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The Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance (4 August 1914)  

When Great Britain declared war, the long-standing alliances between the European Powers had come to a head. The Triple Alliance was formed in 1883 between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, against Russia and France. Great Britain had never been formally part of this alliance, but had been closely linked to it due to her apprehension of French and Russian aggressiveness as well. This, however, changed when Great Britain became wary of Germany’s naval growth after 1902.

As a result Great Britain became aligned with France in 1904 and Russia in 1907 forming the Triple Entente. The Triple Entente sought a balance of power in Europe, a strengthening of the treaty laws to help maintain peace and the status quo, and disarmament across Europe. They also made a commitment to one another to raise a land force and naval force that exceeded the strength of the Triple Alliance’s forces. This commitment was of extreme importance now that all six nations were at war.

(“Triple Entente and the Alliance,” Berlin Daily-Telegraph, 6 August 1914; Visual:




Lord Kitchener announced as Britain’s new Secretary of State for War (5 August 1914)  

As tensions increased in Europe, British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, began consulting Lord Horatio Kitchener. Just before war was declared, all heads of missions on leave were ordered to return to their posts. Kitchener, who was on leave in England, was waiting for a ship to take him back his post in Cairo, Egypt when Asquith requested that he attend the Council of War.

On 4 August, Asquith interviewed Kitchener for the position of Secretary of War, and he was formally appointed the next day. Kitchener would prove to be an important addition to the British War Cabinet; he was adamant that Britain needed to prepare for a long struggle that would be primarily fought on land. This contrasted the widely held belief that Britain could quickly achieve victory with its navy. Once appointed, Kitchener took the steps necessary to raise a large land force.

(“Britain is Quiet,” Berlin Daily- Telegraph, 6 August 1914 & H. Cassar, Kitchener’s War, British Strategy from 1914 to 1916 (Washington, D.C.: Bassey’s Inc, 2004), 20-26; Photo Origin: London Free Press, 6 August 1914.)

Lord Kitchener announced as Britain’s new Secretary of State for War (5 August 1914)




Canada Prepares for War (5 August 1914)  

On 5 August, the Minster of Militia, Colonel Samuel Hughes, was authorized by the Canadian government to carry out a partial mobilization. In the week prior to the declaration of the war, there had been extensive efforts to ensure that the main defense posts of Canada were well prepared and fully manned. The Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) had been mobilized and sent to strategic ports for the coastal defense of Canada. Additionally, harbours were fortified and mines were placed in strategic locations for the defense of Canada. Britain encouraged Canada to secure her self-defence before raising Canadian troops for overseas service.

(“House is Summoned,” Berlin Daily-Telegraph, 5 August 1914; “Canada in a State of War,” Elmira Signet, 13 August 1914; “Are Guarding Coal Ports,” Hespeler Herald, 20 August 1914; Photo Origin: London Advertiser, 3 August 1914.)

Canada Prepares for War (5 August 1914)




Ross Rifle (5 August 1914)  

On 5 August, the Canadian Government placed an order for 15,000 No. 3 Canadian Ross Rifles. The Ross Rifle Factory was to complete this order as soon as possible, which led them to hire extra workers to complete the order. This rifle was chosen by the Canadian Militia Department for its apparent superiority. Canadian military experts had proclaimed the rifle the best military arm in the world. The goal was to have enough rifles for all 25,000 men who would be assembling at Valcartier for training before going to the Europe. The Canadian Government placed additional rush orders for the rifle, so that in the event of a second or even third contingent, they would be ready to send the men overseas with arms.

(“Commands Home Fleet,” Waterloo Chronicle Telegraph, 6 August 1914; “No. 3 Ross Rifle for Canadians,” Hespeler Herald, 20 August 1914.)


The outbreak of the war (5 August 1914)

On August 5, 1914, the headline story of the Berliner Journal dealt with the outbreak of the war in Europe and tried to interpret the events that were happening. The story stated that Russia, in cooperation with France, started the war with Germany and Austria-Hungary, and that the German emperor should have tried to keep peace with the British until the last minute. In addition, Italy, which had an alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, betrayed them by not helping the two countries militarily, as they were supposed to do. Great Britain was not sure about what to do now, but would likely remain loyal to France in whatever it decided.

A speech from Kaiser Wilhelm was printed as well. It said that envious people forced Germany into this war to defend itself. All German ships, which lay in Canadian harbors, should leave this country and sail to the USA. At the end of the article, the publishers of the Berliner Journal acknowledged that they had received lots of information in the last few days, but that they doubted some of its authenticity; at this point, most information was probably no more than rumors.

This rendition of events provided by the Berliner Journal contrasts sharply with those reported in the local English papers. Interestingly, no mention was made of Germany’s betrayal of Belgian neutrality, nor of the celebratory attitude felt by many of the English residents of Waterloo County. With this declaration of war, many German-Canadians officially found themselves caught between their own nationalistic sympathies, and those of the country within which they resided.

