British Declaration of War – Part II
August 1914-1917

An official notice to recruits, detailing the new standards for service. 
Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-2311.

Last week marked the 103rd Anniversary of the British Declaration of War in 1914. In a time before televisions and widespread use of radio, instant communication was less than ideal. Consequently for those not living within major city centres, word that the Empire was at war often took time to trickle down, and it’s delivery at times could be unconventional, to say the least. This was particularly true for those in the northern wilderness, as this account relates:

‘A surveyor working in the province’s Cascade Range more than 150 miles from the nearest telegraph office only learned in late September that a war had broken out somewhere. Trying to get more details was a challenge, for the man who told him could only communicate via the Chinook trade language.

“Who was fighting?” the surveyor asked.  

“Everybody,” the Indian replied. In Victoria and in Vancouver they fought, but not in Seattle.   

None of this made sense to the surveyor, whose questions only elicited more images of street battles in front of the Empress or Georgia hotels. Finally the Indian paused and shouted triumphantly, “King George, he fight.” Knowing that King George in Chinook meant Great Britain and that Englishmen were called King George’s Men, the surveyor suddenly understood. “I knew this meant that England and Germany were at it, and it took no time for me to decide as to what I should do.”

(Zuehlke, Brave Battalion – The Remarkable Saga of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) In The First World War, p. 11)  

Recruits on Station Street in Toronto, 9 November 1915. 
Credit: John Boyd/Library and Archives Canada/PA-071690.

*Editors Note: Today’s post is sourced from Mark Zuehlke’s Brave Battalion, written in 2008. However it should be noted, the story specifically is further cited by Zuehlke from H. M. Urquhart’s The History of the 16th Battalion (The Canadian Scottish) Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War, 1914-1919, written in 1932. The language has not been changed so as to remain true to the original document and reflect the vocabulary of that period, despite the use of language that may not be considered appropriate terminology by today’s standards.   


5 August 1917
A Centenary Action

By 5 August 1917, the rain that had started on 29 July had still not stopped, much to the chagrin of stretcher-bearer Ralph Watson, who sarcastically called into question the allegiance of the weather man: 

“Still rain, rain, rain, no change. The trenches and shell holes will now be quite full… But we can’t fight the elements too, and as Germany has evidently enlisted the weather man on his side, what can we do? It is beyond words. You can safely arrange your Xmas festivities and leave me out.” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher-Bearer, p. 154)

Whether under rain, sun, or shellfire, there was little to be done by the average soldier other than try to grin and bear the brunt. In letters written home, troops often described their suffering in light-hearted descriptions, such as Watson continues to do in his letter from 5 August 1917. 

“Last night, Fritz came back a bit in this little burg. None came too close to our particular bedroom. At least, we didn’t consider it too close, though I guess if shells burst near enough to your house in Ottawa to throw mud and bricks down your basement steps, you wouldn’t sleep much. It depends on your point of view… Last night was the best night I ever had, with my own pillow and sandbag blanket… I pinched a few sandbags today, tied them together, dried them out, and have what I think will make quiet a blanket.” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher-Bearer, p. 155) 

Today’s photograph of Canadians on Salisbury Plain has been colourized as part of the Vimy Foundation’s First World War In Colour project. Learn more about this project, and see additional photographs, by following this link: 


“Canadians mudlarking on Salisbury Plain, 1914.” Fortunately for Canadians they were accustomed to mud, having been indoctrinated in its finer points while training on Salisbury Plain.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada / PA-022705 (modified from the original).
Colourized by Canadian Colour.

4 August 1914-2017
British Declaration of War

The London Gazette Publication date: 4 August 1914 Supplement: 28861 Page: 6161

Today, 4 August 2017, marks the 103rd Anniversary of the British Declaration of War on the German Empire in 1914. The declaration came over a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914. Four years later, countries, empires, and arguably the entire world, had been irrevocably altered.  

One of the popular explanations for Britain’s declaration of war maintains that the English were provoked by Germany’s invasion of Belgium, thus automatically compelling them to honour their alliance to protect Belgian neutrality. While it is beyond the scope of our social media posts to tackle such a complex topic, we would like to share the following podcast, produced by BBC Radio 4 for the 1914-2014 centennial. It provides an interesting primer to the discussion on British reasons for the declaration of war. The entire Month of Madness program is an intriguing, accessible study of the five nations at the centre of that tumultuous summer of 1914. 

Listen to it here: 

Crowds outside Buckingham Palace cheer King George, Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales (who can just be seen on the balcony) following the Declaration of War in August 1914.
© IWM (Q 81832)