Peace and War: Britain in 1914
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th August, 2015
The avalanche of books that came out last year to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War concentrated mainly on the causes of that hellish conflict, which consumed millions of young lives during the more than four years that it ran. The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914 was in many ways a pretext for bellicose action on a continent whose leaders were itching for a fight. At first their was division within Asquith’s Cabinet in London about the wisdom of Britain’s getting involved, though once the Germans entered neutral Belgium the dye was cast. Largely forgotten by many, but given rightful prominence in Nigel Jones’s lavishly illustrated volume Peace and War: Britain in 1914 (Head of Zeus, £25), troubles in Ireland were more of an immediate headache in London for much of the year. The summer started early and the weather was fine which meant that this codicil to to Edwardian era (by now presided over by King George V) was bathed in a light that afterwards would be viewed with nostalgia — at least by the leisured classes who enjoyed the full privileges of their rank and their wealth. However, even without the looming War, change was on the way. One of the strengths of Nigel Jones’s book is that he gives due attention to the Suffragettes, socialism and other novelties that had come to the fore in the previous years. He also highlights some of the young artists, writers and bohemians — some of whom would perish on the battlefields — with helpful commentary. The net result is a sweeping social history of a fundamental period of social change, rather than a mere examination of the causes of the First World War. The book will therefore retain its relevance when others have been forgotten.