This edition of the Bay Observer comes out just days after the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I—a war that killed and wounded an estimated 33 Million troops and about 2.5 Million civilians. Canada, with a population of only 8 Million suffered 240,000 dead and wounded –about 6 percent of the male population. When you read about the causes of the war you almost need a PowerPoint diagram to trace the various alliances and conflicts that led to Canada getting involved. The war would bring to prominence a prominent Hamilton lawyer and militiaman, Sydney Chilton Mewburn who would take over as Minister of Militia and defence after his predecessor Sam Hughes was fired for incompetence. Mewburn would later go on to head the commission responsible for the Vimy Ridge Monument in France.
To get a sense of what people were thinking back then, we have selected three contemporary passages written on or around the first week of the war.
The Prime Ministership of Canada still years away, 39-year old William Lyon Mackenzie King had this (in retrospect prescient)prediction on the first day of the war: The United States will rise out of the situation as the first power of the world. It will become the land for countless numbers who will forsake Europe… The British Empire will be changed in complexion, the mother country will be crushed by the burden of the war and the outlying Dominions will by their resources rise in importance, a new federation will arise but it will be self-government and cooperation not centralization on a militarist model, for Germany is the 20th Century reproduction of Rome and if she is overthrown or crushed as seems inevitable, the imperial model for governments and men will surely disappear from this world for good.
July 30th 1914 just 5 days before war was declared, Mary Baldwin McQuesten, the 39 year old sister of future Hamilton Politician T.B. McQuesten was on a long-planned European trip, apparently unfazed by the military buildup which had been going on for many months in Europe. She had just arrived in Florence, Italy after having been in Vienna, where the Austro-Hungarian government had already begun military operations against Serbia. Writing to a family member on that day Mary’s mother wrote, “Affairs in Europe and indeed all over seem in a desperate condition, indeed the newspaper is full of horrors. I do hope Britain will keep out of it, war is too serious a matter, but I pity the Servians [sic]. Am glad Mary had left Austria, she is in Florence and will be in house by Saturday, if all is well.”
In Britain the August 5th 1914 Guardian wrote: Great Britain declared war on Germany at eleven o’clock last night. An ultimatum was sent to Germany during the day, requiring assurances that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected, a reply being requested by midnight. The reply was in effect a rejection of the British demand, whereupon war was declared. All controversy therefore is now at an end. Our front is united. A little more knowledge, a little more time on this side, more patience, and a sounder political principle on the other side would have saved us from the greatest calamity that anyone living has known. It will be a war in which we risk almost everything of which we are proud, and in which we stand to gain nothing.
Written by: John Best