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By Rob Newman
ProQuest Product Manager

On July 28, 1914, one month to the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Soon after, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, and France became involved in the war.

Using Documents on British Policy Overseas, researchers can trace the full history of the origins of the First World War through the diplomatic correspondence of the time. The series "British Documents on the Origins of the War," included in its entirety in the database, includes over 9,000 documents from British diplomats and policymakers back to 1898, covering topics such as the Balkan Wars and the European alliance system. Also included is a volume of the collected, translated documents published by the European powers after the start of the war, originally published as a British parliamentary paper in 1915, ensuring researchers can search across all the relevant diplomatic documents from the July Crisis of 1914.

The news of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess of Hohenberg was first reported to London in a brief telegram from Sarajevo:

According to news received here heir apparent and his consort assassinated this morning by means of an explosive nature.

The assassination was not immediately seen as a major threat to world peace, but the harsh ultimatum issued by Austria-Hungary to Serbia in response on July 24 was understood as likely to precipitate crisis. British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey told the Austrian ambassador in a telegram that same day that:

“the note seemed to be the most formidable document I had ever seen addressed by one State to another that was independent …It was solely from the point of view of the peace of Europe that I should concern myself with the matter, and I felt great apprehension.”

The alliances and war plans in place meant that an attack on Serbia by Austria quickly escalated into a general European war. As soon as Russia began to mobilize against Austria, German war plans required an invasion of France via Belgium, whose neutrality was guaranteed by Britain. On August 4, the British ambassador reported on a meeting wth the German chancellor Theobald von Bethman-Hollweg:

My interview with the Chancellor was very painful. He said that he could not but consider it an intolerable thing that because they were taking the only course open to them to save the Empire from disaster, England should fall upon them just for the sake of the neutrality of Belgium. He looked upon England as entirely responsible for what might now happen.

I asked him whether he could not understand that we were bound in honour to do our best to preserve a neutrality which we had guaranteed. He said: “But at what price!”

On December 24, 1914, in the trenches of southern Ypres Salient, the Germans began to sing Christmas carols. This led to the soldiers on both sides to meet in No Man’s Land to declare an unofficial Christmas truce. Search ProQuest Historical Newspapers™ to see the coverage of this event across newspaper titles.

In 1916 and 1917, trench warfare dominated World War I, with an estimated 10 million military deaths and another 20 million wounded. Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War from ProQuest offers access to an unparalleled archival collection of 1,500 rare periodicals, written and illustrated by and for servicemen and women of every involved nation, published between 1914 and the end of 1919.


Librarians: Sign up for free trials of Documents on British Policies Overseas, Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, ProQuest Historical Newspapers™, and more.

28 Jul 2014

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