In order to set the outbreak of the war in context of our thesis on Ireland, this blog gives a resume of the chapter on Ireland from our book Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War

August Bank Holiday 1914 - a world away from war

The official British histories of the First World War record that in early August 1914, Great Britain suddenly and unexpectedly found itself at war with Germany. While that was true of the ordinary man and woman on the streets of a nation relaxing in the mid-summer heat of a Bank-holiday weekend, it most certainly wasn’t for the Secret Elite who had engineered the steps to war. [1] In an era where historians who have reflected on the causes of that terrible war cautiously part company with the insistent propaganda which blamed the Kaiser, [2] there is still a reluctance to accept the fact that a small coterie of powerful men planned and executed the war to crush Germany. The major protagonists were not ‘sleepwalkers’. [3] The system of alliances were not tectonic plates which would inevitably clash. But the people in Britain were duped – ambushed into war and their attention was deliberately drawn from the build up in Europe by the strong possibility of civil war in Ireland.

Following the assassination of Archduke Frans Ferdinand and his wife on 28 June 1914, the deepening European crisis was deliberately played down by the mainstream press in Britain. To all intents and purposes the dispute between Austria and Serbia in July 1914, as Truth remarked, was one in which ‘we had no more concern than in a quarrel between the inhabitants of Saturn.’ [4]

Members of the 4th Battalion, The Black Watch, at Tay Bridge Station

In sharp contrast, the crisis in Ireland had been carefully nurtured over the previous two years by the wilful promotion of fear and distrust between the Protestant Unionist majority in the north and the Catholic Nationalist south. It was at boiling point in July 1914 when the outbreak of civil war appeared to be only a matter of time. Tensions ran high, not just in Ireland but across the whole of mainland Britain. This was what pre-occupied the populous. When the Fifth Battalion, the Black Watch was mustered on 31 July 1914 the men assumed they were on their way to Ireland, but were thoroughly disappointed to be tasked with protecting the Tay Bridge from an unnamed invasion force. ‘We thought we were going to Ulster when we got orders last night …there would have been some excitement there’. [5] Look carefully at how the orders of the day were received. These Scottish soldiers were so far removed from any understanding of european politics that they could not name the enemy against whom the Tay Bridge had to be guarded.

Why, with the Franco-Russian war against Germany imminent, a war aimed to crush their greatest rivals, was the Secret Elite so intrinsically involved in denying home rule to Ireland by forcing the issue of the separation of Ulster? What possible reason could they have for fomenting the spectre of a bloody civil war in Ireland at that exact point in time when they knew every member of the British forces would be needed to face the German army in Belgium?

The Secret Elite and the Committee for Imperial Defence had been preparing for war against Germany for ten years, but when Armageddon arrived it had to come as a complete surprise to the British people and, above all, it had to appear that Germany was to blame. Otherwise, the British public would never have countenanced war. With public attention focused on the tension in Ireland, the Secret Elite provided a very convenient smokescreen behind which they prepared for action on the continent.

Germany’s defensive plan (the Schlieffen Plan) which anticipated a simultaneous attack from Russia in the East and France in the West, had long been known. The majority of her forces would have to deal first with the French assault before doubling back to confront the Russians. The well-advertised plan entailed German troops rapidly traversing Belgium to capture Paris. This assault on ‘neutral’ Belgium, for Belgium was never neutral, [6] was to be the British government’s casus belli, the event that would be used to win over opposition in the House of Commons, rouse the support of the general public and justify Britain’s declaration of war.

The Secret Elite were aware that even the best of strategies do not always go according to plan. What if Germany responded by throwing all her forces against France on the Franco-German border, and not through Belgium? What possible excuse would they have for joining the war? As always, the Secret Elite had a back-up plan, and an outbreak of civil war in Ireland would have served that purpose. Full-blown civil war in Ireland was never the intention, but the appearance of one had to be real. Here the Secret Elite wielded sufficient power and influence to take matters as far as they deemed necessary.

Larne: guns unloading without interference from police or customs.

Consider the following. German arms suppliers, in the full knowledge and acquiescence of the British government, sold weapons to both sides of the Irish divide. Major Fred Crawford, director of ordnance for the Ulster Volunteer Force, a man who had served in the British army under the Secret Elite’s Lord Roberts, procured twenty-four thousand modern rifles and three million rounds of ammunition in Germany with funds provided by Secret Elite members. [7] Throughout the night of 24–25 April 1914 the armaments were landed in Ulster with no opposition whatsoever from the customs or the army. The carefully engineered ‘crisis’ in Ireland presented coincidental bonuses. A large paramilitary force in the north, the UVF, marched, drilled and trained with rifles for months before the outbreak of war under the instruction of former senior British Army officers. [8]

Arming of the South was conducted by Erskine Childers, yet another who was closely associated with the Secret Elite. [9] Childers used his yacht, Asgard, to carry weapons  from Germany to the south, despite the presence of the entire British Grand Fleet in the Channel.  Guns and ammunition for both sides were therefore provided from  the same source in Hamburg, surely a remarkable co-incidence. Imagine the outcry if a cowardly explosion in a Belfast orange lodge or a Dublin pub had slain dozens of innocents in early August 1914, or a rogue gunman had slaughtered unarmed civilians in the name of either cause? That is all it would have taken for Civil War to erupt. The Secret Elite and their agents in government would have immediately focused international attention on the fall guy who had allegedly allowed the illicit weapons to be sold to both parties in Ireland: Kaiser Wilhelm. At a stroke, Germany would have been blamed for providing the armaments that enabled the civil war. This was their back-up casus belli, their plan B, their excuse for taking Britain to war against Germany if the invasion of Belgium failed to materialise. [10]

Lest the reader think that such a tactic is fanciful, we would draw attention to the advice given to Alfred Milner as he sought to find reason for a war against the Boers in South Africa. In the run-up to that disastrous war, Milner’s Balliol College friend and member of the Secret Elite’s inner core, Philip Lyttelton Gell, wrote to him advising that if the British public realised that the arms and ammunition sold to the Boers came from Germany ‘to be used against British citizens’, the cause for war ‘would be popular and obvious’.  [11] The ploy was identical in August 1914.

