Stop 1. Soldiers on every street corner: the war is announced in York

Stand in front of the Yorkshire Museum, on the steps looking out into the Gardens.

During the First World War, newspapers were the main source of information for the public, explaining what was happening at home and abroad as well as forming the basis for pro-war propaganda. In York, the building that currently operates as the City Screen Picturehouse, later on you will see it between stops 4 and 5, was once the headquarters of the Yorkshire Herald Newspaper.

In 1914 there were around 100,000 people living in York, half of the city’s current population, and York considered itself the capital of Yorkshire and the whole of the North of England. The Local newspapers did not wholly prepare the city’s inhabitants for Britain entering the war, as the Yorkshire Evening Press stated soon after war had been announced that ‘the normal man cared more about the activities of the household cat than about events abroad’.

At the beginning of the 20th century the major European countries were incredibly powerful and had amassed great wealth, but competition for colonies and trade had created a European continent rife with tensions between the great powers.

June 28th 1914 saw the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire Arch-Duke Ferdinand and his wife Sophia while on a diplomatic trip to Sarajevo by a Yugoslav Nationalist who was fighting for his country’s independence. This triggered the chain reaction which culminated in war between the European powers. Due to pre-existing signed treaties between nations, two opposing alliances formed: The Triple Entente between Britain, France and Russia, and the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy. The Triple Alliance took over a month to mobilise which allowed the other nations to begin preparing for war. On Monday August 3rd 1914, the Daily Mail wrote that Germany had begun the Great War as they had attacked France and had also declared war against Russia. It was however, the German invasion of Belgium (which had declared itself neutral) which led Britain to officially declare war on the Triple Alliance. The Yorkshire Herald newspaper had been publishing an increasing number of articles on the European events. One example of this, an article that focussed on German deceitfulness, featured on page 3 of the August 4th edition of the paper. It stated that it was Britain’s duty as a nation to stop the Kaiser from using the events in Sarajevo to pursue Germany’s goal of expanding its empire.

The outbreak of the First World War was announced to the citizens of York on the 5th August 1914 outside the offices of the Yorkshire Herald Building, where there were “loud and prolonged cheers ... and the National Anthem was heartily sung”. Around the country as a whole the news of war took the country by surprise and so was greeted by both anxiety and enthusiasm. A York school-headmistress recollects that “when the school broke up for the summer holidays in July 1914, none of us even suspected that Britain would join the continental quarrel”.

Britain, with her vast Empire, was seen by the British people as superior to Germany both on land and in water, and so they believed that the Triple Alliance would be swiftly defeated.  In the Daily Mail on 5th August there was an advertisement stating “Your King and Country Need You ... JOIN THE ARMY TO-DAY?” and the York Press newspaper reported “everywhere today one saw soldiers in uniform about the city. They were to be met with at every street corner”.

Stop 1. Soldiers on every street corner: the war is announced in York


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