The year 2014 marked 100 years since the start of the First World War. Liverpool played a major part in the celebrations to remember the contribution the city made and mourn the loss of thousands of Liverpool soldiers who lost their lives in 'The Great War'. This article aims to provide as brief an explanation as is possible whilst highlighting the involvement of our great city in World War I.
|British Troops WWI|
They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.
Ernest Hemingway, September 1935
BETWEEN 1914 and 1918 the conflict that has come to be known as the First World War spread across the globe and unleashed death and destruction on an unimaginable scale. In many ways we still live with the legacies of this war 100 years on. Today there are very few people left with a living memory of it and soon there will be none. In late July and early August 1914, the great powers of Europe embarked on a course of action that would claim millions of lives, topple empires, reshape the political structure of the continent, and contribute to an even more destructive conflict a generation later. Known at the time as the Great War or simply the World War
Background to World War I
The Great War, as World War I was referred to at the time was caused by a complex interaction of factors that had been simmering for more than 20 years. National rivalries, jealousies over territory, competition over economic progress, competition over the size of armies and navies, and the race to colonise new parts of the world all contributed to the tension. In the 1870s, a newly unified Germany had attempted to consolidate its place in European politics by developing a system of alliances. This system changed the nature of European diplomacy, and resulted in the development of two alliances, consisting of all the European powers. The powers believed that these alliances would act as a deterrent to war, because if a member of one alliance was attacked by a member of the other, all the members of both alliances would be involved. This was called ‘balance of power’ politics.
|Archduke Franz Ferdinand|
The disagreement that provoked World War I grew from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne), and his wife on 28 June 1914. This event took place in the Balkan states, an area of south-eastern Europe. The Balkans were very unstable. Three major imperial powers were actively involved in the region: Austria–Hungary, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. The complex relationships between these powers made the Balkans a potential crisis point. The Emperor of Austria–Hungary was aware of the tension in the Balkans. Believing that the people would be dazzled and charmed by a royal visit, he sent his nephew and his wife on a goodwill visit to the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia–Herzegovina. On 28 June 1914, most of the people of the area lined the streets, enthusiastically welcoming the royal couple. However, a small group of Bosnian Serb' nationalists took the opportunity to show their feelings about their imperial rulers. While visiting the city, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot and killed by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Serbian nationalist group called the white Hand.
The declaration of war The expansion of the conflict from an incident in the Balkans to a world war was a direct result of the alliance system. Austria–Hungary, with support from Germany, quickly issued an ultimatum consisting of ten demands to Serbia. Serbia agreed to accept nine of the demands but refused to agree to the last one, that officials from Austria–Hungary be involved in the investigation into the assassination of the Archduke. When Serbia failed to agree to all ten demands, Austria–Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914. Russia saw itself as Serbia’s protector. It responded by mobilising its army for war against Austria–Hungary and Germany. On 31 July, Germany demanded that Russia stop these preparations for war. Russia did not respond and so Germany declared war on Russia. The Germans had also asked the French government what its intentions were. France issued a vague response, stating that it would ‘follow its own interests’. The Schlieffen Plan and the invasion of Belgium By 1914, the German General Staff had decided to invade France through Belgium in the event of a two-front war. This was based on a 1905 strategy. August 1914, British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey sent a message to the German government announcing that Britain would declare war if Germany did not withdraw its troops from Belgium by midnight. There was no response to the message, so on 4 August 1914 Britain, and its empire, found itself at war
The King's Regiment (Liverpool)
was one of the oldest infantry regiments of the British Army, having been formed in 1685 the regiment fielded at least 49 battalions during the First World War, from a pre-war establishment of two regular, two militia, and six territorial. Of those battalions, 26 served abroad, receiving 58 battle honours and six Victoria Crosses for service on the Western Front, the Balkans, India, and Russia. Some 13,795 Kingsmen died during the course of the war, the battalions suffering an average of 615 deaths. Thousands more would be wounded, sick, or taken prisoner. Of specific formations, the four Liverpool Pals battalions had nearly 2,800 casualties, while the 55th Division's 165th (Liverpool) Brigade, composed entirely of battalions from the King's, incurred 1,672 dead, 6,056 wounded, and 953 missing during the period of 3 January 1916 and 11 November 1918.
A vigorous recruiting campaign involving pre-war personalities such as Lord Kitchener and Lord Derby facilitated the rapid expansion of the British Army. Territorial units formed duplicate battalions from August 1914 to May 1915. To differentiate them, they were, for instance, designated the 2/5th and 3/5th battalions, respectively. Second-line battalions had been raised for home service and recruit training, but were ultimately dispatched to the Western Front and replaced by the third-line. Driven by a conviction that the war would not be resolved quickly and seeking an alternative to the Territorial Army, Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener appealed for an initial 100,000 volunteers to form a "New Army".
The 17th Earl of Derby proposed forming a battalion of "Pals" for the King's Regiment, to be recruited from men of the same workplace. His proposal proved successful. Within a week, thousands of Liverpudlians had volunteered for service, to eventually be formed into the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Battalions. Collectively, the battalions became known as the City of Liverpool battalions or "Liverpool Pals". Lord Derby addressed recruits on 28 August:
“This should be a battalion of Pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool."
|The inspection of the Liverpool Pals by Lord Kitchener|
in front of St George's Hall, Liverpool, 20 March 1915.
By the end of March 1915, the King's had eight battalions on the Western Front. The King's contributed to the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. Acute manpower shortages left many divisions under strength and so it was decided to adopt a nine-battalion system through amalgamations and disbandment's. The 5th, 8th, 9th, and 10th King's integrated with their second-line, while hundreds of their men were distributed to other King's battalions. The 20th disbanded in February, with its strength dispersed to the other Liverpool Pals. As the American Expeditionary Force emboldened the Allies, Germany prepared for a final attempt to achieve a decisive victory before the US contingent on the Western Front surged further. Despite relentless battles, the Allies stabilised their front and German Army halted its offensives in July1918.
The war's end in Europe came with the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918. The 9th Battalion's history illustrated the initial reaction of soldiers:
“While on parade on the morning of the 11th November it was announced to the men that the Armistice had been signed. The news of the cessation of hostilities was received by the soldiers without any manifestation of the joy or excitement that marked the occasion at home. The parade continued and the rest of the day was spent quite as usual. The news for which the men had waited so long seemed when it came to be almost too good to be true.”
On 11 December 1918, the remnants of the 1st King's marched across the German frontier "at ease", bayonets fixed and their colours uncased. The battalion would be based at Düren and Berg Neukirchen for about five months as part of the British Army of the Rhine.
|Unveiling of the Bootle War Memorial on 15 October 1922. |
The town, which lost over 1,000 people during the war,
was part of the 7th King's recruiting area.
|The WWI circular medal was made in both|
silver and bronze metal and is
accompanied by a ribbon of orange
watered centre with stripes of white and black
at each side and borders of royal blue.
Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Records Office Archives
British History Online
Article by: Robert F Edwards