At 11pm on 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany, bringing to an end a month of diplomatic manoeuvres on the part of the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey and diplomatic representatives from the Great Powers. The events of July and early August have become known as the July Crisis and if you are a keen reader of The National Archives’ blog you will have followed our coverage of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Arch Duke of Austria, on 28 June, the ultimatum issued by Austria to Serbia on 23 July, Sir Edward Grey’s attempts to prevent the crisis from escalating on 24 and 25 July, the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia on 28 July and on troop mobilisation from 25 July to 2 August.
On 3 August 1914 Sir Edward Grey made his famous quote: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime’. He was speaking to his friend, the journalist John Alfred Spender, editor of the Westminster Gazette, in Grey’s room in the Foreign Office. Looking out from his window, across St. James’ Park, it was dusk and the first of the gas lights along the Mall were being lit. The next day Grey would have to face the Cabinet and to persuade them that the time had now come to declare war on Germany.