Britain, Saturday, 1st August
Early morning Telegrams arrive from Paris and Berlin with the responses to the British enquiry about attitudes to Belgian neutrality. The French say they will respect Belgian neutrality.
Jagow refuses to reply, saying that if he did so it "could not fail, in the event of war, to have the undesirable effect of disclosing to a certain extent part of the German plan of campaign".
Morning Belgian government replies to inquiry from Grey made the day before that Belgium "will to the utmost of her power maintain neutrality .... that the relations between Belgium and the neighbouring Powers were excellent .... no reason to suspect their intentions, but that Belgian Government believed that in case of violation they were in a position to defend the neutrality of their country".
Shortly after news follows that Belgium has decided to mobilise.
Morning King George uses a draft provided by Grey to reply to a letter from Poincaré. It maintains Britain's non-committal attitude regarding support for France but the King is as friendly as possible, expressing admiration for the care France is taking not to make provocative military moves and promising Britain will continue discussions on all matters concerning the two countries.
Morning Grey sends Tyrrell to talk to Lichnowsky and make an unexpected and extraordinary proposal. If France is neutral in a war between Russia and Germany, would Germany pledge not to attack France. The ambassador takes it upon himself to offer such a pledge.
Grey himself phones Lichnowsky and repeats the question. Grey proposes to use this information at the cabinet meeting later in the morning. Lichnowsky telegrams Berlin with this amazing development.
11.00 A.M. – 1.30 P.M. Cabinet Meeting Grey reports the replies from France and Germany on Belgian neutrality to the cabinet. They agree the words of the warning that Grey wants to give to Lichnowsky.
"The reply of the German Government with regard to the neutrality of Belgium is a matter of very great regret .... if there were a violation of the neutrality of Belgium by one combatant while the other respected it, it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country."
Churchill reads the letter from F. E. Smith assuring the cabinet of Conservative support for British intervention in a European war. The cabinet knows if they split up and resign they will be replaced by the Conservatives or a coalition that supports war on the side of France. Grey says that if the cabinet declares it will be neutral he will resign. Asquith says that he would go to.
The cabinet refuses Churchill's request to fully mobilise the Navy by calling up reserves.
The neutralists in the cabinet recognise Britain might become involved in a European war if Germany invades Belgium to attack France but get the cabinet to agree even then the British Expeditionary Force will not be sent to the continent. This decision is reported on Monday in the British press. [More]
Afternoon As agreed in cabinet Grey tells Lichnowsky that the German position on Belgian neutrality is a matter of "very great regret". The neutrality of Belgium affects public opinion in Britain.
In response to a question from Lichnowsky he also says if Germany did pledge not to violate the neutrality of Belgium, Britain could not promise British neutrality.
He explains he has not used Lichnowsky's pledge (given at their morning meeting) during the cabinet meeting.
Afternoon Grey tells Paul Cambon the cabinet has agreed "we could not propose to Parliament at this moment to send an expeditionary force to the continent". This did not mean under no circumstances would Britain assist France, but it did mean France must take her own decision without reckoning on assistance from Britain.
Cambon reminds Grey the French fleet is concentrated in the Mediterranean as a result of understandings with the British and the French Channel and Atlantic coasts are undefended.
Cambon is shocked and distressed. He thinks the British are going to abandon France. A discussion with Nicolson helps him recover.
Nicolson goes to see Grey and tells him angrily "you will render us a by-word among nations". [More]
Evening Grey is called to Buckingham Palace. The King has received a telegram from the Kaiser saying Germany agrees with the British proposal that Britain and France remain neutral in a war between Germany and Russia.
Grey says there is no such proposal and drafts a message for the King to send to the Kaiser saying there must have been a misunderstanding.
Evening Grey, Haldane and Lord Crewe go to see Asquith at Downing Street. They all agree a pledge of Naval support to the French must be obtained from the cabinet the next day.
Late evening News of Germany's declaration of war on Russia reaches London.
Late evening Churchill has heard of Germany's declaration of war on Russia and he too comes to Downing Street. He says he intends without waiting for the cabinet to immediately fully mobilise the Fleet by calling up reserves. Asquith offers no objections.
Very late evening and early morning Conservative leaders meet including those who have returned to London. They hear from General Wilson and there is great concern that the British Expeditionary Force is not being mobilised to support France. They try to contact Asquith but he is not available until the morning.
Brief Grey and Lichnowsky – the proposal that never was [More]
Brief The Military Conversations [More]
Brief The British and French naval deployments [More]