December 19 – The Battle of Kolubara ends, resulting in a decisive Serbian victory over Austria-Hungary.
December 24 – An unofficial, temporary Christmas truce begins, between British and German soldiers on the Western Front.
I was interviewed last week for the United States WW1 Centennial Commission’s weekly ‘Centennial News’ podcast, and had the chance to discuss the musical trends of the era. The episode can be downloaded or streamed here – my part is 36 minutes in.