Never before in the history of the world has war been waged on such a gigantic scale. Never before have such vast armies been gathered together, or so many different nations and races been drawn into conflict. It is no exaggeration to say that the ultimate result of this Great War will affect the future of every people on the face of the globe.
Great Britain and her allies are fighting in defence of human freedom and the rights of small nations, and also to secure the blessings of an enduring peace. For many years Germany engaged in making elaborate military and naval preparations to crush rival States and found a world-wide empire which would bring her immense power and riches. Her leaders have openly boasted that the Germans are the most cultured and capable people in the world, and on that assumption based the claim that they have a right to control other nations. This war has revealed the violent methods by which they hoped to realize their ambitions. The Government of the Kaiser has broken international laws and at least one international treaty, while the German soldiers have committed terrible atrocities with intent to terrorize their opponents. In Belgium, for instance, they have destroyed beautiful, ancient buildings, laid waste towns and villages, and ruthlessly slain, not only unarmed men, but even women and children.
The immediate cause of the war was the attempt made by Germany's ally, Austria, to coerce the little kingdom of Serbia. Russia intervened so as to secure peace and an honourable agreement, whereupon Germany declared war against Russia and its ally, France. To strike a sudden and heavy blow at France a German army invaded Belgium, expecting to sweep through it with little delay. But the Belgian forces set up a gallant and unexpected resistance which greatly hampered the operations of the Kaiser's soldiers.
It was because Belgium was invaded that Great Britain declared war. The neutrality and independence of that small nation had been guaranteed by a treaty signed by Britain and Germany among others. It was a dishonourable act on the part of Germany to break this treaty, and it was the duty of our country to take up arms against the guilty Power.
Great Britain was not prepared on the outbreak of war for military operations on a large scale. We could send only a comparatively small army to the Continent to assist the Belgians and French to retard the advance of the German millions; but the courage and skill displayed by our soldiers served to baffle and delay the huge forces to which they found themselves opposed. From the outset they have proved themselves superior fighting-men to the Germans. In consequence, time has been gained to gradually increase our Expeditionary Force so as to ensure ultimate victory. Meanwhile our fleet has maintained Britain's command of the sea, and completely suspended Germany's overseas mercantile trade.
As soon as war was declared the entire British Empire rallied to support the Home Government. Offers of men, food supplies, and treasure were at once made by the various dependencies and dominions, and ere long transports began to convey troops to the seat of war from India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, while in South Africa effective measures were taken to suppress a revolt which was fostered by German intrigues. Thus in the hour of trial the Empire was more closely united by the spirit of loyalty that prevails among its freedom-loving peoples.
A wave of intense patriotism swept over the British Isles, and all classes were moved by the common desire to resist the military ambitions of Germany and to take adequate measures which would ensure peace in the future, so that the highest ideals of humanity might be realized. Political differences were set aside, and a deep sense of public duty was everywhere aroused. Young men responded eagerly to the call to arms, and began to enlist in their thousands to fight for their native land. Rich men and poor men, workers and employers, abandoned their usual occupations and joined the colours. Business men left their desks, workers hastened from factory, mine, and yard, agriculturists turned from harvest-fields, and actors, artists, musicians, and writers became the military comrades of labourers, eager and proud to serve their King and country. Women volunteered as nurses, or engaged in various forms of emergency work, while large sums of money were subscribed to provide comforts for fighting-men and assist all those to whom war brings hardship and suffering.
To arouse the sympathy and interest of the readers, the romantic and heroic deeds of those taking part in the Great War on land and sea are here set forth. Four of the prominent leaders are dealt with, and accounts provided of their careers and adventures. These are all known as silent men—"Silent Kitchener", "Silent Joffre", "Silent French", and "Silent Jellicoe". The first two were in boyhood somewhat unruly, and each was influenced by the consequences of acts of disobedience to prepare for the serious duties of life. French, on the other hand, was a nervous, gentle lad, who was greatly given to preaching like a clergyman; while Jellicoe inclined to play pranks, and early felt the fascination of life at sea, which offered to him the opportunities for adventure he so greatly sought. But all were similar in one respect. As they grew up, they applied themselves with exemplary diligence to their studies, and won distinctions among their fellows, realizing that success is the reward of hard work and adequate preparation. Kitchener—whose loss we now mourn—and Joffre received their first military experiences in the Franco Prussian War, and the careers of both were afterwards of strenuous effort.
The French general spent much of his life in strengthening the defences of his country and improving the methods of training and leading its fighting-men.
Kitchener attained wide experience in foreign service, both as a soldier and administrator. His name will ever be associated with the inauguration of a new age of progress in Egypt, the cradle of world civilization, which had long suffered from oppressive and reactionary government. After it came under the control of Great Britain its welfare and security were continually menaced by the conditions which prevailed in the Sudan. That vast area of the ancient empire of the Pharaohs had been over-run by robber hordes, whose operations enabled the Mahdi to establish a fierce and fanatical tyranny at Omdurman. Kitchener was selected to perform the noble and arduous work of re-conquering the Sudan and rescuing it from barbarism, so that the masses of the people might enjoy the benefits of just and good laws, and the entire Nile valley be made once again a land of golden harvests and peaceful and progressive communities. After achieving successful conquest, Kitchener devoted himself to various schemes for the education and welfare of the people, and showed special concern for the needs of the small agriculturists.
The honoured name of Kitchener is likely to be associated also with the revival of civilization in that other ancient land, Babylonia, which in days of old was "the garden of Western Asia" and one of the centres of world commerce. A British army, strongly reinforced from India, is in occupation of that desolated region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which has for long centuries suffered from the oppression and neglect of Turkey. There is every prospect that Babylonia may once again become what it was in Biblical times, "a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and honey".
One of the notable features of the Great War is the prominent part taken in it by India, which, for the first time in history, has sent its native soldiers to fight on European battle-fields. These brave and loyal men, like their high-souled ancestors, have proved themselves undoubted heroes, skilled in the art of warfare and unafraid of death. They know they are fighting for a good cause, and that when victory crowns the efforts of the Allies the world will be no longer overshadowed by the peril of German militarism which has threatened the liberties and rights of many peoples. In no other country in the world is the desire for a real and lasting peace more warmly supported than in India. Its people, in common with their fellow-subjects of the Empire and those of the allied nations, feel that when the war is ended humanity will be brought nearer to the happier time dreamt of by the poet who sang:
The great and just cause for which our country is striving is an inspiration to our soldiers and sailors who are—
These heroes are adding fresh lustre to the fame of Great Britain, not only by their courage and fortitude in battle, but also by their chivalrous and humanitarian treatment of fallen enemies. Our soldiers risk their lives to alleviate the sufferings of wounded foemen, and our sailors are ever ready to rescue from drowning the crews of hostile war-ships shattered in fierce conflict. Such noble deeds are worthy of a great people who have taken so prominent a part in advancing the cause of civilization throughout the world, and make us feel proud that British blood runs in our veins.