Diary Of Fred Albright Written On Honeymoon In London, England
At The Outbreak Of World War I, August 1914 London Aug. 1/14
Evelyn and I have often talked of keeping a diary and have even made some half-resolutions, none of which have borne fruit indeed. I think the blame is mine for in Ireland she began by writing brief notes upon the backs of picture postcards. I was to continue but always used up so much time and energy urging her to go to bed that I didn't do any writing. Now however, events in European politics have reached such a crisis that I feel sure in after years I'll reproach myself if a brief record of the daily events is not kept.
This is Saturday. What a contrast from this day last week Then we were in Oxford having stayed behind the Cuthbert party to enjoy old Oxford a little more at our leisure. How quiet and peaceful everything was; the quaint old city; the deserted quadrangles; the sleepy waters of the Cher and the Isis. The sense of quiet and peace stole in upon our senses and harmonized with our moods. No thought of war or trouble crossed our minds. And on the way to London in the evening the same brooding calm and peace pervaded everything.
Today the ominous rumble of warfare in the far Balkan states has created a tense feeling of dread. The whole city is alive. Set strained faces pass you in the streets, in the hotel corridors, in the restaurants, while the anxious, waiting crowds in Whitehall invest the war office and the foreign office with a new interest. Austria has defied all the pacific efforts of Great Britain and the other European powers and is now desperately struggling to cross the Danube and crush Servia [Serbia]. Russia is mobilizing. This morning there was a more hopeful feeling than yesterday because in spite of the tense situation King George has offered to use his good offices for peace & has written the Czar personally.
Sir Edward Grey has been making almost superhuman efforts to preserve peace among the nations. Yesterday Germany's ultimatum to Russia was given, to commence to demobilize within 24 hours, or Germany would follow suit. [mobilize] The 24 hours would expire at noon today. Is it any wonder that everyone was anxious? The moments wore away and the bulletins continued no news until about noon it was announced that the time for an answer to the ultimatum had been extended until noon of Monday.
A great feeling of relief was manifest. But still the man in the street was anxious. There has been an undercurrent of opinion that Germany is at the bottom of everything. No one really trusts her and speculation is rife as to what Great. Britain will do if Russia doesn't back down. That would mean war with Germany who is bound by her treaty with Austria. Then France would help Russia. Could Great Britain stand by in such a war and see France crushed, most people think Great Br. would have to join in if only for self protection. Heaven only knows where such a war would end.
This morning we did almost nothing. About ten o'clock I went down to the C.N.R. offices and to several others thinking it might be wise to get an earlier boat. The German Steamship offices were closed and crowds thronged the sidewalks. At all others there was a tremendous rush. At one after another I was told there was no room at any early sailing.
Crowds of stranded Americans were snapping up all the available tickets. Still in the morning I, and I think most people, thought war might still be averted. Then came the news in the bulletins that the Bank rate had been raised to 10%, and there was almost a panic. Now I wished I had taken an earlier sailing on the Allan line, which I might have had. But there was nothing to do but wait.
At noon we had lunch with Ernie [Stapleford] at the Empire Club. Then we walked down to St James Park, thence to the Temple, and were shown through the Inner Temple building, though the church was closed. In the afternoon came more cheering news, bulletins announcing that the time for Russia's answer was extended until noon Monday.
In the evening we called on some of the Cuthbert party.
Sunday Aug. 2nd.
This has been a wonderful day. It was late last night when we went to bed and even then we didn't soon go to sleep. Evelyn was very frightened and nervous and once clung to me in a terrified way saying "I know something is going to happen." This was after we heard the beat of drums and knew troops were marching along the Strand. It was very late when at last we fell asleep.
This morning everyone was fearfully & anxiously expecting news. We had it. In big type "Germany declares war on Russia." Even the Times had a Sunday edition and all papers were eagerly bought up . Everyone felt now that the spark had been touched off. A big, an appalling European war is now inevitable.
We didn't go to church this morning but this p.m. went to Westminster Abbey with Mrs. Leslie & Miss Cassells. Stapleford met us in front of the Abbey. We were there half an hour before time but none too soon. A tremendous crowd was waiting. Luckily we went around to the east entrance and got seats near the pulpit. It was a wonderful service - one never to be forgotten. The congregation, tense, prayerful, restrained yet determined.
