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Lights Out

On 4th August 1914 at 11pm Britain declared war on Germany and the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey made the famous remark:

“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”.

Everyone in the UK is invited to take part in 'Lights Out' by turning off their lights from 10pm to 11pm on Monday 4 August, leaving on a single light or candle for a shared moment of reflection on the 100 year anniversary of the First World War.

Germany's ultimatum to Belgium on 2 August, demanding the free passage through the country that was essential to the success of its military strategy, largely silenced the British voices that, in the 'July crisis', had argued in favour of non-intervention. The Liberal government under Herbert Henry Asquith, (1852-1928) which had until then been divided about how to proceed, now committed itself to conflict.

War was declared on Germany on 4th August. Three days later, the first troops from the British Expeditionary Force, under the command of Sir John French, landed on French soil. The government initially conveyed a 'business as usual' message to the British people. By sending a small expeditionary force to support France on the Continent and by using naval muscle to exert an effective blockade against Germany, the war would be won by Christmas. There was thus no full-scale mobilisation of Britain's resources for military conflict in 1914. Lord Kitchener, the newly appointed Secretary of State for War, warned the government that the war would be decided by the last million men that Britain could throw into battle.

The inspection of the Liverpool Pals by Lord Kitchener
in front of St George's Hall, Liverpool, 20 March 1915.

With conscription politically unpalatable, Kitchener decided to raise a new army of volunteers. On 6 August, Parliament sanctioned an increase in Army strength of 500,000 men; days later Kitchener issued his first call to arms. This was for 100,000 volunteers, aged between 19 and 30, at least 1.6m (5'3") tall and with a chest size greater than 86cm (34 inches).

The call to arms was augmented by the decision to form the units that became known as Pals Battalions. General Henry Rawlinson initially suggested that men would be more willing to join up if they could serve with people they already knew. Lord Derby was the first to test the idea when he announced in late August that he would try to raise a battalion in Liverpool, comprised solely of local men. Within days, Liverpool had enlisted enough men to form four battalions.


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Robert F Edwards

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