The Lamplighter

Unknown-1 By the end of July 1914 Germany was growing increasingly alarmed that Britain might not stay out of a European war. Berlin tried to buy off the British by promising should Germany defeat France, French borders would be respected. Nothing was said about respecting Belgian neutrality. The Treaty of London in 1839 established the Kingdom of Belgium and the Duchy of Luxembourg in an attempt to stop years of intermittent fighting by French and German speakers against the autocratic King William of Holland. At Britain’s insistence the neutrality of Belgium had been guaranteed by the major European powers. The treaty agreed that any of the signatories could intervene if Belgium was threatened. To the waverers in the British cabinet who had reservations about joining a European war to shore up France or Russia, the idea of defending plucky little Belgium was altogether more appealing. The cabinet met on Sunday 2nd August just as news was coming in of the German invasion of Luxembourg, and the next day King Albert of the Belgians formally requested British help to resist the imminent German invasion. The Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey rose in the Commons that afternoon delivering the speech of his career urging a British defence of Belgium. In one hour he eloquently destroyed the anti-war movement. Grey then went back to his office to pen the ultimatum to Germany. That evening standing at his office window overlooking St James Park watching the lamp lighters turning on the gas lamps, he came up with his only memorable quote: “The lamps are going out all over Europe and we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

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