Peace in 1914: The Trafalgar Square Peace Demonstration
On 2nd August 1914, a large peace rally gathered at London’s Trafalgar Square. The rally took place in conjunction with a dozen other demonstrations in major British towns and cities which saw 100,000 people gather across the country. The first few days of August 1914, saw the British public torn on the issue of war with no consultation on what involvement Britain should have with the impending European war and little knowledge of the war’s true origins. It has been estimated that as many as 10,000 people converged on Trafalgar Square with “banners and placards denouncing war everywhere” congregating at the base of Nelson’s Column, the steps of which the speakers used as a stage.
In the face of the late 19th century’s ever increasing militarism Britain, like many European countries, had an established peace movement and many campaigns had been waged against numerous British military campaigns including the Boer War. The rally that gathered at Trafalgar Square on the afternoon of the 2nd was at its core socialist. The crowds were addressed by socialist politicians including Keir Hardie (See image #1) a former leader of the Labour Party, and John Maclean a member of the Scottish Socialist Party spoked radically calling for: “…the propertied class [to] go out… and defend their blessed property. When they have been disposed of, we of the working class will have something to defend and we shall do it.” The rally was marred by heavy unseasonal rain and which dissipated the crowd as the afternoon wore on. The right-wing Telegraph newspaper disparagingly reported that much of the 10,000 strong crowd was made up of curious onlookers and ‘foreigners’.
Noting that the rally was interrupted with a crowd of boisterous “patriotically-disposed young men” who sang the national anthem and other patriotic songs. The rally was not without incident as one observer of the demonstration recorded that the gathering was infiltrated by pro-war members of the public and that “a speaker was suddenly pushed off the plinth… as he fell somebody lifted an umbrella and whacked him over the head” while a “venturesome man climbed a lamp post… and tied a Union Jack to the top.”
Elsewhere in the country other politicians like Harry Nuttall, a Liberal member of Parliament for a Manchester constituency, also spoke out against intervention in the war arguing that “the crime we should commit in taking part in the war, which the government has stated we are not under obligation to do, should impel every humane man and woman to exercise all the influence of which he or she is capable to secure our neutrality and non-intervention.”
The perennially left-wing Guardian Newspaper, then the Manchester Guardian, featured many pieces and letters calling for British neutrality. Within the Government itself the members of Parliament were equally torn with many liberals feeling war was fundamentally at odds with their beliefs. Several members of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s cabinet threatened to resign if Britain entered the war. However, following Sir Edward Grey’s eloquent speech outlining the need for British intervention in the brewing war on 3rd August the majority of the government supported British involvement.
On the 1st August a day before the rally in Trafalgar Square the Manchester Guardian printed a letter from a member of the public which succinctly summarised the disbelief of the liberal minded Englishman when it asked: “Is Europe to be drenched in blood and are we to be involved because in an obscure town a madman kills a prince? It is incredible that a Liberal government, whose members have spoken eloquently for peace, should abandon our impregnable independence.”
Conversely many liberals who seemed likely pacifists strongly supported war. The leading suffragettes Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst ceased their militant campaign for women’s suffrage and supported the government. So much so that in July 1917, Christabel wrote “I consider the Pacifists a disease. They are a disease to which old nations seem to become subject.”
The liberal and socialist clamour for peace and neutrality was quickly drowned by increasing nationalistic support for the war and the German invasion of ‘defenceless’ Belgium. By August 5th and Britain’s declaration of war on Germany those who sought peace had become the neutrality however campaigners continued to lobby for peace throughout the war with Keir Hardie and others calling for peace and supporting conscientious objectors. After war was declared some pacifists recognised that the initial battle was lost and instead formed the Union of Democratic Control, which at its peak in 1917 had roughly 10,000 members, to lobby for a realistic peace and opposition to the military’s influence on the British government.
With war declared on the 4th pacifist hopes of a neutral Britain died and crowds once again took to the streets of London many converging again on Trafalgar Square. However, these crowds were made up of patriotically charged and enthusiastic young men excited for war. A scene which was replicated across Europe as nationalism took hold and crowds from Berlin to St Petersburg took to the streets.
Footage of the waterlogged rally can be viewed here
The British Working Class and Enthusiasm for War, 1914-1916, (2005), D. Silbey
'The British Women's Peace Movement in Late Victorian & Edwardian Society', Institute of World History, (2007), S. Tumis [source]
'England's Duty in a European War', Manchester Guardian 1st Aug. 1914 [source]
'Socialists and War: Trafalgar Square Fiasco', Telegraph, 3rd Aug.1914 [source]
Truth and the War, (1916), E.D Morel, [source]
'An Extraordinary Union of Ideas', Guardian, [source]
From the US National Archives.
Treble clefs by (L to R) Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, and Ravel.
all musicians across all time periods: “fuck how does that thing go”
Beethoven didn’t even try
THE RED EMPEROR IS THE GOD OF MOTHERFUCKING FIRE AND METAL AND THE SUN. HE’S PRETTY FUCKING COOL. HE’S ALSO KIND OF EVIL AND TRIES TO OVERTHROW THE YELLOW EMPEROR A FEW TIMES, BUT NOBODY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT THAT.
WHEN HE FIRST ARRIVES ON EARTH, HE SETS UP A FUCKING MASSIVE FIRE CASTLE AND THEN GOES OUT TO SEE HOW SHIT EVERYTHING IS FOR THE PEOPLE. IT’S PRETTY FUCKING SHIT; THEY DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FOOD OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT.
HE STARTS BY TEACHING THE PEOPLE METALWORKING SO THEY CAN MURDER THE SHIT OUT OF ALL THE POSIONOUS SNAKES EVERYWHERE, AND THEN GETS THEM TO PLOUGH THE GROUND AROUND HIS KINGDOM.
THEN HE DECIDES HE NEEDS MORE PLANTS, SO HE FUCKING SHOUTS AT THE BIRDS UNTIL THEY SURRENDER AND GIVE HIM A FUCK-TONNE OF SEEDS, AND THEN HE PLANTS A FIELD.
NOT HAPPY WITH HOW MUCH FOOD THERE IS, HE MAKES A MOTHERFUCKING FIRE WHIP AND WHIPS THE SHIT OUT OF THE PLANTS UNTIL THEY MAGICALLY DEVELOP HEALING POWERS. THE RED EMPEROR IS ONE BADASS MOTHERFUCKER.
ALL THE PEOPLE LOVE HIM TO BITS, AND ARE ALSO FUCKING TERRIFIED OF HIM BECAUSE HE’S A FUCKING MANIAC WITH A WHIP MADE OUT OF MOTHERFUCKING FIRE, SO THEY MAKE A GIANT CAULDRON TO SHOW JUST HOW FUCKING MUCH THEY LOVE HIM, AND HE’S HAPPY AND DOESN’T BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF HIM. AND THAT’S HOW YOU RULE A KINGDOM, BITCHES.
The following events occurred on August 4th, 1914:
- Germany declares war on Belgium.
- United States declares neutrality.
- Britain sends an ultimatum to Austria-Hungary, demanding it cease all hostilities. When Austria-Hungary doesn’t comply, a state of war is declared at 11.00pm.
Fact: Cecilia has a secret fondness for elephants. There are small figurines scattered around her apartment!