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British fleet and army, I shall of course refrain from attacking France and employ my troops elsewhere. ... The troops on my frontier are in the act of being stopped by telegraph and telephone from crossing into France.” In the chancellor's telegram to the German ambassador, the same day, he said: “We guarantee that our troops will not cross the French frontier before 7 P. M. on Monday, 3rd inst., if England has consented to our proposal by that time."
Next day Prince Lichnowsky telegraphed the chancellor that Sir Edward Grey's “suggestions were prompted by a desire to make it possible for England to keep permanent neutrality, but as they were not based on a previous understanding with France and made without knowledge of our mobilization, they have been abandoned as absolutely hopeless." 21
No mention is made in the British White Paper of this effort on the part of Germany to secure the neutrality of France. Sir Edward Grey, however, does tell of an important interview held with Prince Lichnowsky on this same day, in which the price of England's neutrality was asked by Germany. The foreign minister in a telegram (August 1) to the British ambassador at Berlin gives the following account of this meeting:
21 For these telegrams, see S., 820–26.
I told the German Ambassador to-day that the reply of the German Government with regard to the neutrality of Belgium was a matter of very great regret, because the neutrality of Belgium affected feeling in this country. If Germany could see her way to give the same assurance as that which had been given by France it would materially contribute to relieve anxiety and tension here. On the other hand, if there were a violation of the neutrality of Belgium by one combatant while the other respected it, it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country. I said that we had been discussing this question at a Cabinet meeting, and as I was authorized to tell him this I gave him a memorandum of it.
He asked me whether, if Germany gave a promise not to violate Belgian neutrality, we would engage to remain neutral.
I replied that I could not say that; our hands were still free, and we were considering what our attitude should be. All I could say was that our attitude would be determined largely by public opinion here, and that the neutrality of Belgium would appeal very strongly to public opinion here. I did not think that we could give a promise of neutrality on that condition alone.
The Ambassador pressed me as to whether I could not formulate conditions on which we would remain neutral. He even suggested that the integrity of France and her colonies might be guaranteed.
I said that I felt obliged to refuse definitely any promise to remain neutral on similar terms, and I could only say that we must keep our hands free.22
On this same day (August 1), after he had been advised by the British ambassador at Berlin that the German foreign office would post
22 B. W. P., 123.
pone its reply to the English inquiry regarding the neutrality of Belgium probably indefinitely and certainly until after the chancellor and the Emperor had been consulted, Sir Edward Grey told the French ambassador at London that he would ask the cabinet to promise that the British fleet would oppose an attack on the French coast by the German navy.23
The cabinet had a memorable meeting next day (Sunday). After this session, Sir Edward Grey made the following report to the French ambassador:
I am authorized to give an assurance that, if the German fleet comes into the Channel or through the North Sea to undertake hostile operations against French coasts or shipping, the British fleet will give all the protection in its power.
This assurance is of course subject to the policy of His Majesty's Government receiving the support of Parliament, and must not be taken as binding His Majesty's Government to take any action until the above contingency of action by the German fleet takes place.24
According to the London Times, the cabinet up to this time had been divided in opinion as to what policy should be pursued, but Germany's action regarding Belgium and Luxemburg had turned the scale decisively in favor of supporting France if her coast were at23 F. Y. B., 126; B. W. P., 122. 24 B. W. P., 148.
tacked.25 Nor was this belief confined to the members of the party in power, as is shown by the following letter, written by the leader of the Parliamentary opposition before the cabinet had reached a final decision:
20 August, 1914. Dear Mr. Asquith, Lord Lansdowne and I feel it our duty to inform you that in our opinion, as well as in that of all the colleagues whom we have been able to consult, it would be fatal to the honor and security of the United Kingdom to hesitate in supporting France and Russia at the present juncture; and we offer our unhesitating support to the Government in any measures they may consider necessary for that object.—Yours very truly, A. BONAR LAW.26
On Monday, August 3, Sir Edward Grey made a speech before the House of Commons,
25 London Times, Aug. 5, 1914; see Stowell, 342-3.
26 London Times, Aug. 15, 1914, quoted in Stowell, 343. The Times also thought that public opinion endorsed this action. An editorial August 3 says that England's safety and interests demand that she stand by France as she had successfully done in 1905 and 1911. If not, she will be isolated. "It is a question of destroying the security of the Mediterranean, through which England's route to Egypt and India and the bulk of her food supplies pass.” The independence of Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg is necessary to guard England's control of the Channel. “By naval agreement with France, England has guaranteed French coasts in the north against German attack. The French fleet has been concentrated in the Mediterranean to help our Mediterranean squadron in protecting the freedom of our communications with Egypt and India. If once the German armies are allowed to crush France, not only will England be unable to preserve the independence of Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg, but Germany will be able to annex French territory up to Dunkirk, Calais, and Havre, compel Holland and Belgium to cede to her their colonies, establish herself within striking distance of Australia and New Zealand, and threaten the safety of our trade routes on every sea.”
stating what assurances he had given the French Government and his reasons for so doing. He declared that England was not obliged by any engagements to come to the aid of France, but that she had for some years been bound to France by the ties of a growing friendship. This friendship imposed upon Britain the obligation to see that France's helpless coasts were not battered down by a hostile fleet. For France, relying on this friendship, had concentrated her fleet in the Mediterranean and thus left her western and northern coasts unguarded. Under these circumstances, therefore, he considered that public sentiment would not allow the English Government to stand aside and allow a friendly neighbor's coasts to be “bombarded and battered” in a war not of her own seeking.
Besides, Britain's self-interests demanded, in his opinion, that France be informed as to what aid she could count on from England. For if Great Britain should promise no aid to France, the French fleet would have to be withdrawn from the Mediterranean. The English fleet in the Mediterranean was not as strong as the combined fleets of other nations. If Britain should later become involved in the war, she would either lose control of the Mediterranean route or else be compelled to send thither ships badly needed to protect her own coasts. Be