BJ-1914-08-05-The outbreak of the war

(“Kriegsfackel in Europa entzündet”, Berliner Journal, 5 August 1914)


A Possible Naval Battle? (11 August 1914)  

The week after war was declared, there was a rising suspicion that there would soon be a large naval battle. Britain was the leading naval power in the world, and some believed that she could bring a quick end to the war if she could engage Germany in a naval battle. When all of the Canadian Atlantic ports, including Montreal, closed at the same time that the British ports closed, predictions of a naval battle became all the more persistent. Contributing to this suspicion was the fact that two Canadian Ships, the steamships Margaret and Canada, were being transferred to the naval service. Many other ships had also been placed on active service. There was no report of any action on the water though, and officials remained adamant that the port closures were carried out as a precaution. German cruisers were in the Atlantic and once they were removed ports would be opened again. Despite these assurances, predictions of a naval battle continued throughout August.

(“Would Join Force,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, 11 August 1914; “What A Spoil,” Elmira Signet, 20 August 1914, “Now in Navy,” Hespeler Herald, 13 August 1914; Photo Origin: London Advertiser, 3 August 1914.)

A Possible Naval Battle? (11 August 1914)



An Escalating War (27 August 1914)  

As the month of August progressed, stories of German atrocities were relayed to Canadians. A number of Belgian towns and villages had been destroyed. Thousands of Belgians had died in the struggle to protect their country from the Germans, who had violated their neutrality in early August, during the Siege of Liege from 4 to 16 August. By mid August the Germans were said to be occupying Brussels, and the Belgian government was now operating out of Antwerp as a result. Switzerland too was beginning to suffer as well, specifically their food supply, despite their neutrality.

The Germans then began  advancing to  the French border . The French were holding their own against the attacks, aided by the British Expeditionary Force, who had just landed in France. The British Forces were lead by General John French, who was received warmly in Paris. The Russians were making their way towards the eastern German border as quickly as possible. There was however no definitive news on the movements of the British and German Navies. Overall it was evident that the war was quickly escalating by the end of August. Back in Canada, the First Contingent was still being trained, and it was announced that a Second Contingent would be raised.

(“Big Force on Move,” Waterloo Chronicle Telegraph, 13 August 1914; “German Army is Advancing through Heart of Belgium,” Waterloo Chronicle Telegraph, 13 August 1914;“War News From Europe,” Elmira Signet, 13 August 1914; “King Albert of Belgium. His Stand Against Germany Forced Britain to Intervene,” Ayr News, 20 August 1914;  “War News,” Elmira Signet, 20 August 1914; “Bombard Unfortified City,” Ayr News, 27 August 1914; “Fled Before the Germans,” Ayr News, 27 August 1914; “Latest Reports Say Allies Are Holding Enemy,” Elmira Signet, 27 August 1914.)




Ayr Boy Writes Home (17 September 1914)

Lance Corporal Kendall of the Canadian Engineers wrote home to his family in Ayr from the Valcartier training camp. The Ayr native discussed the strenuous training that he and his fellow comrades were undergoing, as they prepared for deployment in Europe. Kendall discussed the division’s eagerness to “get where the bullets are flying.” He also briefly described how his group constructed a bridge across the Jacques Cartier River, Quebec, in order to transport their artillery pieces. This article demonstrates how proud people were of the work and service that men from the region were offering Canada and the British Empire.

(“An Ayr Boy Writes,“ Elmira Signet, 17 September 1914)



German Strength (24 September 1914)

In September 1914 there were numerous reports of German retreats in many areas of Europe. The Elmira Signet suggested that this was a ploy by German commanders and not necessarily a sign of the war coming to a close. The Elmira Signet reported that Western Germany offered an ideal defensive position for the Kaiser’s army. With multiple transportation networks, over two million men in the Landwehr, along with geographic advantages such as the Rhine, the conclusion was made that the First World War was going to last longer than current official pronouncements were suggesting. With this article, the Elmira Signet was indicating that the region should be prepared for a long war.

(Germany’s Strength,” Elmira Signet, 24 September 1914)



Canadians Have Sailed (1 October 1914)

After one month of intense training at Valcartier, Quebec, Canada’s first contingent set sail for England on 24 September from Quebec. British steamers transported the soldiers across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain. The soldiers were to land in Liverpool, England, for their final training. The Hespeler Herald assured its readers that a heavy escort of British cruisers and torpedo boats, to protect the Canadian units on their voyage, accompanied the troops. Units containing men from Waterloo Region were shipped over on the ship “Laurentic,” on the Sunday 27 September 1914.

(“Canadians Have Sailed,“ Hespeler Herald, 1 October 1914)