History, as the famous quotation says, is written by the victors. Consequently, I grew up – decades after the events – believing that Germany, and particularly the German Kaiser, was responsible for the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles (and later the League of Nations), though a little extreme, was an attempt to ensure that no such horror could ever happen again. Now, what nonsense that seems! There are countless myths surrounding that terrible war and one blog post cannot begin to touch on them all but here are few thoughts about the misrepresentation of Germany – and particularly the German royalties – in World War 1.
Firstly, the invasion of Belgium is what – ostensibly! – brought Britain into the war. The invasion of a neutral country is inexcusable and the Schlieffen Plan took no account of ordinary people living peaceably in their own land, harming no one and having no desire to gain power over other nations. That would truly capture the imagination of the British people who had no axe to grind with Germany but love to support the underdog! However, bearing in mind that for 43 years since Unification, Germany – which, unlike all the other ‘major powers’ of Europe had not been involved in any war – had been unable to form alliances with Britain or Russia, there was the fear of being attacked from both the east and west and the only way to resolve that was by following Schlieffen’s plan (defeat France quickly by marching through Belgium since there was no other swift route to success; and then turn and defeat Russia), it’s clear that Germany was not entering Belgium as an aggressor but rather seeing it as a defensive move. That is still inexcusable and, of great importance, is Kaiser Wilhelm’s opposition to that invasion. Interestingly, his eldest son was sent to Alsace-Lorraine (the Franco-German border, rather than via Belgium) where he became infamous for his attack on Verdun and later wrote of his horror of war. Interesting, too, that when the Germans arrived in Belgium, they found large quantities of British arms and supplies stashed away in various places. This war was planned well in advance.
Secondly, perhaps more than any other nation, the German Royal Family suffered in the war. Two of the Kaiser’s young German nephews were killed
in action (the peace-loving sons of his sister, ‘Mossy’ of Hesse-Kassel); his sister, Queen Sophie of Greece, was subjected to all kinds of abuse: one minute, the gossip-mongers said, she had a secret telephone line to Potsdam, the next she was betraying her homeland by siding with the Allies; another sister, Moretta, was desperate to restore relations with her British cousins after the war....alas, to no avail. Kaiser Wilhelm, meanwhile, ensured that his British cousins, who happened to be in the German army (such as Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein), were given positions that didn’t involve any form of combat. King George V, on the other hand, stripped his German-born cousins of their ranks and even changed their names!
the sinking of which led to the death of hundreds of innocent Americans and was one of the reasons – again, ostensibly - why America was eventually dragged into the war) and Germany’s use of submarine warfare. Prince Max of Baden – who had spent the early part of the war working for the repatriation of wounded British prisoners – was totally opposed to the unrestricted use of German U-Boats but eventually it became clear that the German people depended so much on foreign imports of food and the naval blockade was an attempt to starve the civilians to death! Nowadays that seems typical of warfare but it was not ‘cricket’ in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Lusitania was carrying huge amounts of arms for the Allies, and Winston Churchill had sent ‘secret’ telegrams to various
ministries stating that it was necessary to bring America into the war and the death of a few ‘innocent civilians’ would be the best way of achieving that....The whole Lusitania business is abhorrent! Fourthly, not a great deal is written about Austria’s role in the war. Strange, really, since Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s murder is said to be the cause of it! Shortly after his accession, Emperor Karl (who had seen the effects of war first-hand) went out of his way to create peace. All his efforts were rejected by the Allies and he was eventually ousted from his throne.
Fourthly...the Treaty of Versailles. What a vile piece of work! It occurred to me that even the choice of venue – Versailles – was a deliberate attempt to humiliate Germany since this was the place where German Unification had been declared. This treaty was aimed at bankrupting Germany and Austria, and removing the monarchies (the Russian monarchy, of course, had already been ‘removed’) In the ensuing chaos, came Lenin, then Hitler, then Stalin all of whom were funded by specific people and companies, all of whom could be named....but perhaps not yet...
On a personal level, I find it disgusting that my forebears died in this war, believing that they were fighting for ‘good’. Having met people from other nations whose forebears were killed in the same war, believing that they, too, were fighting for ‘good’, and knowing that the ‘ordinary’ German, Austrian, British, American, Russian, Canadian, Italian, French, African, Indian, Australian or Asian soldiers had no reason to kill each other and no idea why they were doing so, I am baffled by the extent of the treachery from governments on all sides. One thing is certain, though: neither Kaiser Wilhelm nor Tsar Nicholas wanted this war. Those who created it and gained from it remain, as always, in the shadows.....