4th August 1914: Britain declares War on Germany

Today, the 4th of August,  marks the 100th anniversary of the date that Britain formally declared war and what we refer to as World War One began.

We currently have an exhibition at the Bradford Industrial Museum called bradford’s war: 1914-1918 which explores the impact of the war on Bradford.  It explores life on the home front  and how it  left a lasting legacy for life in the city today, affecting   industry, women, leisure, attitudes to war and the treatment of the injured and disabled.

Liz McIvor, who curated the exhibition has written us a blog post giving us some of the context:

Growing tensions in Europe came to a head in late June when Franz Ferdinand (Arch-Duke of Austria-Hungary) was shot and killed in Bosnia. Nearby Serbia was accused of supporting this and Germany pressed Austria to declare war. Russia stepped in to help Serbia and Germany declared war on Russia and her ally France.

Germany moved through neutral Belgium to attack France first and this action drew Britain into a war that they knew was coming. The naval reserve and the British Expeditionary Force were swiftly deployed, joined by Indian troops.

Although the declaration came on the 4th, on Sunday the 2nd of August the bank holiday was extended and  Bradford newspapers ran ‘special editions’ to let people know war would be declared.

Outbreak of War is declared
War is declared

This was the traditional day of the ‘Manningham Feast’ and there was something of a carnival atmosphere at the point of the declaration. By the end of the week the local volunteer unit had mobilised and gone to barracks at Selby. The standing army was small and had to be supported by ‘Saturday Night Soldiers’ similar to the Territorial army. The West Riding Volunteers (Keighley, Bingley and Shipley as well as Bradford) had experience, although at home, putting down strikes and riots at a time of high unemployment in depressed textile towns.

Officers Mess, Manningham
Officers Mess, Manningham

There were nowhere near enough men to engage Germany though, so Kitchener (a hero of the African Wars), was chosen as a celebrity figurehead and senior staff campaigned for battalions of local ‘Pals’ to form. With the idea that, amongst civilians, the best way for them to fight was for each other, as brothers neighbours and friends. Bradford’s ‘Pals’ became the 16th battalion of the Prince of Wales Own Yorkshire Regiment. Their first signed recruit is listed as P.M Crowther, a solicitor from Manningham, on September 8th.

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Queuing to sign up
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Bradford Pals in France

At the same time, Belgian refugees began to arrive in the city, stirred up by stories of German atrocities, 1000 men signed up, as well as 300 special constables for home duties, even though it was noted at the city sessions that there was an ‘absence of serious crime’ at the time . By October, the first 50 wounded soldiers arrived at the new St Luke’s Hospital (the Bradford War Hospital).

By the time the Pals left for training in January 1915, an 18th battalion had begun to recruit as there were still not enough men and it looked like conscripts would be needed.

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Bradford Pals camp in Bowling Park

The Lord Mayor of Bradford appealed for calm and asked people not to ‘panic buy’ as it pushed up food prices, particularly of milk and bread. Beer went up by one penny per pint!

Four more years of war would have a devastating effect at home and abroad and few people escaped its consequences. Today, a hundred years later we are asked to reflect on this anniversary and ask ourselves what we might have done in similar circumstances and what the lessons are for people living today.

2 thoughts on “4th August 1914: Britain declares War on Germany”

  1. Is there a photographic record of soldiers who fought with the Bradford Pals? My uncle, Wilfred Holmes of Addingham, fought and died with the 16th Battalion on the 1st July, 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. Several photographs are missing in the Craven Book of Remembrance; his is one of them.

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