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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 August, 2004, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
How the newspapers reported 4 August 1914
newspaper headline from 1914
Britain's entry into WWI made front pages across the world
A ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany has been held on Wednesday.

BBC News Online looks back at how the day's events were reported in the newspapers of 1914.

The Daily Mirror on 4 August 1914 - just hours before Britain's ultimatum to Germany expired - took on a combative edge in its news reports, illustrating stories with pictures of soldiers waving final farewells.

"'We could not stand aside!': Britain will not allow Germany's fleet to batter France's undefended coast," it read.

"The thoughts of all Britishers went out to sea yesterday, for with the statement of Sir Edward Grey in Parliament, the safety and sanctity of the empire may easily again depend upon the Navy which has given us such heroic a history," the paper said.

Prior to the war the Daily Mirror had a circulation of more than one million, and it continued to be the most read paper during wartime.

Its extensive publication of wartime pictures from Britain and the battlefields made it popular with both soldiers and their families back home.

While the Daily Mirror showed its support as troops prepared for war, the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) expressed hopes that British military intervention would not be necessary.

The British public showed their preference for patriotic headlines during wartime
"Europe in arms watches Great Britain. Italy has asserted her freedom to keep the peace, will England follow the good example?" asked the editorial.

The newspaper also wondered whether Lord Kitchener would be made secretary for war and published pictures of the large peace protest in Trafalgar Square.

By the following day the Manchester Guardian feared the country was facing "the greatest calamity that anyone living has known", but alongside this grim prediction was a more cheerful column listing the resorts of the "Sunny South".

"War and rumours of war seem to have made no diminution of the happy holiday crowds at Brighton," it reported.

The editor of the Daily Express might have taken a dim view of the Brighton sun seekers, as his paper led with the headline "England expects that every man will do his duty" on 5 August.

The beach resorts of the South may have been filled with pleasure-seeking tourists, but the mood in London was "calm, confident and grim" according to the paper.

'Groaning, hissing'

The paper also reported that a hostile crowd had demonstrated outside the German Embassy. "Groaning and hissing were freely indulged in," it said.

The Daily Mail left no doubt that it was fully supportive of the government's decision to go to war.

"The proceedings in the House of Commons yesterday were worthy of tremendous occasion. They will fill the nation with fresh courage and confidence," it said.

Beside such grand proclamations, the Daily Mail ensured the more practical needs of all its readers were met with a "How to Economise" column with tips on "housekeeping for wartime".

In fact, despite the gravity of the situation, none of the papers printed the large, dramatic headlines of today's press. Instead, the front pages were covered in small, private announcements offering elocution lessons or advertising lost dogs.

No mention of the impending war appeared until at least the fourth page.

'Tears of Pride'

A patriotic stance was also taken by the Daily Telegraph which reported news of "enthusiastic troops" at the frontiers and an "historic scene in the House of Commons".

The following day the paper's editorial declared that its readers ought to be shedding "tears of pride" over the "spectacle presented by the British race".

Papers which had taken an anti-war stance, such as the Daily Herald, plummeted in popularity after 4 August as the public spirit changed and patriotism took hold.

Literature featured in the Times of 4 August with the publication of the first "war poem" by Henry Newbolt. War poems were then published by the paper almost daily.

Selection of articles prohibited for exportation, 4 August 1914
Animals, pack, saddle and draught suitable for use in war
Surgical bandages and dressings
Projectiles of all kinds and their component parts
Silk cloth, braid, thread suitable for cartridges

Shortly after the British government announced the mobilisation of troops, the Daily Chronicle warned its readers that the stories it published throughout the war might not give readers the full picture.

"A newspaper's duty is to give news, but at times of war it has a patriotic duty as well. It must give no news which would convey information or advantage to the adversary," it said.

And the London Gazette, an official newspaper of record, published a special supplement to its 4 August edition.

The official Home Office ultimatum was printed, as was a list of the items prohibited to be removed from Britain due to their potential value in "increasing military or naval stores". It included animals, first aid supplies and silk braid.




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