The conflict was originally called The Great War and the majority of people predicted that it would take no more than a few months, but the prolonged war lasted four years, three months and one week claiming millions dead and vastly more wounded. Great Britain faced the attacks on its civilians and more than 2,5 million volunteered and 2,7 million men were conscripted to fight in the WWI. King George V was the reigning sovereign who had the tragic task to declare the war and adopt the necessary measures required during that traumatic period.
It took exactly one month from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to the outbreak of WWI. As a reaction to an unsatisfactory Serbian response to the ultimatum, Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28, 2014. The following day Tsar Nicholas II ordered a partial mobilization (only on the Austrian border). Germany also gave ultimatums. The first one to Russia to withdraw its troops, the second one to France to stay neutral in case of war between Germany and Russia and the third one to Belgium to let German forces pass through its territory. Now the alliances came together and the treaty alliance system was put into practice. On August 1, Germany declared war on Russia and two days later on France and Belgium. Britain reacted to the invasion of neutral Belgium. As mentioned above, Britain and Belgium signed the Treaty in London in 1839. “Belgium, within the limits specified in Articles 1, 2, and 4, shall form an Independent and perpetually Neutral State. It shall be bound to observe such Neutrality towards all other States”. (Duffy, 2009b). As a result, Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th. As Austria declared war on Russia, Britain declared the war on Austria (Aronson, 1986, p.104). With Britain entering the war, its other dominions and colonies followed: Canada, India, the Union of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Aronson (1986, p.108) points out that though Wilhelm II was related to George V in the same manner as to Nicholas II, these dynastic relationships counted for nothing. Duffy (2009c) claims that
It has however attempted to pull together the main strands: Austro-Hungarian determination to impose its will upon the Balkans; a German desire for greater power and international influence, which sparked a naval arms race with Britain, who responded by building new and greater warships, the Dreadnought; a French desire for revenge against Germany following disastrous defeat in 1871; Russia's anxiety to restore some semblance of national prestige after almost a decade of civil strife and a battering at the hands of the Japanese military in 1905.
It is believed that the British were excited about entering the war, but McMillan (2013, p.17) disagrees: “The photographs of cheering crowds in the great capitals are misleading. The coming of war took most Europeans by surprise and their initial reaction was disbelief and shock.” Jeremy Paxman in the documentary states that people were naive about the war, but they accepted the fact that the war needed to be fought to prevent their country from German invasion. Despite certain opposed views, such as the speech of Keir Hardy, Labour MP, in Trafalgar Square suggesting to the crowds: “You have no quarrel with Germany”, people united to protect British Empire. (Britain's Great War - 1: War Comes To Britain, 2014).
Robbins (1984, p.82) describes the fact that the European population exceeded that of one century earlier and stresses an unevenness between Central powers (Austria-Hungary 50 million inhabitants, Germany 70 million and the Ottoman empire 20 million) and the Allies (Russia 160 million inhabitants, the United States 96 million, the United Kingdom 46 million, Italy 35 million and France 38 million). There was also another more important aspect related to the war - the army. Despite the fact that the Russian army consisted of the force of over one million men, the German of 580,000, the French of around 700,000, followed by the Austrian-Hungarian of 450,000 and the British army of 250,000, the more crucial factor was how many men were actually trained and how many could be mobilized within a few days after the notice. The Russian number neared 5 million men, the German 4.5 million, the French 4 million, the Austro-Hungarian 3 million and the British 1 million.
Attention to the total number of men mobilized reinforces the point the composition of the armies of 1914 was very different from those of 1918.…Russia mobilized 12 million, Germany 11, France just over 8 and Austria-Hungary just under, the British Empire nearly 9, Italy 5½, the United States 4½, Ottoman Turkey nearly 3, Bulgaria over 1”(Robbins, 1984, p.83).
Opinions regarding the duration of the war were incredibly underestimated and even the Kaiser misjudged the possible persistence when he told the departing troops during the first week of August “You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.” (Tuchman, p.141). Only three military individuals recognized the dark and very long period that lay ahead. The first one was German General Moltke predicting a long, wearisome struggle. The second one was French Marshal Joffre and the third was British Lord Kitchener. He was not involved in the original planning but was suddenly appointed War Minister in August 1914 and proved to predict the future by claiming that it might take even longer, but “three years will do to begin with. A nation like Germany, after having forced the issue, will only give in after it is beaten to the ground. That will take a very long time. No one living knows how long.” (Tuchman, 1962, p.142). The King put the entry in his diary – “this is a disaster, but it is not our fault”. He mentioned that he, the Queen and their oldest son, the Prince of Wales, had to appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace three times, where they were cheered by the crowd. At the same time he asked God for the war to be over soon and to save his son’s [Bertie´s] life. (Clayová, 2006, p.311).