Britain Declares War on Germany
4 August 1914
Britain made its formal declaration of war against Germany on this day in British history, 4 August 1914. After Germany’s invasion of Belgium, British PM Herbert Asquith had given an ultimatum that Germany withdraw by midnight of 3 August. A large part of this defence of Belgium stemmed from the 1839 Treaty of London, but Asquith still had the option of ignoring Germany’s advances on the continent. After the ultimatum expired and Germany remained in Belgium, Asquith declared that Britain was formally at war with Germany.
Sir Winston Churchill described the scene in London as the ultimatum expired and Britain entered into the Great War: “It was eleven o’clock at night – twelve by German time – when the ultimatum expired. The windows of the Admiralty were thrown wide open in the warm night air. Under the roof from which Nelson had received his orders were gathered a small group of admirals and captains and a cluster of clerks, pencils in hand, waiting. Along the Mall from the direction of the Palace the sound of an immense concourse singing ‘God save the King’ flouted in. On this deep wave there broke the chimes of Big Ben; and, as the first stroke of the hour boomed out, a rustle of movement swept across the room. The war telegram, which meant, “Commence hostilities against Germany”, was flashed to the ships and establishments under the White Ensign all over the world. I walked across the Horse Guards Parade to the Cabinet room and reported to the Prime Minister and the Ministers who were assembled there that the deed was done.”