Research for First World War coverage by the Market Harborough Advertiser you would think should start in the edition of August 4, the fateful day that Germany and Britain formally went to war.
However, the August Bank Holiday – the day before on August 3 – meant the Advertiser was published several days early. Even so it is a measure of how quickly events toppled into place that there was no strong indication of Britain entering the conflict in the Advertiser’s coverage of events taking place on the European mainland.
The majority of the paper is dedicated to the usual mix of community stories, local advertisements mixed with gory, sensationalist reports from around the country, the kind more associated today with the excesses of tabloid newspapers.
However, the Advertiser does carry an entire column dedicated to the formal declaration of war between Austria-Hungary and Servia (as it was called in 1914) – precipitated of course by the assassination of the heir to the empire Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo a month earlier.
The paper reports, ‘The ultimatum presented to Servia demanded the issue by King Peter…of an apology for the Sarajevo assassinations and the Servia agitation in terms actually dictated by Austria.’
There were ten demands in all – some which historians believe could never be met. The report adds, ‘The Servian reply is understood to have gone far towards meeting Austria’s demands but was rejected as “inadequate”’.
The threat to a wider European peace was due to complicated links between the great superpowers of the day. It was feared that if Austria-Hungary invaded Servia then Russia would come to the aid of the smaller country; if Russia declared for Servia, then Germany would back Austria-Hungary; this would then draw in France to support Russia against Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The Advertiser reports a statement made to the House of Commons by Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey. ‘As long as the dispute was one between Austria-Hungary and Servia, Great Britain had no title to interfere, but that if the relations between Austria-Hungary and Russia became threatening the question would then be one that concerned them all.’
The report goes on to detail how Sir Edward has tried to set up a mediation conference to halt the hostilities. However, the Advertiser’s story under the heading ‘Proposals declined: Objections to interference’ says, ‘The Vienna correspondent of the Standard, telegraphing in Tuesday, says Austria-Hungary has declined politely but firmly to accede to Sir Edward Grey’s proposal that England and other neutral Powers should mediate between the Dual Monarchy and Servia.
‘In Austro-Hungarian Government circles Sir Edward Grey’s friendly intentions are fully recognised, but it is considered that it would be incompatible with Austria-Hungary’s dignity to allow any external interference in a matter of this kind.’
The Advertiser seems so unconcerned by any impending conflict it runs a benign story that all but assists Austria-Hungary, a nation that formally became Britain’s enemy on the publication dateline. Under a headline, ‘Austrians in England: appeal to return home for military service’.
It goes into great detail to aid those men who would take up arms against Britain. ‘All men living in this country liable to service with the forces of the Dual Monarchy are called upon to present themselves at the offices of the Austrian Consular Agents in the United Kingdom.’ It then goes on to helpfully provide the exact address as ‘ 22 and 23 Laurence Pountney-lane, EC.’
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