Documents britanniques, juillet-août 1914

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No. 665.
Sir G. Buchanan to Sir Arthur Nicolson.
St. Petersburg, August 3, 1914.

My dear Nicolson,

I have reported so fully in my telegrams all my conversations during the last ten eventful days that I have indeed but little to add. From the very first moment the Russian Government took up a firm attitude and made it perfectly clear that they would not allow Austria to crush Servia. There was no attempt at blustering or at using tall language as so often happened during the Balkan crisis. Sazonow was calm but determined; and the language held by the French Ambassador showed plainly enough that Russia could count on the support of France. Sazonow's anxiety has been what England would do, as he has always held that the British Fleet alone can inflict a mortal wound on Germany. My aim throughout has been to dissuade him from doing anything to precipitate a conflict, so as to allow time for us and the other Powers to mediate; and if our efforts to maintain peace have failed it is in no way his fault. He showed throughout the most conciliatory spirit and caught at every proposal put forward for a pacific settlement. Now that we can look back on all that has taken place since the assassination of the Archduke there is, I think, strong evidence to show that Germany really desired war, or at all events the disruption of the Triple Entente, which must have followed a failure on our part to support Russia. The military party in Germany who favoured the idea of a preventive war before Russia became too strong had evidently gained the upper hand and there can be little doubt that Tchirsky at Vienna encouraged the Austrians in their forward policy. Jagow was probably kept in the dark as to the terms of the Austrian ultimatum so as to be able honestly to say that the text had never been submitted to him: but Tchirsky and others were certainly in the secret. Austria never believed that Russia would face a war against her and Germany did not intend to embark on one which would involve all the Powers of Europe. In my last annual report I pointed out that one of the most unfortunate results of the two Balkan wars was the impression that had gained ground that Russia was committed to a policy of peace at any price; and I predicted that if any Power acting under this belief put Russia's patience to too severe a proof it would find that there was an intense though latent patriotism in the Russian people, with which it would have to count. From the Emperor down to the humblest moujik Russia has risen like one man to the occasion; and even the Socialist working men have proclaimed a truce to strikes now that war has been forced upon their country. The speech which the Emperor made after reading the Manifesto on the declaration of war at the Winter Palace yesterday voiced the sentiments of the whole nation and, if Russia meets with reverses in the commencement and is forced to abandon Petersburg, she will fall back on Moscow and continue fighting till not a single enemy is left on Russian soil. The words of the Emperor are the same as those used by Alexander I when Napoleon invaded Russia and the same spirit that animated the Russian people in 1812 inspires them to-day. I trust that they will not be called on to make the same sacrifices as they made after the capture of Moscow; but I believe that they are prepared to do so and that, if defeated in the first pitched battles, they will, conscious of their innate strength, offer such a protracted and stubborn resistance that Germany will slowly bleed to death and succumb to sheer exhaustion. The Minister of War told me the other day that the war might last three years and our Military Attaché tells me that when all the military preparations are completed, Russia will have between seven and eight million men under arms.

(38780) No. 667.
Sir E. Goschen to Sir Edward Grey. (Received August 1.)
Tel. (No. 137.)
Berlin, August 4, 1914.

Your telegram No. 270 of 4th August.(1)

Both Chancellor and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs regretted that they could give no other answer than that which they gave me this afternoon. I told them that in that case I had been instructed to ask for my passports.

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!"


This, and the immediately preceding telegram(2) never reached us from Berlin, but have been given to us now by Sir E. Goschen for our archives.

(4041) No. 671.
Sir E. Goschen to Sir Edward Grey. (Received August 19.)
(No. 309.)
Berlin, August 6, 1914.

In accordance with the instructions contained in your telegram No. 266 of the 4th instant(1) I called upon the Under-Secretary(2) of State for Foreign Affairs that afternoon and enquired in the name of His Majesty's Government whether the Imperial Government would refrain from violating Belgian neutrality. Herr von Jagow at once replied that he was sorry to say that his answer must be "No" as, in consequence of the German troops having crossed the frontier that morning, Belgian neutrality had been already violated. Herr von Jagow again went into the reasons why the Imperial Government had been obliged to take this step--namely that they had to advance into France by the quickest and easiest way so as to be able to get well ahead with their operations and endeavour to strike some decisive blow as early as possible. It was a matter of life and death for them, as if they had gone by the more southern route they could not have hoped, in view of the paucity of roads and the strength of the Fortresses, to have got through without formidable opposition entailing great loss of time. This loss of time would have meant time gained by the Russians for bringing up their troops to the German frontier. Rapidity of action was the great German asset while that of Russia was an inexhaustible supply of troops. I pointed out to Herr von Jagow that this fait accompli of the violation of the Belgian frontier rendered, as he would readily understand, the situation exceedingly grave and I asked him whether there was not still time to draw back and avoid possible consequences which both he and I would deplore. He replied that for the reasons he had given me it was now impossible for them to draw back.

