MEMORY LANE: The fateful day when declaration of war was made

Chapel Territorials before their departure from the training camp at Braintree Essex for the front.
Chapel Territorials before their departure from the training camp at Braintree Essex for the front.

On August 4, 1914, Europe held its breath and waited to see if Britain would declare war on Germany.

At a time before television, the internet or even long distance telephones the High Peak was quite isolated from the momentous decisions being taken in Europe’s capitals.

In Buxton by early evening a crowd was gathering outside the local newspaper offices on Market Street.

As the telegrams arrived with the latest news from London and Berlin they were printed as bulletins and posted in the office windows.

The crowds continued to swell until Market Street, South Avenue and South Street were filled with excited townspeople.

As the Buxton Herald reported: “Seldom has a larger crowd gathered than that which assembled outside our offices until long after midnight.

“The tension of the Buxton public reached fever heat as it realised that our country stood on the Brink of War, (their capitals) and little else than a miracle could save England from drawing the sword against opposing forces.”

At 11.10pm cheers greeted an announcement that the declaration of war might come at midnight and even louder cheers marked the news that the local Territorials and Yeomanry were to mobilise the following morning.

A further telegram brought news of a speech by the German Kaiser in which he appeared determined to go to war and this was taken as a sign that the German government would reject Britain’s ultimatum.

The paper reported: “When midnight boomed forth there were many speculations in the crowd as to what the result of the ultimatum would be, and it was not until 12.30am that we received notification of the arrival of a major communication. At 12.45am we posted the fateful message thus:

Result of Ultimatum: WAR DECLARED

“For a few seconds there was an intense silence whilst the spectators realised the gravity of what they had just read. Then there was a tremendous outbreak of cheering followed by lusty singing of Rule Britannia and the National Anthem.”

Just a few hours later reservists were leaving to join their regiments and ships, and by the following afternoon the Territorials from across the Peak District were also on the march to join the colours.