As events unfolded it was not required. Immediately German troops entered Belgium the Secret Elite had their excuse. The tension in Ireland was de-escalated. A secret telegram was sent to Sir Edward Carson to stand down his private army of 100,000 men, which was not much smaller than the British Expeditionary Force.

UVF marching in Belfast. Carson's men were well-armed and well disciplined.

Professor Carroll Quigley revealed that the Ulster Unionist leader, and agent of the Secret Elite, prepared a coded telegram to be dispatched to the Ulster Volunteer Force to seize control of Belfast at his given signal, and thus begin the civil war. He was on his way to the telegraph station when he received a message from the prime minister that war was about to be declared on Germany. ‘Accordingly, the Ulster revolt was cancelled and the Home Rule Act suspended until six months after the peace with Germany.’ [12] Consider Quigley’s astounding words: ‘Accordingly, the Ulster revolt was cancelled.’ Germany had invaded Belgium, the Secret Elite had their cases belli. The arrangement concocted  with Carson to set Ulster alight was not required. Plan B was abandoned.

In the South, Erskine Childers was immediately recalled from his involvement with the Irish Volunteer movement to his post in Intelligence at the Admiralty in London. [13]

The Times newspaper provided an acceptable solution to the problem of Ulster; acceptable, that is, to the Secret Elite and the English ruling class.:’Our suggestion is that the government should at once exclude Tyrone and Fermanagh from the operation of the Home Rule Bill on the distinct understanding that such an arrangement is devised to meet temporary exigencies. Thus the six counties of Ulster would be left outside the scope of the Home Rule Bill.’  [14] Here was the solution that would defuse the situation, at least for the duration of the war, and keep Ulster safely inside the Empire. Protestants formed a majority in the province, but only a small majority, accounting for 56.33 per cent of the whole population in 1911. [15] The Times made no reference to the majority of the Irish people and their elected representatives who supported a united Ireland. The population of Ireland in mid-1914 stood at 4,381,398, of whom roughly 74 per cent were Roman Catholics. [16 ]

Ulster Prayer

Ulster was indeed to be rescued from The Home Rule Act which was indeed postponed by a Suspensory Act of Parliament until 18 September 1915; if the war was still under way at that time, the Government was empowered to push the suspension further back. [17]  The very fact that the Act failed to come into being despite having passed every democratic and legal stage in parliament was  a bad omen. At a stroke, a horse and cart was driven sideways through the Irish Home Rule Act  as agreed in Parliament.  Powerful establishment voices were in the ascendency. Rather than create a united entity, their Ireland was to be partitioned into a predominantly Protestant North and Catholic South. To those who intrinsically feared British duplicity, the ‘temporary’ nature of this suspension was instantly suspicious.

[1] Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War, p. 12.

[2] Peace Treaty of Versailles, Part VIII, Reparation, Section 1, Article 231.

[3] Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers, How Europe Went To War in 1914.

[4] Irene Cooper Willis, England’s Holy War, p. 10.

[5] Dundee Courier, 31 July 1914, p. 5.

[6] Albert J Knock, The Myth of a Guilty Nation, p. 37.

[7] A M Gollin, Proconsul in Politics, p. 188 and footnote.

[8] Docherty and Macgregor, Hidden History, pp. 307-8.

[9] We believe that all the evidence points to Childers’ playing a role of British double agent.

[10] Docherty and Macgregor, Hidden History, pp 301-319

[11] Milner Papers, Gell to Milner, 12  Jiuly 1899, Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. Hist. c686.

[12] Carroll Quigley, Tragedy & Hope, p. 174.

[13] Andrew Boyle, The Riddle of Erskine Childers, p.196.

[14] The Times, Wednesday 29 August 1914, p. 9.

[15] L P Curtis, Ireland in 1914. Oxford Scholarship Online http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199583744.001.0001/acprof-9780199583744-chapter-7

[16] Statistical abstract for the United Kingdom … 1900 to 1914, p. 381 [Cd 8128], House of Commons. 1914–16, lxxvi, 855. The percentage of Roman Catholics is based on the census of 1911.

[17] On 14 September 1915 an Order in Council made under the Suspensory Act suspended the Government of Ireland Act for a further six months (i.e. until 18 March 1916).  A subsequent series of Orders in Council, dated 29 February 1916, 7 September 1916, 13 March 1917, 22 August 1917, 27 February 1918, 4 September 1918, 12 March 1919, 18 August 1919, 2 March 1920, and 13 August 1920 suspended the Irish Act in further blocks of six months until the Government of Ireland Act 1920 (passed 23 December 1920) repealed the 1914 Home Rule Act.