During the afternoon I received your telegram No. 270(3) and, in compliance with the instructions therein contained, I again proceeded to the Imperial Foreign Office and informed the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that unless the Imperial Government could give the assurance by 12 o'clock that night that they would proceed no further with their violation of the Belgian frontier and stop their advance, I had been instructed to demand my passports and inform the Imperial Government that His Majesty's Government would have to take all steps in their power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium and the observance of a treaty to which Germany was as much a party as themselves.

Herr von Jagow replied that to his great regret he could give no other answer than that which he had given me earlier in the day, namely that the safety of the Empire rendered it absolutely necessary that the Imperial troops should advance through Belgium. I gave his Excellency a paraphrase of your telegram and, pointing out that you had mentioned 12 o'clock as the time when His Majesty's Government would expect an answer, asked him whether, in view of the terrible consequences which would necessarily ensue, it were not possible even at the last moment that their answer should be reconsidered. He replied that if the time given were even twenty four hours or more his answer must be the same. I said that in that case I should have to demand my passports. This interview would have taken place at about 7 o'clock. In a short conversation which ensued Herr von Jagow expressed his poignant regret at the crumbling of his entire policy and that of the Chancellor, which had been to make friends with Great Britain and then, through Great Britain to get closer to France. I said that this sudden end to my work in Berlin was to me also a matter of deep regret and disappointment, but that he must understand that under the circumstances and in view of our engagements His Majesty's Government could not possibly have acted otherwise than they had done.

I then said that I should like to go and see the Chancellor as it might be perhaps the last time I should have an opportunity of seeing him. He begged me to do so. I found the Chancellor very agitated. His Excellency at once began a harangue which lasted for about 20 minutes.(4) He said that the step taken by His Majesty's Government was terrible to a degree, just for a word "neutrality" a word which in war time had so often been disregarded just for a scrap of paper, Great Britain was going to make war on a kindred nation who desired nothing better than to be friends with her. All his efforts in that direction had been rendered useless by this last terrible step, and the policy to which, as I knew, he had devoted himself since his accession to office, had tumbled down like a house of cards. What we had done was unthinkable; it was like striking a man from behind while he was fighting for his life against two assailants. He held Great Britain responsible for all the terrible events that might happen! I protested strongly against that statement and said that in the same way as he and Herr von Jagow wished me to understand that for strategical reasons it was a matter of life and death to Germany to advance through Belgium and violate her neutrality, so I would wish him to understand that it was, so to speak, a matter of "life and death" for the honour of Great Britain that she should keep her solemn engagement to do her utmost to defend Belgium's neutrality if attacked. That solemn compact simply had to be kept, or what confidence could anyone have in engagements given by Great Britain in the future? The Chancellor said "But at what price will that compact have been kept. Has the British Government thought of that?" I hinted to his Excellency as plainly as I could that fear of consequences could hardly be regarded as an excuse for breaking solemn engagements, but his Excellency was so excited, so evidently overcome by the news of our action and so little disposed to hear reason, that I refrained from adding fuel to the flame by further argument. As I was leaving he said that the blow of Great Britain joining Germany's enemies was all the greater that almost up to the last moment he and his Government had been working with us and supporting our effort to maintain peace between Austria and Russia. I admitted that that had been the case and said that it was part of the tragedy which saw the two nations fall apart just at the moment when the relations between them had been more friendly and cordial than they had been for years. Unfortunately notwithstanding our efforts to maintain peace between Russia and Austria the war had spread and had brought us face to face with a situation which, if we held to our engagements, we could not possibly avoid, and which unfortunately entailed our separation from our late fellow-workers. He would readily understand that no one regretted this more than I.

After this somewhat painful interview I returned to the embassy and drew up my telegram No. 137. This telegram was handed in at the Central Telegraph Office a little before 9 P.M. It was accepted by that office but apparently never despatched.

At about 9.0 P.M. Herr von Zimmermann, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs came to see me. After expressing his deep regret that the very friendly official and personal relations between us were about to cease, he asked me casually whether a demand for passports was equivalent to a declaration of war. I said that such an authority on international law as he was known to be must know as well, or better than I what was usual in such cases. I added that there were many cases where diplomatic relations had been broken off and nevertheless war had not ensued, but that in this case he would have seen from my instructions of which I had given Herr von Jagow a paraphrase that His Majesty's Government expected an answer to a definite question by 12 o'clock that night, and that in default of a satisfactory answer they would be forced to take such steps as their engagements required. Herr Zimmermann said that that was in fact a declaration of war, as the Imperial Government could not possibly give the assurance required either that night or any other night.

The next morning I demanded my passports in writing.

