From John P Cafferky author of Lord Milner’s Second War

Even 100 years later the July Crisis of 1914 still comes across as a month of tense and dramatic history especially given the August horror that followed the greatest diplomatic failure. How diplomacy failed over these fateful 35 days is pieced together from recorded statements, events and diplomatic correspondence. One expects one hundred years after the event that the canon of documents will not change, and that the argument now focuses on interpretation. In this respect, an underlying argument in Lord Milner’s Second War, and in Hidden History, is that the British documents have given us a sanitized account of the July Crisis. Few people realize how effectively one can change a story, even a big story such as the July Crisis, by selectively filleting or editing a handful of sensitive documents. In this regard, we have been blessed with a wonderful learning opportunity by the recent publication of a hitherto unknown document.

Foreign Secretary Edward Grey and King George V

An article by Anita Singh in the Telegraph on 26 July, 2014, [1] reveals a meeting that took place between Sir Edward Grey and King George V on 2 August 1914, a meeting unknown to historians and only revealed through a note written in 1933 by Sir Cecil Graves, Sir Edward’s nephew. A month after Sir Edward’s death, King George V summoned his nephew on 8 October 1933 to Buckingham Palace. King George disclosed to Sir Cecil that at the climax of the Crisis Grey had come to Buckingham Palace on 2 August 1914 to discuss British entry into the war. Without any equivocation the King told his Foreign Secretary to ensure Britain entered the war immediately, justifying his instructions with the argument that Germany would mop up France quickly and would then dominate England.

At first glance this meeting on the eve of war between the Monarch and his Foreign Secretary is no more than a curiosity, but as always there is that second glance which in this case calls for blending the content of this meeting with the accepted British record of the July Crisis. One must, therefore, reconcile the just revealed instructions of George V on 2 August to his Foreign Secretary with the comments and assurances he gave his cousin, Prince Henry of Prussia on 26 July, 1914. In that earlier meeting, King George assured Prince Henry that Britain would do everything in its power to stay out of the war—encouraging words indeed for the German Kaiser. Within a seven-day interval at the peak of the Crisis, King George placed himself firmly on the side of both peace and war, an inconsistency that feeds the argument that in 1914 Britain followed a secret war policy. It is a revelation, even to many committed sceptics (including me), that George V might have assisted Sir Edward Grey’s policy of baiting Germany with hints of British neutrality, a policy solely aimed at enticing Germany to risk war.

The Graves letter

Based on the Graves note future historians might conclude that the British Monarch helped lure Germany into war! This does not fit into the carefully manicured British narrative of July 1914 so I am confident the note will be explained away by the most “authoritative sources”. Until it is explained away, however, the Graves note serves the pedagogical function of forcing us to think about documents and how they influence and skew the interpretation of history. However the scholars sanitize the Graves note, it leaves a gap in the record. Given how forcefully George V had spoken to his Foreign Secretary one is entitled to maintain that he expressed himself just as forcefully to other members of the government and senior politicians—these were private but not secret views. To a man, every politician contrived to conceal King George’s strong opinions about entering the war immediately despite the assurances they knew their King  gave Prince Henry on 26 July—or perhaps they contrived to conceal their King’s true intentions because of those assurances. The Graves note proves many people kept silent about the actions of powerful people before Britain went to war, a silence that can render the search for truth in the documents not only difficult but also impossible. Welcome to the sceptic’s world, a state of mind that is open to questioning the official version of events.