At the end of my last blog of 29 April we left Arved Waterhouse in the spring of 1914, newly graduated from Oxford University and no doubt looking forward to the rather wealthy and privileged lifestyle in to which he had been born. He was a keen tennis player and being a member at both Kendal and Windermere golf clubs, he also enjoyed a round of golf – perhaps he used his motorcycle and sidecar to carry his clubs to and from the courses. He would have been a familiar sight in and around Kendal on one of those ‘new-fangled contraptions’ on roads otherwise the almost sole preserve of the horse and cart.
As spring slipped into summer that year, a major European war was probably the last thing on his or anybody’s mind. In Europe there were the continuing squabbles between the posturing Hapsburg Empire of the twin states of Austria-Hungary and their smaller neighbours in the Balkans whilst the great powers of Germany, France and Russia did a bit of ‘sword rattling’ in support of or in opposition to each other in line with treaties signed years ago.
On 28th June, in the Serbian city of Sarajevo, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, were assassinated by extremists whilst undertaking an official visit.
In Austria and Hungary there was outrage – in London everyone consulted their atlas to see where Sarajevo and Serbia was - and then carried on as normal dismissing the murders as a minor and unfortunate incident in a faraway and troubled part of Europe.
Austria-Hungary issued Serbia with an ultimatum, which demanded a response within 48 hours, and was intended to be so onerous that Serbia could not possibly comply and which would then ‘justify’ Austria-Hungary in responding with over-powering military might to bring an end to a long-running problem in the Balkan state.
Throughout Europe the various great powers now began to respond according to the obligations of those old treaties, Germany firmly supporting if not encouraging Austria-Hungary, whilst Russia stood resolutely with its Slav neighbour and France was obliged to support Russia. When Serbia rejected the terms of the ultimatum the political temperature increased dramatically.
Britain stood and watched – it was not a quarrel of its making and there was no desire to get involved. Arved, whilst being aware of what was happening in general terms, probably did not give it a second thought and carried on enjoying life.
As the armies of Austria-Hungary mobilised to fight Serbia, Russia mobilised to support Serbia, Germany mobilised to support Austria-Hungary and to pre-empt any French action. France mobilised in support of Russia and to pre-empt any action by Germany. Everything was now moving inexorably towards war.
Still, Britain did not think it would come to anything – and had no intention of becoming embroiled in any case.
On 28th July the first shots were fired on Belgrade by Austro-Hungarian forces and the First World War had begun.
Even London could now see the grave danger facing the whole continent.
Germany launched its famous Schlieffen plan, which involved a lightning strike at France through the neutral territories of Luxembourg and Belgium, the intention being to knock France out of the conflict within just a few weeks thus allowing Germany to concentrate its forces against Russia.
The problem for Britain was that this country had guaranteed the sovereignty of Belgium and following the refusal of Germany to withdraw from Belgian territory, Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914.
At home the small regular British Army was immediately called to a war footing and despatched to support France and Belgium by 14th August. An immediate call went out for all able-bodied men to rally to the colours and enlist for a war that was widely expected to be ‘over by Christmas’.
Arved had been a member of the Officer Training Corps whilst at Oxford and on leaving he had enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant in a reserve battalion of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. On the general mobilisation of 4th August he was called up and sent to Dover in readiness to go to France with the 4th Division of the British Expeditionary Force.
On the night of 22nd August the battalion embarked on the SS Saturnia in Dover and arrived in Boulogne the following morning.
At least part of the 4th Division was in action almost immediately during the retreat from Mons and the subsequent fierce action at Le Cateau where the German advance was held up for long enough to take the impetus out of their advance and, arguably, to be one of the decisive actions which ultimately determined the final outcome of the entire war.
Whilst Arved’s battalion was certainly heavily involved in a series of actions throughout September there is no evidence that he took part in any fighting at this stage.
His turn would soon come - as we will see in just a few short weeks from now...