In the meantime after Herr Zimmermann left me a flying sheet, issued by the "Berliner Tageblatt" was circulated stating that Great Britain had declared war against Germany. The immediate result of this news was the assemblage of an exceedingly excited and unruly mob before His Majesty's Embassy. The small force of police which had been sent to guard the embassy was soon overpowered and the attitude of the mob became more threatening. We took no notice of this demonstration as long as it was confined to noise but when the crash of glass and the landing of cobble stones into the drawing-room where we were all sitting warned us that the situation was getting unpleasant, I telephoned to the Foreign Office an account of what was happening. Herr von Jagow at once informed the Chief of Police, and an adequate force of mounted police sent with great promptness, very soon cleared the street. From that moment on we were well guarded and no more direct unpleasantness occurred.

After order had been restored Herr von Jagow came to see me and expressed his most heartfelt regrets at what had occurred. He said that the behaviour of his countrymen had made him feel more ashamed than he had words to express. It was an indelible stain on the reputation of Berlin. He said that the flying sheet circulated in the streets had not been authorised by the Government; in fact, the Chancellor had asked him by telephone whether he thought that such a statement should be issued and he had replied "Certainly not until the morning." It was in consequence of his decision to that effect that only a small force of police had been sent to the neighbourhood of the Embassy, as he had thought that the presence of a large force would inevitably attract attention and perhaps lead to disturbances. It was the "pestilential 'Tageblatt,' " which had somehow got hold of the news, that had upset his calculations. He had heard rumours that the mob had been excited to violence by gestures made and missiles thrown from the Embassy, but he felt sure that that was not true, (I was able soon to assure him that the report had no foundation whatever) and even if it was, it was no excuse for the disgraceful scenes which had taken place. He feared that I would take home with me a sorry impression of Berlin manners in moments of excitement. In fact, no apology could have been more full and complete.

On the following morning, the 5th August, the Emperor sent one of His Majesty's Aides-de-Camps to me with the following message:

"The Emperor has charged me to express to your Excellency his regret for the occurrences of last night but to tell you at the same time that you will gather from those occurrences an idea of the feelings of his people respecting the action of Great Britain in joining with other nations against her old allies of Waterloo. His Majesty also begs that you will tell the King that he has been proud of the titles of British Field-Marshal and British Admiral but that in consequence of what has occurred he must now, at once, divest himself of those titles."

I would add that the above message lost none of its petulant acerbity by the manner of its delivery.

On the other hand I should like to state that I received all through this trying time nothing but courtesy at the hands of Herr von Jagow and the officials of the Imperial Foreign Office. At about 11 o'clock on the same morning Count Wedel handed me my passports and told me that he had been instructed to confer with me as to the route which I should follow for my return to England. He said that he had understood that I preferred the route viâ the Hook of Holland to that viâ Copenhagen; they had therefore arranged that I should go by the former route, only I should have to wait till the following morning. I agreed to this and he said that I might be quite assured that there would be no repetition of the disgraceful scenes of the preceding night as full precautions would be taken. He added that they were doing all in their power to have a restaurant car attached to the train, but it was rather a difficult matter. He also brought me a charming letter from Herr von Jagow couched in the most friendly terms. The day was passed in burning the cyphers and other confidential papers, in sealing up the archives with the help of the secretaries of the United States Embassy and in packing up such articles as time allowed.

The night passed quietly without any incident. In the morning a strong force of police was posted along the usual route to the Lehrter Station, while the Embassy was smuggled away in taxi-cabs to the station by side streets. We there suffered no molestation whatever and avoided the treatment meted out by the crowd to my Russian and French colleagues. Count Wedel met us at the station to say good-bye on behalf of Herr von Jagow and to see that all the arrangements ordered for our comfort had been properly carried out. A retired colonel of the Guards accompanied the train to the Dutch frontier and was exceedingly kind in his efforts to prevent the great crowds which thronged the platforms at every station where we stopped from insulting us. But beyond the yelling of patriotic songs, and a few jeers and insulting gestures we had really nothing to complain of during our tedious journey to the Dutch frontier.

Before closing this long account of our last days in Berlin, I should like to place on record and bring to your notice the quite admirable behaviour of my staff under the most trying circumstances possible. One and all they worked night and day with scarcely any rest: and I cannot praise too highly the cheerful zeal with which Counsellor, Naval and Military Attachés, Secretaries and the two young Attachés buckled to their work and kept their nerve with often a yelling mob outside and inside hundreds of British subjects clamouring for advice and assistance. I was proud to have such a staff to work with and feel most grateful to them all for the invaluable assistance and support, often exposing them to considerable personal risk, which they so readily and cheerfully gave to me.

I should also like to mention the great assistance rendered to us all by my American colleague, Mr. Gerard, and his staff. Undeterred by the hooting and hisses with which he was often greeted by the mob on entering and leaving the Embassy, his Excellency came repeatedly to see me to ask how he could help us and to make arrangements for the safety of stranded British subjects. He extricated many of these from extremely difficult situations at some personal risk to himself and his calmness and savoir-faire and his firmness in dealing with the Imperial authorities gave full assurance that the protection of British subjects and interests could not have been left in more efficient and able hands.

I have, &c.


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