The Archbishop of Canterbury preached on the war situation, a masterly appeal to the people, embodying as it seemed to me all that is best and noblest in British character. Oh, I was proud to be British in that hour. It was just what was needed to steady me. All fear and excitement passed away and then I felt that if war came I could volunteer and take my place in the fighting line. The cause was just and God is on our side.
Before the sermon began Ernie & I gave up our seats to 2 old ladies and we stood in the aisle. As it happened it was the means of our hearing much better than we otherwise would have done. We were standing facing the north wall of the transept. Outside the sun was shining fitfully and I kept my eye on a ray of sunlight which fell upon the east wall of the transept. It always shone and, so it seemed to my fancy, whenever His Grace came to a particularly impressive point in the sermon it burst forth with unusual brilliancy. It seemed a good omen to me and though I'm not superstitious, it warmed my blood and seemed to say to me "The cause of Right will triumph. Vicissitudes may come and defeats may be ours, but in the end we shall win because our cause is right."
Even the suffragette disturbances, which almost sent my wife and others into hysterics, to me, seemed only to show up the British character to advantage. It was terrible in one way. In that solemn time when the peace of the world hung in the balance and one nation at least was trying to get strength and guidance from above, at least 5 different times was the Archbishop interrupted by these crazy women. They were quickly seized and firmly, but without anger or violence, removed from the service. One was chained to her seat, and seat and all had to be removed together.
Surely the provocation was great, yet there was no counter display and I thought "How typical this self restraint is of the English character. A nation that can discipline itself thus can surely win the world's battles in the cause of Right." On enquiry after the service we learned that these women are let go immediately after they are removed from the building. The police don't even take their names! What other nation would treat them so?
If war comes perhaps the boat sailings may be cancelled for some time. If so, we had better husband our resources & take cheaper lodgings. Ernie wanted us to come out to his place in Ladbroke Square, Kensington. So Non (Evelyn) & Mrs. L. & Miss C went on home, while I started for Ponsonby Hotel with Ernie. Our bus had just reached Trafalgar Sq., where there was an enormous mass meeting to protest against the war, when I decided to go back to the hotel to get the camera It was a tremendous crowd, overflowing the square into Whitehall, the Strand & Northumberland Ave. But just then it began to pour rain, & the crowd suddenly melted away.
We managed to get back to the hotel without getting very wet. We stayed and had tea there; then Non went with us. We had a beautiful ride out there, and it was a beautiful section but we didn't decide to move. About 7:30 we went to Weslyan chapel on --- Road. I could hardly keep my nerves quiet. The --- preacher hadn't sense enough to suit his sermon to the occasion but went into a philosophical discussion of the guilt of Pilate.
It may have been a very good sermon - I don't know, but it was horribly out of sympathy with the tense mood of this congregation. There was communion service later but we didn't stay. We took a tube to the British museum - intending to call on Misses Gray & Young - two American girls we met in Dublin. We had scarcely left the tube station when we met Mr. Johnson & his daughter who had been on the Arabic. He was bareheaded .
We spoke to them and they told us of the difficulties of their escape from Germany, how they had to walk across the frontier into Belgium, carrying their luggage, travel in crowded trains - and a boat worse still, without food, with no berth, but glad to escape and be in England. He had lost his hat in the Channel, & couldn't get another as it was Sunday - Miss Johnson said she had wanted her father to go on to Paris or to Switzerland. "I think it would be lovely in Switzerland," she said. The little fool! The idea of wanting to stay on the continent. It shows how little she appreciates what this war will mean.
Today we have heard many terrible tales of the frightful difficulties people have had in escaping from the continent, many with loss of all their luggage, yet glad to be out of the terrible war zone and safe in old England.
Had a pleasant visit with Miss Gray & Miss Young. They are both nervous, though so little did they realize the seriousness of the situation this morning that even Miss Y. was talking of going to Paris! How blind we are. On the way home we met troops all along the way, singly, in pairs and groups. All Territorials and all going apparently to form their regiments. It looks as if the British authorities are taking every precaution to be in readiness.
Monday Aug. 3/14
Bank holiday! What a travesty upon that word! Surely England never knew such a one before. The strained tenseness has increased if that is possible. Everyone is asking - "What will Britain do?" A small minority still urge that she stand aside & take no part in the conflict, that it is no quarrel of hers and she is not bound in any way. But the great body of opinion is that she is morally bound to assist France and now that Russia is at war it seems as if France will necessarily be drawn in. In fact today's news shows that France is mobilizing - and that German troops are massing on the French frontier.