King George V urged his foreign secretary to “find a reason to go to war with Germany” two days before outbreak of First World War
A secret letter has been unearthed documenting a private meeting between King George V and his Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, during which the King urged Grey to declare war on Germany.
The King, a constitutional monarch, had previously avoided making public declarations about Europe said it was “absolutely essential” Britain go to war in order to prevent Germany from achieving “complete domination of this country”
However when his Foreign Secretary Sir Edward, said that the cabinet hadn’t found a justifiable reason to enter the conflict, the King replied: “You have got to find a reason, Grey.”
Grey returned to his room in the Foreign Office and made the now famous remark as he watched the lamps being lit outside: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’
By August 4th, Britain was at war.
World War 1 was described as the war to end all wars being one of the most bitter and destructive conflicts in World history wiping out a generation of young Scotsmen.
A total of 147,609 Scots lost their lives in the four-year-long conflict between 1914 and 1918.
While Scotland had just a tenth of the UK’s population, its soldiers accounted for a fifth of Britain’s war dead. Or, to put it another way, twice as many Scots died per head of population than was the case south of the border.
On arrival in France, Scots found themselves having to ensure the horrors and privations of trench warfare, the constant threat of disease and worst of all the risk of death in near-suicide attacks ordered by the Generals.
The slaughter took place on an almost biblical scale. Scots soldiers, for instance, fought at the battle of Loos – the first significant British land action of the war in October 1915. The battle was a disaster.
Scots regiments were in the thick of the action. They were ordered over the top and marched towards the enemy lines, making themselves sitting ducks for German machine gunners. It was a turkey shoot. By the time the battle was over, the British had lost 50,000 men against the enemy’s 20,000 and had failed to make any strategic gains whatsoever.
The generals, however, did not learn their lesson. Trench warfare continued for the whole of the conflict, with attempts by troops on both sides to break out of their positions and press forwards leading to huge casualties.
Scots troops featured prominently in another of the most notorious engagements of the Great War – the notorious Battle of the Somme in June 1916.
The Edinburgh-born General Douglas Haig, who was Commander in Chief of the British Forces and a national hero, was convinced that a powerful attack could determine the outcome of the war.
Haig was to be proved tragically wrong. Soldiers of the Highland Light Infantry were among those to be butchered en masse in the carnage that followed. Once again, they were told to make their way out of the trenches and across No Man’s Land to try and take over the German positions.
To the skirl of the bagpipes, the men went over the top. Once again, however, the Germans had ensured their own lines were heavily defended. The heavy machine guns opened up, and the Scots soldiers, along with other allied troops, were mown down. In one day of fighting alone, 20,000 allied soldiers died. The 17th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry alone lost 447 soldiers and 22 officers.